Word of the Day – “die Schwelle”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day, this time with a look at

die Schwelle

 

And I’m sure that based on the looks of it, many of you immediately thought of to swell.
But are things really as they seem?
I mean… looks can be deceiving, right?
But then again, if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is one.
In fact, I’m curious as to just how suspicious you really are of German, so let’s do a little poll.

Is "schwellen" related to "to swell"? Or are looks deceiving?

View Results

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And now, let’s jump right in.

German does indeed have a direct counterpart to to swell – the verb schwellen.  It’s not used that much itself, because the prefix version anschwellen is more common for the act of swelling, but you’ll definitely see the noun die Schwellung and the ge-form adjective geschwollen and the meanings are pretty clear, I think.

  • Wenn ich scharf esse, schwillt meine Lippe an. (I used singular in German, for no particular reason. Just don’t want to redo the audio :)
  • When I eat spicy food, my lips swell up.
  • “Uff, meine Füße sind vom Wandern mega geschwollen.”
    “Nimm diese Salbe, die ist super. Die Schwellung geht innerhalb einer Stunde weg.”
  • “Oop, my feet are really swollen from the hiking.”
    “Take this balm, it’s awesome. The swelling goes away within an hour.”
  • “Dieses Bier, mit Vorfreude von mir bestellt, mit Liebe gezapft und mit einem Lächeln von der Kellnerin serviert, soll ein Symbol sein, ein Symbol für die Hoffnung, ein Smybol für das Leben.”
    “Warum redest du denn so geschwollen.
  • “This beer, ordered with excitement, poured with love and served with a smile by the waitress, shall be a symbol, a symbol of hope, a symbol of lief.”
    “Why are you talking so pompously/hifalutinly.”
    (lit: “in a swollen manner“)

There are also a few more distant relatives, but for those too, the core idea of swelling is pretty visible.

  • “Wie war deine Date?”
    “Schrecklich. Er hat nur über sich und Geld gesprochen. Ich konnte den Redeschwall gar nicht unterbrechen.”
  • “How was the date?”
    “Horrible. He only spoke about money and himself. I couldn’t interrupt the torrent of words.
  • “Aber… aber meine zarten Hände.”
    “Von einmal Fegen kriegt man keine Schwielen, Thomas.”
  • “But… but my tender hands.”
    “You don’t get calluses from sweeping/brooming once, Thomas.”
  • “Guck mal, das Fohlen hat eine Geschwulst an der Stirn.”
    “Das ist keine Geschwulst. Das ist ein kleines Horn. Hier sind Einhörner. Mach das Bärenspray bereit!”
  • “Look, that foal has a little lump/tumor on its forehead.”
    “That’s not a lump. That’s a small horn. There are unicorns here. Ready the bear spray!”

The only one that doesn’t seem to fit in is the noun die Schwelle. Because when you look up die Schwelle in a dictionary you get… doorstep. And more generally brink, threshold.
Now, a doorstep does kind of represent the threshold between the home and the outside world. In fact, a groom does carry the bride across the “threshold”, not the doorstep, in English. So that connection makes sense. And when we’re high… *clears throat… ly creative, we could see  a doorstep as something of a little swelling in the otherwise even ground. So I guess it would kind of make sense if there was a connection.
But in this case, there isn’t. Die Schwelle simply comes from a different family. It’s actually related to the English sill  and the original sense was simply something like “board”. There might be a connection also to the German word die Säule (the column) but there’s not enough proof for that.
Anyway, so the core idea of die Schwelle is some sort of border, or limit. It’s not the only word for that, and it doesn’t always sound idiomatic, but it’s pretty standard in contexts of some sort of signal detection and there are a few other nice uses as well.

