Word of the Day – “wehren”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we’ll have a look at the meaning of

wehren

 

And let’s just start with a real life example… imagine, you’re having this home party, it’s great fun, and suddenly your cat walks in with that certain look on its face. And starts talking shit about you in front of all your friends.
And then it grabs a beer and pours it over your head. And then it drags you to the bathroom to wash off  the beer in the toilet. Cat is in bully mode and you REALLY need to wehren yourself or this will never stop.

What’s that you’re asking? If I am high? I don’t understand. My cat treats me like shit and now you’re implying it is my fault?! What does that even mean, high? I might have had a few couples of beer, yes. Just like any teacher at a language scho… oh man, what happened to this intro. I don’t know… sometimes the nonsense is so strong, I can’t resist.
Let’s just get started….

So wehren… what does it mean. Bully cat from above might have given you a … ahem… nudge in the right direction.
Wehren, or sich wehren to be precise, is about defending yourself, fighting back.

  • Ich muss mich gegen meine Katze wehren, sonst hört sie nicht auf.
  • I have to fight back/defend myself against my cat or it won’t stop.
  • Wenn der Unsinn kommt, kann ich mich nicht dagegen wehren.
  • If nonsense comes, I can’t resist/fight it off.
  • Die Gazelle hat sich erfolgreich gegen den Löwen gewehrt.
  • The gazelle successfully defended herself against the lion.
  • Der Manager des Autokonzerns wehrt sich gegen die Vorwürfe.
  • The manager of the car company defends himself against the accusations.

German also has the word verteidigen for to defend and there’s definitely an overlap with wehren. Like… would work in the examples with the politician and the gazelle. But there are a couple of differences. The main one is that wehren doesn’t if you want to defend something other than yourself.

  • I defend you against my cat.
  • Ich wehre dich gegen meine Katze... NOPE!!
  • Ich verteidige dich gegen meine Katze…. yes!!

     

Wehren really only works for yourself. Well, okay and in some rare occasions you can find it without anything in a general sense of fighting against.

  • Wehret den Anfängen.
  • Resist/fight the beginnings.
    (No self reference here but this use s pretty much outdated. Also: is this the proper translation for this bible quote? Berlingrabers, counting on you here :)

And this brings us to the other difference to verteidigen – vibe. Wehren has a rather active notion to it. Just blocking or evading attacks isn’t really what you’d think of when you hear wehren. Wehren sounds like you take action. So it is kind of defending by fighting back. Don’t get me wrong… verteidigen doesn’t have to be super passive. As I said, there’s an overlap. Just keep this notion of fighting back as the core of wehren, rather than plain defense.

This notion of “active defense” is also kind of visible in the compounds with wehren and there are some really nice ones.

  • Meine Katze ist verrückt – gestern musste die Feuerwehr kommen und mich vom Baum holen.
  • My cat is crazy – yesterday, the fire fighters had to come to get me off the tree.
  • Der Tritt in die Eier war Notwehr.
  • The kick in the balls was (emergency) self-defense. (legal term)
  • Igel sind harmlos aber nicht wehrlos.
  • Hedgehogs are harmless but not defense-less.
  • Weil es keine Wehrpflicht mehr gibt, muss die Bundeswehr Werbung machen.
  • Because there’s no more compulsory military service, the German armed forces have to do ads.

Oh and if you’ve watched a few world war 2 movies you might also know the word Wehrmacht, which was the name of the army of  Nazi Germany.
Now, when you see all these army related terms and you might be wondering if wehren is somehow related to English war.
Well, it’s not. War is related to German wirr, which is about confusion, chaos. But there is an English relative to wehren: the weir (das Wehr in German).   If you don’t know what that is…  a weir is kind of barrier you put in a river to alter or slow its flow or catch fish. The origin of the words is a root that was about protection, the same root that the word warn comes from.
And it’s likely that that root ties in with the root of worm or the German Wand (wall) – a root that was about winding. Winding branches into a fence. Wait, fence, defense… that makes sense :).

