Word of the Day – “weich”

weich-ausweichen-meaningHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. Today’s word can be used to describe a comfy cushion, a perfect breakfast egg and a man who cries at the end of Armageddon. Sounds random? Not at all. Ladies and gentlemen, today we’ll look at the meaning of

weich

 

You’ve probably guessed it. Weich means soft. And just like soft it can be used in a wide variety of contexts.

  • Bei der Standortwahl eines Unternehmens spielen weiche  Standortfaktoren wie Freizeitmöglichkeiten oder Kulturangebot oft eine sehr große Rolle, obwohl sie sich, anders als harte Standortfaktoren wie beispielsweise Steuern oder Infrastruktur, nur schwer quantifizieren lassen und somit nicht in eine Kostenberechung einbezogen werden können.
  • Soft location factors such as leisure opportunities or cultural services play a huge role in a company’s decision on where to locate, even though they can’t be quantified like the “hard location factors” like for example taxes or infrastructure and can hence … uhm…and so on.

Damn. That last one was awful. But anyway, there’s one thing that weich isn’t used for that much and that is… activities. Weich does really work as a description of how something is being done. So it’s not a good translation for softly.That would be sanft or sacht.

Now, weich itself is certainly a useful word to know but the real reason we’re talking about it are the many related words you can find in daily speech. So let’s look at those
First, there’s a bunch of compound. Weichtier for example is the official German term for a mollusk. Animals like snails. A Weichmacher is some chemical agent softening up our plastic (plasticizer) and  Weichspüler is the stuff you put into your ashing machine to make your blanket not just weich but kuschelweich (cuddle-soft). You probably guessed it… it means fabric softener. And people have actually derived a verb from it.

The most important of all of them however is the… Weichei.  Literally this means soft-egg and is a very common word for wuss or pansy or wimp

All right. So these were the compounds. Now for some “real” words. For instance the noun die Weiche which of course means the … uhm… railway switch?! What? I…. I think my dictionary is broken. Yeah, there’s no other explanation. I’ll bring it to the dictionary-doctors first thing tomorrow. So let’s just ignore that and move on to the verbs.
The first one is einweichen  and it means to put something into a liquid and let it become soft. Like bread in milk or beans in water.

The opposite of ein is aus and the meaning of ausweichen is… uh…

WHAT? To dodge??? So, let me get this straight…

 out + soft = dodge?

 I mean… sure, we’re used to German prefix verbs being all abstract and crazy and stuff but this seems a bit too much even for them. Almost as if there are two independent words weich. So… I guess we’ll do a little trip into the past and find out about the history of the words.
Obviously, soft and weich are not related. Soft is actually the English version of sanft and sacht, which we’ve already seen as translations for  gently, softly, tenderly, and they all come from an old root that meant agreeable.
Weich on the other hand is apparently related to the English weak.
Hmm… I guess the old Germanic tribesmen and women must have been really bad-ass.

“Nice rocks. Soooo comfy.”
“Thanks. They’re granite. That’s the best.”
“Hey did you know that Helgrind has put straw on his bedding.”

“Pshhhh… straw makes the bed weak. A weak bed makes a weak man.”

Man… they so would have laughed at me with my cuddle socks and my cuddle blanket sobbing at Armaged… oh crap… I didn’t mean to say that.
But seriously.  Weich never really meant weak and weak never really meant weich. The two words just focused on different things. Their origin is the hyper ancient  Indo European root *u̯eig which was at it’s core about bending, giving way.
This core is just what we need. If we say “going elsewhere” instead of giving way we have the key to those weird meanings. A rail switch does make a train go elsewhere.  And if I want to dodge a snowball, I will  jump aside (or bend). I will go out of it’s way…. ausweichen.
In fact, there’s actually a verb weichen which is nothing but a fancy version of to go away.

And what about soft? How does that fit in? Well… what is it that makes something  soft soft? It’s the fact that it bends, it gives way. And by the way… this idea can even help us understand why weich is not often used o describe activities. I mean… I cannot whisper “way giving-ly”, right?
So… all weich-words actually do come from the same root. But there are two quite different strands. One about going elsewhere, the other about soft. So whenever you see a word with weich in it, it’s gonna be about one of those two ideas. Or both.
Actually…. let’s use the rest of the post to look at some of the important ones here. I’ll give you an example first without a translation so you can see if you can figure out the meaning by context. Sounds good? Cool.
But first let me add a few examples for ausweichen, because it’s actually a bit broader than to dodge.

There are a bunch of other words that are also about the idea of evading (vermeiden, umgehen, entgehen, ausströmen…) and it’s kind of hard to tell when to use which.  Ausweichen is a conscious change of because there’s either an obstacle ahead (snow ball) or the path doesn’t go anywhere (original appointment). The two important structures are

  • Ich weiche einer Sache (Dative) aus.
  • I dogde/evade something.
  • Ich weiche auf etwas (Acc.) aus.
  • I go for/use something instead.