  • Wir stehen an der Schwelle einer neuen, besseren Zeit.
  • We’re on the edge/the brink of a new, better era.
  • “Mach die Musik leiser!”
    “Wieso?! Die ist unterhalb der Hörschwelle. ”
    Hörschwelle heißt nicht, die Schwelle, ab der man nichts anderes mehr hört.”
  • “Turn down the music!”
    “Why? It’s below the hearing threshold.”
    “Hearing threshold is not the threshold above which you don’t hear anything else.”
  • Die Firma investiert vor allem in Schwellenländern.
  • The company invests primarily in threshold countries/emerging countries.
  • Maria hat sich unterschwellig schon lange gewünscht, dass Thomas eine Diät anfängt.
  • Maria has on some level/low key been wishing for a long time that Thomas started a diet.
    (lit.: “sub-thresholdly”)
  • Alkohol senkt die Hemmschwelle.
  • Alcohol lowers the inhibition threshold.
  • “Du hast einen echt guten Körper.”
    “Danke, ich habe auch echt gute Schwellkörper.”
    “Bing bing bing… oh nein….  du hast grade die Fremdschämschwelle überschritten, so schade.”
  • “You have a pretty good body.”
    “I also have pretty good cavernous bodies.
    “Bing bing bing… oh no… you just crossed the cringe-threshold, such a pity.”

And with that example I’ve also crossed the Niveau-Schwelle, so I think we’ll wrap it u… oh… wait, hold on there’s a call coming in.
Pjotr from Poland, welcome to the show.
“Hey Emanuel, thanks for taking my call.”
No problem, what can I do for you.
“So I was wondering about schwelen. Just this smorning I read something like schwelender Konflikt which translated to smoldering conflict. And now I’m wondering… schwellen would kind of fit the meaning. So was that a typo?”
Oh nice question!! No, that actually wasn’t a typo. German really does have the verb schwelen and the meaning is indeed to smolder.
“Like … slowly burning without there really being a flame.”

Yeah, exactly…. so let me check real quick… erm… okay, no, looks like schwelen is NOT related to schwellen.
Actually, it belongs to the same family as sun, die Sonne and the Greek helios and it comes from the Indo-European root *suel which also meant sun.
“Oh nice… “
Now, schwelen is pretty rare actually, but I just saw another word that’s part of the family and that one is actually pretty useful… schwül.
“Oh like homosexual?”
No, that’s schwul (for men), without umlaut. Schwül is a word for a type of weather… stuffy, humid, hot air. The dictionary lists a whole bunch of options and I don’t know which one to pick, but schwül is essentially this kind of air you often have in summer when everyone is yearning for a thunderstorm. That’s called schwül.

  • Wenn es schwül ist, gehe ich nicht gerne joggen.
  • I don’t like going for a run when it’s hot, stuffy and humid.

The word schwul probably does come from schwül though. Back a few hundred years, one term for gay men was “warmer Bruder”.  There are many theories for where this came from,… like… their skin is warmer. Or they’re just luke warm toward women. Or they’re like a warm, compassionate woman toward men. And there are more. But either way, almost 200 years ago, people in the Berlin region as well as street thugs started using schwul as a synonym for warm in that context and the word caught on pretty quickly.
“And… is it … like.. is it okay to use it?”
Pretty sure it used to be derogatory because society was stupid, fearful and restrictive back then. But it’s completely neutral now. Like the color green. If you want to you can say it in a spiteful way, but the word itself isn’t charged anymore.
“Cool, thanks a lot, that was really interesting.”
No problem, man, thanks for the question :).
And I think that’s pretty much it for today.
This was our look at the meaning of die Schwelle and the verb schwellen.
As usual, if you want to check how much you remember, you can take the little quiz I have prepared.
And of course if you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time :).

 

** vocab **

die Schwelle = the threshold, door step, the brink (“Türschwelle”)
das Schwellenland = the emerging nation, threshold country
die Hörschwelle = the hearing threshold
schwellen = the swell (rare as a verb)
anschwellen = to swell up, get swollen
abschwellen = a swelling decreasing
die Schwellung = the swelling
die Hemmschwelle = the inhibition threshold
der Schwellkörper = the cavernous body
geschwollen = swollen; pompous (for speech)

die Schwiele = the callus
die Geschwulst = the tumor-like swelling

schwül = stuffy, humid air (only for weather, not for rooms)
schwul = gay 

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api
api
1 year ago

Ich war verwirrt, da alle Wörter ähnlich aussehen. Daher ist das Quiz sehr hilfreich. Danke(^^)d

Berke
Berke
1 year ago

das war sehr interressant für mich, danke

Rachel
Rachel
1 year ago

Redeschwall made me think of a ‘squall of words’ – any connection, do you think? So glad to be back with you…..as a linguistics grad (forgotten more than I ever knew, though) I love your way of looking at language. It’s like a treasure hunt.

