Advent Calendar 2020 – “My Unwort”

And the nominees are

 

Hello everyone,

and welcome Epic Advent Calendar 2020, day 14.
A few days ago, I told you about the German tradition of the Unwort des Jahres. If you haven’t read that one… WHAT THE HELL?! Sure, this calendar is for fun – but it’s MANDATORY fun. So you had better read up.

Nah, seriously … the Unwort is a questionable word or phrase that was part of the public discourse and it gets elected by a jury every year. If you want to know more and see some examples, you can find the my post here:

Unwort des Jahres

Today, I want to give you my three personal favorites for this year, the year of the 2020.
They’re actually all revolving around the same topic and I think you all guessed what that is… the pandemic of course.
So here we go.

My suggestion number one is:

“hinterfragen”

Hinterfragen isn’t a new word. It means second guessing some information about the world that someone tells you – for instance the media or a book. And for a long time that was actually GOOD thing.
But of course hinterfragen is also really great word for you if you want to convince someone that what they assume to be reality is… false.
“The earth is round? Well… how do you know?! You just believe what THEY tell you in school. You need to hinterfragen.”
People who believe in one or the other conspiracy have always used the word as part of their line of argument. But this year it, with the pandemic, it got out of hand.
People who believe that Covid is either a hoax or not a big deal have occupied the word and they throw it in your face in pretty much any Facebook comment. The original sense of being critical and consulting several sources has disappeared.
Now it basically means this:

“Watching Youtube videos and BELIEVING everything they say there because it feels right.”

And there’s a subtext of “I am smarter than you, by the way.” in it, as well. People who use hinterfragen these days feel quite superior to the “normies”. And also, in Germany, they’re CONSTANTLY guilt-tripping others by saying if they don’t “hinterfragen”  then they’re like the Germans in the Third Reich, who pretended to “not know what’s going on”.
So yeah… I hate hinterfragen now. Thanks for ruining a nice word!!

Luckily, they invented a new word – a quite funny one and my suggestion number two:

“das Schlafschaf”

Schlafschaf literally means “sleep sheep” and I think you might be able to guess what it stands for …. everyone who consumes and believes established media of course. The Corona skeptics came up with this very early on and they really like using it in debates on Facebook walls and newspaper comment threads. And even though it is meant as an insult, I have to give credit where credit is due… it’s catchy, it’s funny and it’s cute. A title I can wear with pride.
I’m not so sure the skeptics are as satisfied with the term they got assigned. Which brings us to my third favorite Unwort of the year.

“schwurbeln”

Had you asked me what schwurbeln means a year ago, I would probably told you to think of an old, crazy magician who is murmuring to himself in the study room. But this year, the verb truly found a new calling – describing the people who destroyed “hinterfragen”.
All these Youtube “journalists” and “doctors” and “experts” who know everything better than the thousands of professionals who don’t have a Youtube channel.

“I am the leading expert in the field (and for some reason no one consults me) and the PCR test is actually worthless because it has a 1% error rate and if you have very few infected and you test a lot you only get false hits and also, most people who died didn’t die from Corona-virus but from a thrombosis and also they were of advanced age so they would have died soon anyway and blah blah blah our freedom blah blah blah like in the third Reich blah blah blah”

Schwurbeln is the PERFECT word for that .. a stream of half-truths and lies with a “scientific” and “democratic” veneer that just keeps rolling and rolling and rolling and if you present an obstacle (some arguments), then it just rolls around it or shifts direction. Or it stops for a few minutes and you think it’s over but then it starts up again from the beginning.
The verb is schwurbeln and the is Schwurbler and you can make nice new words like Schwurbelgruppe (Facebook… I mean Telegram group of Schwurbler) or Schwurbeldemo (protest by Schwurbler). The words are pretty much mainstream at this point and I absolutely love them, because they just perfectly capture in sound what they stand for.

So there they are. These are my personal two favorites for Unwort of the year 2020.
What about you? If you’re in Germany, I’m sure you’ve heard about them, so how do you feel about them? Or do you have other suggestions?
And to all of you out there, are there equivalent words in your language?
Let me know all your feedback in the comments.
Have a great day and see you tomorrow.

Oh and just to make sure… I don’t want to discredit people who are skeptical about the handling of the pandemic. It’s complicated and there are no easy answers. I’m just sick of people telling me that I am not hinterfragen enough just because I think their arguments are false.

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berlingrabers
berlingrabers
1 year ago

Out of curiosity (and regarding another Unwort of the year), why is it “der Lockdown”? What’s the presumptive German equivalent that gives that Anglicism its gender?

I can’t remember if you mentioned it in the intro post about Unwort, but there’s also Unding, which I hear every now and again (somehow more often in 2020…).

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Do you feel the same way about “Countdown”? Dict.cc has that one marked as masculine and rarely neuter.

barratt
barratt
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I noticed watching American Football in Germany that it is das Down, but der Touchdown. Ich habe die Logik nie hinterfragt…

RuthE
RuthE
1 year ago

Ooh! Ooh! I just remembered some English words related to ‘schwurbeln’ – and they’re almost as fun to say, too! A person who talks foolishly at length, with emphasis on ‘length,’ is a ‘blatherskite.’ Yes, you can ‘blather (on)’ as well, so that might be a good definition of ‘schwurbeln’. Then there’s ‘bafflegab,’ usually applied to politicians and lawyers, confusing or unintelligible jargon.