But you know what’s a REALLY  crazy connection? The word Bürger is related to wehren as well. Any idea how? No? Well, how about if I tell you that the German word for stronghold is die Burg. A Burg was under attack  quite often and the people defending it were called… “Burg-Wehrer”. Over time, this word broadened and was used for militias of towns and eventually der Bürger was used for anyone living in a city and later, the state. So the German word for citizen originally meant as much as defender of the keep.

But enough with the history stuff. Let’s get to the prefix versions. Because what would a verb be without without at least one prefix. Exactly: b.

Get it?… uhm… I did like a thing with the ver-prefix. Like… ver.. the prefix. Verb. What’s a verb witho… why are your faces so serious, gee, I’m trying okay. It’s not easy for me to be funny. I’m German.
So yeah, prefix versions.
There’s really only one that matters in daily life: abwehren. Abwehren is basically a successful fighting back, so it means to fend off. But as a noun it is also often used in a more general sense of defense, because Wehr by itself is really only used as weir.

  • Der Wanderer wehrt den Angriff des Wildschweins ab.
  • The hiker fends off the boar attack.
  • Vitamin C stärkt die Immunabwehr.
  • Vitamine C strengthens the immune defense.
  • In der zweiten Halbzeit hatte die Abwehr große Probleme.
  • In the second half, the defense had huge problems. (sports talk)

Next up, we have verwehren and this one is about denying – in the sense of someone wanting something and you say no. So it’s the away-idea of ver- mixed with a rather weakened idea of defending. You “fend off the bid”, if you will. It’s not super common but you might see it newspapers.

  • Meine Katze verwehrt mir den Zugang zur Küche.
  • My cat denies me access to the kitchen.
  • Dem Reporter wurde das Recht zu telefonieren verwehrt.
  • The reporter was denied the right to make a phone call.

And last but not least we have the noun das Gewehr. A few hundred years back it was a general word for stuff that you need to defend yourself. So it could be your sword but also your breast plate. But eventually, it was narrowed down to one specific weapon… the rifle.

  • Der Jäger lädt sein Gewehr.
  • The hunter loads his rifle.

And I think that’s it for today. This was our look at … wait, I hear the door… hello, who’s there?!?!… oh …. you…  I already gave you your dinner, what do you want… why are you looking at me like that… you think I’m scared? Well, I am, but I will stand tall you furry purry demon… I have a large glass full of water here… and I will use it, so you better back off…yeah, that’s right… out the door. Who’s the pussy now huh?
Yes, victory!!! So yeah, this was our look at sich wehren. As always, if you have questions or suggestions about this just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time :).

By the way… if you’re a Game of Thrones fan then think about Weirwood Trees for a second. There’s definitely a notion of wehren to them.

** vocab **

sich wehren – defend oneself, fight back

wehrlos – defenseless
die Notwehr – the self-defense in an emergency
die Feuerwehr – the fire truck, fire fighters
der Feuerwehrmann – the fire fighter
die Bundeswehr – the German armed forces
der Wehretat – the military budget
die Wehrmacht – the Nazi army

abwehren – fend off
die Abwehr – the defense

verwehren – deny (a request)

das Gewehr – the rifle

verteidigen – defend (more general)
die Verteidigung – the defense
der Verteidiger – the lawyer (in court)

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Shehzad
4 years ago

Hi! you’ve explained very good. I’ve found here a lot of best knowledge to understand for me.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

Die Blog gefällt mir.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
4 years ago

It is interesting – I wondered if, since it’s related to “weir,” it’s also related to “weird.” And lo and behold, it is! :)

“Ward” is related to “guard,” which according to the Online Etymology dictionary comes from the ancient IE root *wer- “perceive, watch out for.” It’s related to “warten.” It really is interesting how close “ward off” is in meaning to “sich wehren,” though.

Philologia
Philologia
3 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

And to its English cognate variants that mean to attend, watch defensively: “await,” “wait”; “wary,” “beware,” “aware.” And “warden,” supervisor of one or more captives. And in sports to parry, “ward off” an incoming missile.