All right.
The next one is just one letter difference to ausweichen. Aufweichen. Let’s see some examples…. it’s not … ahem… too hard to figure out ;)

I’m sure most of you got it correctly. Aufweichen is generally about softening up something and in the first sentence it actually literally means to weaken.

Ready for the next one? Here it is: abweichen.

And? Any idea?
Abweichen can actually have both meanings. The one in the second example is pretty much to soak off. The first one is about straying away from some sort of path. But unlike ausweichen, the focus is not on evading something but simply on the deviation.

  • For cost reasons, I  deviated from my original plan of buying a vase.
  • “Nice vase”
    “Thanks, that’s actually just a beer bottle whose label I have soaked off.”

The second one is by far more common and there are some related words like die Abweichung (the deviation) or abweichend (divergent, deviant, varying).
Now, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but we actually used two different ge-forms in the last two examples. Abgeweicht and abgewichen. And also, one uses sein, the other haben for the past tense. This works for all weichen-words. The ones that are about soft will be with –weichthabe eingeweicht, aufgeweicht, abgeweicht. The ones that are about going elsewhere will be with wichen. And with sein because the focus is on a change of my location… bin ausgewichen, abgewichen, zurückgewichen (pull back)
All right. And I think that’s already it for today. Now you’re probably like “Wait a second… no inseparable prefixes?? No entweichen or verweichen or beweichen?”
Well, there actually are some. But I kinda sorta don’t want to talk about them here because  that will *** *** ***part removed for spoiler protection reasons *** *** *** But I’m sure you’ll be able to deduce their meanings with what you’ve learned today.

So that’s it. That was our look at the German word weich. It comes from an old root that was about bending and giving way and it has split into two words pretty much. One is the actual weich which means soft. The other is the stem weich which is parts of a bunch of useful words that are roughly about going elsewhere.
If you have any questions or suggestions about weich just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

 

for members :)

51
Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
newest oldest
Notify of
berlingrabers

So that’s why the waiter laughed so loud when I ordered a Weichei with my breakfast…

juliaosteopath
juliaosteopath

Love the railway switch, that really threw me for a moment. Should be points. I guess that actually fits even better with bending and going away…

Very useful post x

Corey
Corey

Where did you learn all this root-word madness? Like where did you learn that weich was related to weak which is related to “giving way to”?Where did you get such a deep understanding of these words? I’d like to learn from that

ubungmachtdenmeister

Gestern hatte ich meine Hausaufgabe ausgewicht? Funktioniert das?

Ein Weichei ist ein schönes Wort. Das habe ich schon gelernt aber macht immer noch spaß, es zu lesen. Die andere wüsste ich nicht also vielen dank für noch eine gute Post. Endlich habe ich eine Lösung gefunden, wobei ich jeden Tag echte deutsche Sendungen angucken kann. Ich freue mich sehr darüber.

Was ist denn mit dein neues Buch passieren? Keine zeit oder wäre es nur aus spaß gesagt?

Zoe

The English word “yield” also relates both to softness and to going away, sort of. It’s not a synonym for “weich” – its meanings aren’t as broad, and it wouldn’t fit most of these examples. It’s more about giving way, surrendering in a small way – a yielding material is one that gives way when something else presses on it, to yield in traffic means to give someone else the right-of-way, to yield to someone’s demands means to give in and comply with the demands, “yield the floor” is a formal phrase (looks like it’s mostly used in government) meaning “finish speaking and let someone else speak”… So it has a different shade of meaning than “weich.” But it was a lot easier to see how the two meanings of “weich”-words relate to each other once I remembered “yield.”

berlingrabers

This is definitely helpful. Apparently “yield” is a cognate of “Geld” and “gelten.” The other set of meanings for “yield” involve “bearing fruit,” literally or figuratively – farmland yields a harvest, an investment yields a return (“yield” is also a noun for the return itself). The basic idea was somewhere in the arena of “give up,” “reward,” “render,” “offer.”

a
a

Das ist eine Diskussion, der man nicht ausweichen kann. Shouldn’t it be: Das ist eine Diskussion, die man nicht ausweichen kann.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

“Bei der Standortwahl eine Unternehmens spielen weiche Standortfaktoren wie Freizeitmöglichkeiten oder Kulturangebot spielen oft eine sehr große Rolle, obwohl sie, anders als harte Standortfaktoren wie beispielsweise Steuern oder Infrastruktur nur schwer quantifizieren lassen und somit nicht in eine Kostenberechung einbezogen werden können.”