Anne Maxwell-Jackson
Anne Maxwell-Jackson
1 year ago

Great blog. Unfortunately in the UK the effects of the pandemic are going to be made worse by our blind-folded walk into a very murky and entirely self inflicted economic disaster. There is a word for this phenomenon, but it was coined about 4-5 years ago, so isn’t eligible this year. Btw, thanks for yesterday’s quiz.

Per
Per
1 year ago

Bei “Maskenmuffel” bin ich mir nicht so sicher ob es zum Wort oder Unwort des Jahres gekürt werden sollte… Querdenker oder Jana aus Kassel vielleicht… :-)

Margie
Margie
1 year ago

I love Schlafschaf! The term reminds me of this delightful image from a favorite children’s book, written and illustrated by professor, friend and inspiration M. Paula Survilla: https://www.knitbaahpurl.com/store/p11/Over_the_Moon%2C_a_sheep%27s_tale.html
You might check out the knitbaahpurl website–I think you would enjoy the humor of her work.
Bis Morgen!

Dennis Kuntz
Dennis Kuntz
1 year ago

false positive does that mean lying is truthful??

Leslie r. Crockett
Leslie r. Crockett
1 year ago

Ah Emanuel! You have beautifully described my frustration with the misuse of and ‘ruining’ of some words and symbols. Words and correct meanings are very important to me but, like many people with Aspergers and OCD, I am not quick and witty with my speaking. I’ve begun to detest some ( formerly good) words because of the mean associations they have taken on.

Ahmad Mazaheri
Ahmad Mazaheri
1 year ago

Hallo lieber Emanuel,
Hier in Frankreich, gibt’s ein par Unding Wörter zum Beispiel: Blabla, Charabia, Nonsense, sottise, langue de Bois,……. etc.
Selbstverständlich gibt’s Solche Wörter, in verschiedene Branche oder Umstände darum man ein Fachsprache benützt. Aber Umgangsprachlisch, höre ich öfters, solches Undinge, übertriebenerweise bei
Journalisten *innen/ Moderatoren*innen in Rundfunk oder im Fersehen oder Politikern .
Ich möchte dir erzählen ein Beispiel habe ich bei Kulture Radio gehört. In einer Kinosendung ( Über Kino), der Moderator in letze Woche, benutze den Verb Storyboarder . Dieses kommt natürlich aus Englische und gibt’s nicht ens Fransosiche. Der Klang selbst verletzt mein Ohr !
Oder habe schon einmal in Fernsehen, ein Politiker/ Minister gehört , der über ein ” Technologie de Rupure” Sprachte.
Sehr enthusiast ( rapturous sogar ) . Er wolle von einer innovativen ,neuen Technik sprechen . Was komisch aussieht, ist das Wort Rupture gibt ins Fransosiche. Aber sie sind die falsche Freunde . MONSIEUR
Minister wollte sagen dass er ein Besserwisser ist !
Bis bald dir zu hören mit Enthusiasmus !
Im voraus vielen vielen dank .

Vorlaufer
Vorlaufer
1 year ago

My favourite Unwort is hamsterkaufer or panic hoarder. Their favourite activity is collecting toilet paper.

Pentatomidae
Pentatomidae
1 year ago
Reply to  Vorlaufer

Yes, I love that word hamsterkaufer!

Fanny Hensel in Maine
Fanny Hensel in Maine
1 year ago

I love the word Schwurbeln! It sounds like a portmanteau between “swear” and “burble.” But the meaning is genius. Back in the day (since I’m old) it was called “Quality Bullshit”… like when you had to write a paper in college and it was due the next day and had to be ten pages, and you just had to pad it with a lot of meaningless verbiage and repetition so it would be long enough.

Michael
Michael
1 year ago

Hi Emanuel,
I’m really enjoying the Advent calendar articles – thanks! My German teacher was telling me about the Unwort tradition a couple of weeks back and asked me to have a go at making some new German words up – notwithstanding the fact that she knows I have enough problems remembering the ones currently in circulation…

My favourite invention was:

kassettenverblüfft sein 

which I decided was a verb to describe a younger generation’s inability to work with formerly commonplace (but now outdated) technology.

I think I’m going to adopt Schlafschaf and Schwurbeln though – particularly Schwurbeln: it sounds like a burbled stream of shady verbiage.

Timothy Spangler
Timothy Spangler
1 year ago

AWESOME!!!! You really left this one wide open for me to express my true feeling on what, I or I feel about this BS 2020… Yes it sucks, when people pass away. But come on, everything a person does from, weather it’s from a heart attack, car accident, broken toe nail, etc. It’s all, covid-19 related. I’m sick and tired of the politics and main stream media, putting fear, into everyone.. Mankind, got thru the flu pandemic back in the 1920’s, look how that turned out. So there’s my rant for 2020.
Tim

Salvatore J. Cusumano
Salvatore J. Cusumano
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

It’s so much easier to join the group-think. It gives one a sense of esteem (ref. Maslow) to be as smart as the majority. So let’s come up with a perjorative term that quickly shrouds the dessenter as ignorant or just recalcitrant. That will shut him up.