Earlier you had said that the IE root of “wehr” is “wer,”* to wind, hence “worm.” I recall a German professor once telling our class that the root of the German verb infinitive “werden” meaning “to become,” to pass (wind, turn) into the future is thus the root of the Old German noun “Wyrd” meaning fate: as in the AD 500s Old English poem Beowulf line, “Wyrd oft hilft man der [doughty, fearless] be.” And that word “Wyrd” from the Germanic myth depiction of the three fates as the “Weird Sisters”–old, grey, strange, crooked, twisted, and terrifyingly inscrutable (like Greco-Roman Gorgon Medusa)–led to the English adjective “weird” meaning strange, convoluted and not readily or at length seeable or understandable.

* Misleadingly? “Wer” as in English “werwolf” (man wolf) and Old Anglo Saxon “wergeld” (man price, compensatory damages for having killed a man) means “man”; cognate with the Modern English Latinisms “virile” meaning “mannish,” and a “virago,” a mannish woman.

Philologia
Philologia
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

First, I amend my above comment’s “‘virile’ meaning ‘mannish'” to ” … meaning ‘manly,'” a term of praise for a man who acts naturally and heroically as a man; whereas “mannish” is a pejorative for a woman who acts unnaturally aggressively, acts like a man.

And perhaps the English “virile” from Latin “vir” meaning “man,” and English “virus” and its adjective “virulent” do come from that IE root “wer” meaning to turn, wend (as in English “whirl,” and “waltz” from German “Walzer”), and e.g., bore through, as in “worm”), “virus” to mean a one-celled self-reproducing entity that multiplies to bore through near and then far cells, perhaps aggressively like a man.

Or not: per https://www.etymonline.com/word/virus, the ProtoIE root of “virus” is “weis,” meaning to melt away or flow, as a noxious fluid. But perhaps “virus,” first appearing in medicine AD 1728 to mean an infectious agent, and IE “weis” were allied in meaning from IE “wer” meaning to turn, wend, bore, perhaps having been applied to a fluid.

Etymology, which rediscovers and reveals the recondite, oft well time-buried roots of words, as back to their IndoEuropean “origins,” is a fascinating subject. As a college freshman I was first stunned when my German professor demonstrated that the “hund-” in German “hundert” and English “hundred” had the same IE root as the “cent-” in Latin “centum,” Latin for “hundred.”

person243
person243
4 years ago

Hello. That means “die Bürgerwehr” has “wehr” twice?
“Wehren” seems like an interesting word. Is it also connected to “ward”? The words are at least very close in meaning.
For prefix versions, there are also:

“erwehren”, which goes without a preposition unlike “wehren” that takes “gegen”. So you can say: “Ich wehre mich gegen den Hund.” and “Ich erwehre mich des Hundes.” with the same meaning. And yes, that is genitive, “erwehren” takes genitive. And that kind of already gives away that the word is very formal. I know it mostly from the sentence beginning: “Ich kann mich des Eindrucks nicht erwehren, dass…” = “It seems like …” (lit.: I cannot ward off the impression that …)

“bewehren”, (not to be confused with “bewähren” = “to prove one’s worth”) that means to equip somebody with weapons or defence mechanisms. Although that meaning is old and not really often used. You more often hear the participle “bewehrt” = “reinforced”, but not so much in the literal sense either. More often it is used in juristical talk when you want to know what is illegal and what not. “etwas ist mit einer Strafe bewehrt” = “a punishment is declared for something” (lit.: something is reinforced/warded with a punishment).

person243
person243
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Maybe I’m watching too many real live police shows. There they always say stuff like: “Einbruch und Diebstahl sind mit einer Freiheitsstrafe von mindestens zwei Jahren bewehrt. In minder schwerem Fall kann diese zur Bewährung ausgesetzt werden.” in the voice overs. :)

John
John
4 years ago

Now that helped a ton in distinguishing the difference between the verbs–thank you! I had always wondered. Also, good point on GoT.

Tom
4 years ago

Gut gemacht, mit vielen verständlichen Beispielen !!!
Gefällt mir!

Viel Erfolg und weiter so, “Kollege!”

Sedef Ozturk Cankocak

Apparently a medical reference there, as the Ovid quote is: “Resist beginnings: it is too late to employ medicine when the evil has grown strong by inveterate habit.” If “wehren” is not passive but action-based, is resist the best translation? How about: Fighting off bad habits?