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago

You forgot “die Bahnschwelle”, which translates to “railway sweeper/tie”

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago

Hallo, Leute. Wir Hatton technische Problem, aber die Sendung ist züruck

lass uns los gehen!

Gespräch

Einhorn : Hast die geschwollene Lippen gesehen?

Einhorn 2 : Hab’nicht? was hat passiert?

Einhorn 1 : Hier….

Einhorn 2 : Eww.

und das ist alles heute

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago

For this example:

  • “Mach die Musik leiser!”
  • “Wieso?! Die ist unterhalb der Hörschwelle. ”
  • Hörschwelle heißt nicht, die Schwelle, ab der man nichts anderes mehr hört.”
  • “Turn down the music!”
  • “Why? It’s below the hearing threshold.”
  • “Hearing threshold is not the threshold above which you don’t hear anything else.”

Whats the difference between wieso and warum here?
I would have used warum here but I don’t know why and I find the difference difficult to distinguish.

MihaiF
MihaiF
2 years ago

I searched „Fremdscham” on dict.cc and the given translation was „vicarious embarrassment”. It is my new favourite expression. The word „cringe” is so passé.

Richard
Richard
2 years ago

The best one-word English translation of schwül is probably close.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard

I’d say (in AE) either just humid or, maybe more specifically, muggy.

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard

My own personal definition is New Orleans in July. Like walking through a bowl of hot pea soup, but still a good time.

Interesting relationship between schwül and schwul, too. I figured they just happened to look similar.

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

New Orleans would be an extreme, but the idea I had is the air is thick, humid, still, and warm. Is that off? I’ve lived in places where most summer days were like that, and other places where it only tended to happen every so often, or before a storm, like you mentioned, and I never really made a distinction.

Most of those places it was hot enough to take two showers a day. Although where I am now, it can happen when it’s still kind of cool. For me, that’s all just muggy. Maybe schwül is different?

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

What would you use to describe that kind of climate, then? That’s interesting. It sounds like “close” might be best after all, but now I don’t know how to talk about hot, humid weather anymore…

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

If it’s a place that’s hot and humid all year round (maybe Thailand, but I’ve never been), then I would probably just say it like that. More technical would be tropical or subtropical. For places that have more traditional seasons with hot, humid summers, I would say it gets muggy in the summer or just that it tends to be hot and humid.

It kind of depends on where I am. FWIW muggy seems to be common in the parts of the US where it gets hot and humid most often. It seems a lot less common where it’s drier or cooler. Close is something I associate with British English. So I guess it’s complicated….

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  coleussanctus

I meant in German XD

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

Oops. Heiß and feucht are the first words that come to mind. Not fully sure if that’s right. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure if I’ve heard schwül to describe a climate/weather over a period of time. But to be honest, this is an area where my vocabulary is kind of lacking :)

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Interesting. Thanks!

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

To keep track of schwul vs. schwül, I think of the umlaut on schwül as drops of humidity associated with humid/muggy weather.

Yeah, I’ve claimed to meet up with some humid friends to celebrate the Rainbow festival and have complained about gay weather on hot, humid dog-days.

But since I found the drops of humidity on the u in schwül, it’s all wieder in Ordnung.

New Orleans is below sea-level, it’s like being in an aquarium. Growing up there I can say that we use humid in the same way Europeans use humid/schwül but everything is relative. In NO it’s often above 37°C (or was when I lived there). After 35 years in Europe, I found this past weekend of 32°C just as unbearable as I found 37°+C 35 years ago. It’s just that in NO, they move slower, and unlike northern Europe, no one expects much of anyone – here in Europe, everyone’s expected to be productive, even in temperatures above 28°. Verrückt.

There really are no gradations in Hell – everything over 21° is torture.

Rachel
Rachel
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I live in Wales where we have kind of standard UK weather but generally cooler and windier. We have had some humid weather lately and the locals could be heard saying, “Gosh, isn’t it close today?!” That sense of the stifling, humid, still air clinging to you a bit. Hope that helps.