Shouldn’t it be:

:”Bei der Standortwahl eineS Unternehmens spielen weiche Standortfaktoren wie Freizeitmöglichkeiten oder Kulturangebot spielen oft eine sehr große Rolle, obwohl sie SICH, anders als harte Standortfaktoren wie beispielsweise Steuern oder Infrastruktur, nur schwer quantifizieren lassen und somit nicht in eine Kostenberechung einbezogen werden können.”

Anonymous
Anonymous

Does anyone know of a dictionary that lists words by root so that e.g. all the machen words would be listed together?

jag041
jag041

Kann man auch “weichen”, falls man sich ein bisschen bewegen will?
zB: “Ich muss weichen, damit meine Freundin einen Platz hat.”
oder bedeutet es nur mal “weggehen”?
Auch bin ich auf eine Idee gekommen. Wie wäre es damit, dass du eine Serie über die Präpositionen, die man verwendet, wenn man über einen bestimmten Platz spricht.
Also man kann auf der Arbeit oder bei der Arbeit sein. Man geht ins Kino, aber nicht ans Kino. Man geht an den Strand, nicht auf den Strand.
Verstehst du, worüber ich sage?
Ich bin mir ziemlich sicher, dass du schon darüber nachgedacht habe, aber persönlich wäre das sehr hilfreich. Es muss Regeln dazu sein, wahr?

jag041
jag041

worüber ich spreche :)

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Ich denke, die zwei weichen-Verbfamilien sollten eher getrennt behandelt werden, auch wenn sie aus derselben Urwurzel stammen. Damit meine ich nicht, dass es dazu zwei Beiträge geben sollte, sonder dass in dem Artikel ausdrücklicher klargemacht werden müsste, dass sie eigentlich verschiedene Verben sind. Nicht nur der Pedanterie halber, sondern auch um die Lernenden nicht zu verwirren. Die Verbstämme haben verschiedene Konjugationen und Bedeutungen, die sich voneinander viel stärker unterscheiden, als z.B. hängen (gehängt) und hängen (gehangen), die sich aufgrund ihrer Ähnlichkeit als ein Verb betrachen lassen (auch wenn dieser Gesichtspunkt nicht ganz historisch gerechtfertigt ist, da die eher den kausativen Verbpaaren wie schwimmen/schwemmen oder sitzen/setzen ähneln, im Gegensatz zum weichen-Paar).

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Normalerweise spricht man von “Sprachpraxis”. Der Begriff ist aber ein bisschen zu allumfassend, wenn ich in einem Wort ausdrücken will, dass es ums Sprechen (und nicht Hören usw.) geht. Kann ich dann mal “Sprechpraxis” sagen, wenn us die sprechbezogene Sprachpraxis geht? Wäre das verstehbar?

Simmo-karlsruhe
Simmo-karlsruhe

I love the term Weichei. In Bayern I have also heard the term Shattenparker and Leerhosen for a similar theme ! One boring grammar question I have however. You say “Das ist eine Diskussion, der man nicht ausweichen kann.” Why is it DER man when the subject is “eine Diskussion”? Is DER Feminine or dative?

Pedro
Pedro

Unglaublich interessant und amüsant.
Ich freue mich schon drauf, weiterzulesen und eine kleine Spende zu leisten.
Bitte mach weiter so!

Beni Vitai
Beni Vitai

Yo! Wieder mal so’n krasser Beitrag von dir O.O :D Danke, mach’ weiter so!!

David Jehn
David Jehn

Hi, I ordered ‘Intuitive Vocabulary.’
Thanks. I have been hoping that such a book existed! Amazon only had a kindle edition so I found it on Alibris.com. I still prefer books I can hold in my hand when I can get them.

Sometimes Amazon has the better deal and sometimes Alibris does.

I love your Blog. I am learning a lot from you. I studied German in High School and at University and then even visited Germany a few times and got along OK. But then I let it go for more than thirty years. Now I am determined to really learn to speak German.

It really is a charming language. One of the most enjoyable things about German, for me anyway, is that there are rules and conventions, but one must always bear in mind that “this is the way it works, except of course when it doesn’t.”

Danke,

David

David Jehn
David Jehn

Hi, if you have not already done so you may wish to check out a free App for the IPhone entitled ‘German’ developed by Nguyen Van Thanh. It is a German/English and English/German dictionary. Just as an example, ‘Weich’ words and phrases are listed together. And they through in examples of how words are used as well as lots of synonyms.

Next to your blog it is my favorite online German learning tool.

Danke,

David

Anonymous
Anonymous

Hi Emanuel, can you please explain this? Your example: Thomas is voll das Weichei, alter <- I hear 'alter' a lot in daily speech, and your translation is 'dude'. Is it really an equivalent to 'dude' or normally it is used to address an older person?