Philologia
Philologia
3 years ago

Perhaps “curtail,” to say “cut off” in one word.

Anna Miell
Anna Miell
4 years ago

I love your ‘history stuff’! Burg-Wehrer – priceless. Thank you.

DNN
4 years ago

Stopping by from the United States of America to spread love the Brooklyn way to my fellow German bloggers. Keep on blogging to your heart’s content. Gotta love the “blogging side hustle!” :-)

kevinnametaken
kevinnametaken
4 years ago

Ich habe diesen Wort viel gesehen, deshalb ich froh bin, dass du darüber sprechen. Viele Danke für dein Blog :) es hilft mir immer

Jess
Jess
4 years ago

I want to deeply thank Emanual and all those members who have sponsored scholarships. I am a Mexican undergrad student about to graduate with a lot of tuition fees to pay, as well as with plans for graduate studies that also requiere me to save a lot of money. So I am very short of money right now. I found this site to be one of my most invaluable tools for learning German, which I just started a few months ago. I told Emanual that I’m planning to get a B2 certification by next year, so now I am even more comitted to do so! Again, thank you very much to those kind members who allowed me to be able to access to this blog through a one-year scholarship. =) I wouldn’t be able to do it without your help. When I am able, I will repay your kindness.

And last but not least I am very happy to be part of this learning community! Thanks again Emanuel for such a wonderful site! =)

berlingrabers
4 years ago

“Wehret den Anfängen” is apparently from Ovid, not the Bible. :) https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_gefl%C3%BCgelter_Worte/W#Wehre_den_Anf.C3.A4ngen.21

Wikipedia in English gives the translation as “resist the beginnings,” but I don’t think it’s a very well-known saying, at least certainly in the English-speaking world. How is it used in German? It seems pretty close in sense to the expression “nip something in the bud.”

Barratt
Barratt
4 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

I agree with “nip it in the bud”. (i.e. dafür sorgen, dass etwas aufhört, bevor es beginnt / bevor es ein Problem wird.) I would not understand “resist the beginnings.” (Das würde ich verstehen als, “den Anfang von etw resistieren”.)

Philologia
Philologia
3 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

Alternatively, to “head [cut] something off at the pass” also means, to stop a thing before or as it starts.

Yort
Yort
4 years ago

Kind of interesting that Wehr and Abwehr have different endings… seems like most of the time the last component of the word defines the gender but that’s obviously not the case here… wah!!

Expat
Expat
4 years ago
Reply to  Yort

Yes, definitely interesting :) But there is “die Wehr” which is what is part of “Feuerwehr” and “Abwehr” (“resistance”) etc., and then there’s “das Wehr”, which is “weir” as Emanuel explained, so “-wehr” actually does determine the gender in “Abwehr”. And it apparently is quite usual for homonyms/polysemes (words with same spelling) in German to also have different endings, i.e. being declined differently (and therefore also often having a different gender). Other examples are “das Schild”, nominative plural: “die Schilder” (“sign”, as in “street sign”) vs. “der Schild”, nominative plural: “die Schilde” (“shield”– again for the Game of Thrones fans among you ;) ) or “der/die/das Band”, nominative plural “die Bände” (“volume”, e.g. of a book)/ “Bands” (“band”, as in music group, although I’m not completely sure this belongs here, because it’s an anglicism and in both singular and plural the “a” is pronounced “ä”) / “Bänder” (“thread”, “ribbon”, “tape”, depending on context) repectively. “Die Bank” would be an example for the same gender, but different endings (“die Bänke” = “benches” vs. “die Banken” = “banks”) and there’s maaaany more :) Maybe you can give links to blog posts, Emanuel, in case you already covered those previously (I’m quite new to yourdailygerman), but Google search results also cover this topic pretty extensively :)

Horatio
Horatio
4 years ago
Reply to  Yort

The ending hasn’t changed due to adding ab, it’s just that there are two different nouns that are both spelt Wehr. One is feminine, and is a (outdated when used on its own) word for defense – this is the one that die Abwehr is derived from. The second is the neutral one mentioned above meaning weir.