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago

So I had fun learning why Schwellkörper was plural instead of singular. The more you know. :) I can even pronounce the umlaut right, finally (I think). Short ö and short ü have been the most challenging for me.

Du hast einen echt guten Körper.

You have a pretty good body.

Can echt gut mean both ziemlich gut/ganz gut and sehr gut? I thought I heard it used in the sense of sehr gut before, just want to make sure if I understood it correctly. Like a concert where the singer said “ihr seid echt gut” and seemed happy with what the audience just did. And I think I’ve read things like “das sieht echt gut aus!”

Zuckerbaby
Zuckerbaby
2 years ago

I have always thought that one should learn to drive when one thinks he/she is immortal, i.e. teenager. I have been licensed since age 15. I have an amusing story about qualifying for a license in New York City. Can I send a pdf?

Elsa
Elsa
2 years ago

Hello,

Only a couple typos:
“been wishing for a long time that Thomas start a diet” (been wishing for a long time that Thomas started a diet)
“my lip swells” (my lips swell – plural)
“Just thi smorning I read” (Just this morning I read)
lukewarm is just one word

Oh, I reached 110% in the quiz, that defies the laws of physics! :)

One question about the spicy food and the lips swelling – is the lip, as in singular, used in German instead of the plural?

Bis bald!

Kwayet
Kwayet
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Oh, it makes me feel like a grammar cop… But seeing as this is a grammar blog, I guess that’s fine? :)

In this instance, “…been wanting that Thomas start a diet”, I’m pretty sure, is actually correct. This is one the few places English maintains a subjunctive form: If you’re going to use “…wants THAT Thomas X”, then X will be subjunctive. Well in line with usual Indo-European subjunctive tendencies, note the optative nature of the sentence and the subordinate clause, etc…

Übrigens wollte ich halt sagen, dass dieser Artikel war toll… Es gibt viele lustige Wörter dabei, “Schwellenland” und Hemmschwelle” gefallen mir besonders gut.

Danke für ihn, freue mich darauf, dass du besser wirst und zurück bist :)

SteveBead
SteveBead
2 years ago

‘Warum redest du denn so geschwollen.’

Oder als sagen wir ‘Why are you talking bollocks’

pmccann
pmccann
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

You’re right, it does mean nonsense/bullshit, so “talking bollocks” might be otherwise rendered as “crapping on” (that one has a distinctly late 20th century Australian feel!) or “spouting nonsense” or “bullshitting”. You often here a raw “That’s bollocks” –or simply “Bollocks!”– as well, with the obvious meaning.

pmccann
pmccann
2 years ago
Reply to  pmccann
  • here (Hangs head six days later in some pitiful semblance of self-shaming!)
marko
marko
2 years ago

For Redeschwall, “torrent of words” is possible. As a Fachbegriff, we say “pressure of speech” for example as a symptom of hypomania. Umgangsprachlich, we say “verbal diarrhoea”.

Bosko24
Bosko24
2 years ago

Super wie immer. Danke. Ich möchte noch ein paar Wörter hinzufügen: aufschwellen und abschwellen.
 Kann ich einen Vorschlag fur nächstes Thema machen? Danke

Ahmad Mazaheri
Ahmad Mazaheri
2 years ago

Hallo Emmanuel
Nochmal ein echt helfreiche Artikel. Ich habe fast alle Frage geschafft ausser Schwellesmitz .?.
Vielen Dank
Bis nächstes Mal .

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago

“Von einmal Fegen kriegt man keine Schwielen” Fegen = sweeping, not brooming?

pmccann
pmccann
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Brooming simply doesn’t exist, as far as this mega-old native English speaker is aware! Well, you do of course get a couple of hits on Google (and it seems that ‘broom’ itself was occasionally used as a verb), but “sweeping” is what you want here.

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago
Reply to  pmccann

I’ve heard it in the context of curling. It can also mean…other things…according to Urban Dictionary. Tbh I don’t hear those too often, but it’s a rare word in general.

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I loved the winter Olympics as a kid. Still do, actually.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  pmccann

Dictionary.com does indeed give several meanings for “to broom,” including as a synonym for “sweep,” but I’ve never heard or read it. No idea in what countries or regions it might be used.