Whatever happened to ‘critical thinking’ ? Vielleicht, ist hinterfragen es?

If the arguement has no merits than criticize that, not the individual. (Although the later is much easier.) Else, you may find yourself on the wrong side next time and no one will then care to hear your thoughts.

Let’s get away from type-casting everyone we disagree with and stop using these terms completely.

I think ‘Tyrannical Action’ is a better characterization of the current shutdown. There is no cost/benefit analysis, no input from the people’s representatives, just do as I say and all must obey. I prefer to appeal to the intelligence of the people, give them the best understanding of the issue and then let them act upon it.

Do you really think that the US or Germany will really compensate the loss to a small business entrepenuer? I don’t, 10,000 have already closed in the US.

PeterB
PeterB
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I totally agree with your assessment of the media. Yes, the topic could easily escalate, but let me only comment that the counting is pretty reasonable. In fact, the so-called access mortality (above the normal, historical mortality, which is very stable) in the US is so far significantly higher than the numbers officially assigned to COVID.  

aoind
aoind
1 year ago

If we look at how the 1918 flu pandemic turned out, the mainstream estimate is that 50 million died. One of those was my great grandmother who succumbed to it in a remote Irish farming community on the evening she had given birth to my grandmother. This event understandably blighted my grandmother’s whole life, fantastic woman though she was. Let’s try and do better this time, now that we have the means to do so.

Carossi
Carossi
1 year ago

Hi Enmanuel!

I liked your article.
It shows that you’re into the group of people that really attended your classes on “critical thinking”. Unfortunately, there are a bunch of people who spare their time spreading the most chaotic and irrational ideas in every available language.

If I have to select an “Unwort”, it would be “Social distance”. Not the “physical distance” required to stay clear from infection, but the real “Social distance” that we experience every day.

Fear is the basic emotion that appears when human beings feel threatened. And the actual answers to this pandemic are the same as they were a hundred years ago, the only difference is that now we have technology.

Regards,

Lew Hann
Lew Hann
1 year ago
Reply to  Carossi

Thank you for bringing up the “social” versus “physical” distance distinction. It really bugs me. “Social distance” is a legitimate expression, but it is a purely psychological term and does not convey the message that science/medicine is trying to send us about Abstand halten.

fairyhedgehog
fairyhedgehog
1 year ago

Great article! And now I know the German word for sheeple = Schlafschaf.

I’m not sure we have a word for Schwurbeln. It sounds like a Gish Gallop but that’s not a phrase in everyday use.

Also I’m not sure we have a word for hinterfragen. I think you’re more likely to see something like “wake up, sheeple!” but luckily I’ve been managing to avoid the nutters online almost entirely, so I’m happily ignorant about what they’re saying.

By the way, is it possible to make it so you can follow replies to a comment after you’ve posted it? When you post something and then realise didn’t click to follow, it’s too late.

RuthE
RuthE
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

But “schwurbeln” is so much more fun to say!!

Aimee
Aimee
1 year ago
Reply to  fairyhedgehog

I have to say, I like both schlafschaf and sheeple. Good words that roll off the tongue nicely.

I have never heard of Gish Gallop. Thanks for the new phrase!

jamesbdamon
jamesbdamon
1 year ago
Reply to  fairyhedgehog

I can’t think of an equivalent verb for “schwurbeln” either, but Schwerbler translates pretty well as “truther” and is pretty mainstream—you see the “anti-vaxx truthers” or “climate truthers” everywhere, always layered with plenty of sarcasm

PeterB
PeterB
1 year ago
Reply to  fairyhedgehog

Even when I check that I want to follow replies to my comment, it does not work for me. I do get a confirmation from the system, but then when someone comments, I do not get any notification.

fairyhedgehog
fairyhedgehog
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I didn’t see that, and for some threads that would be useful! Thank you!

aoind
aoind
1 year ago
Reply to  fairyhedgehog

So many Schwurbler on Twitter still insisting Trump won the election and that he still could. The word they use instead of hinterfragen is “research”. They have done lots (Youtube videos and alt right “news” media) and you/we have done none, so they say. It’s exactly the same for the covidiots.

aoind
aoind
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

We are witnessing a recent phenomenon where D-list celebrities disgrace themselves with reactionary views in public, are then “cancelled” and then relaunch themselves as the latest darling of the English ethno-nationalist/covid denial movement. The latest of these is Laurence Fox (son of the actor James Fox) who was previously famous only for playing the character of a classically-educated sidekick-of-a-sidekick in a TV detective show (“Lewis”). Following his cancellation for telling a woman of mixed race on live TV that she was the one racially oppressing him, he has dedicated his life to stirring up pointless controversy on Twitter. I understand there can be money in this.