Advent Calendar 17 – “Quality”


Hi everyone,

day 17 of our German Advent Calendar, we’re entering the final (and best) stretch, and the inspiration for today came when I got my Flat White from my interns, because that was … pure TORMENT!!
Nah, I’m kidding. The coffee was fine, great effort guys, keep it up.
“Thanks. Will you pay us now!”
Aw, come on… do I look like Money-Jesus?
“Money-Jesus isn’t a thing, and it’s offensive, Emanuel.”
Look, let’s talk later, okay. I’m in the middle of the Advent Calendar.
So, I actually got the idea when I was writing about Quark, because the German word for torment is

die Qual

Tormentbelongs to the same family as extort, torture and torque and it goes back to the awesome Indo-European root twerk which was about shaking that primal boota… wait, hold on, I mixed something up, I’m sorry. The root in this case was terkw-, and the core idea was twisting.
Qual on the other hand comes from the root *gu̯el- which was about the idea of (stinging) pain. And German Qual is of course not the only offspring. In Russian for instance, there’s the verb жалить (“zhalit”) which is what mosquitoes do. And more importantly, it’s also the origin of the Slavic words for pity, compassion…. like the Bulgarian word for “I am sorry”Съжалявам (“sezhalavam“), which literally kind of means “I pain/sting myself.”

And also English has descendants from that root. Namely to quell which is a softened version of the old English cwellan; and to kill, which is the non-softened version.
The German Qual is kind of in the middle and means agony or torment.

These last two expressions are a little bit weird by the way. I mean… the agony of choice … maybe it’s just me, but that low-key reeks of SOCIALISM!!
I grew up in former East Germany and there, we only had one type of corn flakes. And they weren’t made from corn, but from potatoes. And they weren’t flakes but … whole potatoes. I would gladly have agonized over some choice then.
Oh hey, and speaking of agonizing…. that brings us to the verb for die Qual, which is quälen.

And of course let’s not forget about one of the most famous related noun: die Qualität.
Nah, I’m joking. That actually doesn’t relate to Qual. It would make sense, though, because achieving true quality can be quite the pain.

Anyway, that’s it for today.
Have a great day and bis morgen.

Oh, by the way…, where I check for English etymology, actually mentions “to throw” as the core idea of the Indo-European root of kill and Qual and sees the piercing, pain as an extension of that. Possibly as a result of throwing a spear. And if you were to follow that track a little you’d find that there is a connection between Qualand parliament.
If you want to dig into that, here’s the link :)

The root *gwele- on Etymonline


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