Word of the Day – “Rücken”

Hello everyone,

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

Rücken

Now you’re all like “Rücken? This topic is  booooooooooooooooooring.” but no, it’s not . A Rücken can be very nice. There’s even an idiom for it

  • Auch ein schöner Rücken kann entzücken.
  • A beautiful rear can also endear.

So… let’s take a look at Rücken and I promise you… there’s more to this word that you think.
Most of you probably know it already – der  Rücken means the backBack is an old Germanic word for the back but for some reason it has disappeared from most Germanic languages. They all use a version of Rücken. Now, Rücken is related to ridge and the two words probably go back to the “It’s crazy how ancient it is“-Indo-European root *(s)ker which was about  bending, turning. People called a Rücken a Rücken, because it is where the body bends and because a Rücken, just like a ridge, is slightly curved  … oh and guess where curve comes from by the way. Today, this connection to the idea of bending is long forgotten though, Rücken is just a word that means the back.

  • Mein Rücken tut weh.
  • My back hurts.
  • Ich habe Rücken(probleme). (just saying “Ich hab’ Rücken” is quite a fad at the moment –  young, old… all “have back”)
  • I have back problems.

All right.
Now, both in German and in English people started using the word for their back in a more abstract, broad sense of “what’s behind us” and before long back had taken up the very general idea of  “turning around“.  Like…  to look back is quite literally to look in the direction of your back, to go back is the same idea, and from there it’s only a small step to to give back, which doesn’t have much to do with actual back anymore. This back that is used with activities is zurück , which literally means “to the back”.

  • Ich fahre morgen zurück nach Berlin
  • I’ll go back to Berlin tomorrow.
  • Bin gleich zurück.
  • Will be back in a minute.
  • “Was kostet das?”
    “120 Euro hin und zurück.
  • “How much is that?”
    “132 Dollars roundtrip. (lit.: forth and back).”

Zurück is (of course) also used as a prefix, there are (of course) MANY verbs with it and the translation is (off horse) not always with back. But the idea is always in there somewhere and I think you can get from context.

  • Ich ruf’ dich zurück sobald ich zu Hause bin.
  • I’m gonna call you back as soon as I’m home.
  • Die Verkäufe des neuen Deos bleiben hinter den Erwartungen zurück.
  • The sales […] remain/stay back behind the expectations.  (lit.)
  • Sales of the new deodorant fail to live up to the expectations.
  • Einsteigen bitte…. zurückbleiben bitte.
    (standard on train stations… by the way, here’s a little video about the guy who’s the voice in the Berlin public transportation system as well as for the over 5000 train stops all across Germany and the woman’s voice of the U-Bahn and bus, by the way. If you’re in Berlin you’ll definitely recognize them :)
  • All aboard.. please stand back.
  • Thomas ist ein zurückhaltender Mensch.
  • Thomas is a restrained/reserved/unobstrusive person. (lit.: back-holding)
  • Der Politiker tritt wegen der Carport-Affaire zurück. (lit.: steps back)
  • The politician resigns because of car port gate.

All right.
Now, there are also many many nouns and what’s interesting here is that for nouns, at least for most of them, the prefix is just rück, not zurück. Even if they’re based on a zurück-verb. Like… the noun for zurückgeben (give back)and is die Rückgabe. Or for zurückgehen (to go back, to decline/recede) it’s  der Rückgang. Or for zurückziehen it’s .. meh, I think you get the idea.
Besides these verb based nouns there are plenty others like Rückseite (flipside, back side), Rückweg (way back) or die Rücksicht. Rücksicht  literally means “the view backward” and so it is actually the exact same as respect, which combines the back-idea of “re” combined with the Latin root spec… and that root is about looking. But Rücksicht more consideration than respect. Not consideration in sense of pondering something but in sense of showing, acting out of it. Turning down the music at night on a weekday, not walking a red light when there’s children watching, bringing your dog to heel if there’s a jogger coming… all these little moments where you show respect or consideration by going out of your way a little. This is what Rücksicht is all about.  Here are some examples. And note that in German the phrasing for exercising Rücksicht is to take it…. you  “nehmen Rücksicht”

  • Das hier ist sicher kein Japanischer Garten. Nur ein paar Blumen in der Stadt. Aber bitte nehmen Sie trotzdem Rücksicht und lassen ihren Hund NICHT auf unser Beet kacken. Danke.
  • This right here certainly isn’t a Japanese garden – just a few flowers in the city. But please show respect anyway and DON’T let your dog poop on our patch. Thank you.
  • Aus Rücksicht auf Marias Gefühle geht Thomas nicht zur Party, obwohl er Bock hat.
  • Out of consideration for Maria’s feeling Thomas is not going to the party, although he’d like to.
  • Rücksicht – besser als Vorsicht.
  • Consideration/”every day respect” – better than caution. (no idea how to translate that better)

The last example is the claim for an on-going campaign for more Rücksicht in traffic. Here’s one of their posters ... maaan, some real subtle Photoshop work right there :). They also made some videos and they are really really bad so… let’s watch one. But before we do let’s finish with rücken first.
“Wait, is there much more to say?”, you wonder?
Yes, there is. We haven’t talked about the verb rücken yet…  and it’s totally not what you think it is.

rücken – the verb

In a perfect world rücken  would mean to back. But the world is far from perfect and rücken is far from to back.  It’s even far from the concept of back. In fact, it’s not even related to the word Rücken.  It’s just spelled the same because… confusion.  The verb rücken is related to the English word  rock
This one
!
Wait, no, I mean this o...
oh, never mind. I think it’s this one….
hmmm, still not right… well, then it must be this one 
yeah this is it. The verb to rock originally meant to move gently from side to side. Like what mother with her child. But over time the verb got less and less gentle. Just like the music. Like… back in the day people were rocking (moving gently) to Mozart’s mellow melodies, some 200 years they were rocking (head banging) to Iron Maiden mauling their guitars and the phrase rocking a baby to sleep is kind of funny. But anyways… this loss of gentleness of the verb also happened in German and today, there’s a Ruck which is sudden movement, a jolt and there’s rücken which could be described as:

to mov (something) over small distances across a surface in a stop and go fashion

Man, German… don’t you think this is a little… over-specific? No? Okay… just wondering.
So, rücken is a bit like schieben but way less smooth. Think of moving your kitchen table to the side. It’s really noisy because the legs of the table kind of stutter, rock across the surface. In practice though,the verb is often used in the broader sense of to move slowly … or even just to move. And it’s used for abstract movements, too. Just keep in mind that you cannot really rücken anything that has wheels or slides well because that goes against the stuttering background of the word.
Enough theory though… examples.

  • Scooch over.
    (common way to ask someone to move to the side a little on a bench or a
    couch… for joke also often said as “Stück mal’n Rück.”, that’ll really make you sound like a native)
  • Rück mal’n Stück.
  • Ich habe den Kühlschrank zur Seite gerückt – ein Fehler.
  • I moved the fridge a bit to the side – a mistake.
  • Weihnachten rückt immer näher.
  • Christmas is inching closer and closer.
  • Nach dem überraschenden Rücktritt des Ministers beginnt im Ministerium jetzt das große Stühlerücken.
  • After the surprising resignation of the minister, the big shake-up in the departments commences.
    (Stühlerücken is a common term used in newspapers to express how everyone gets up to move to a new position)

Of course, there are also prefix versions of rücken and they’re all in some way about movement.

  • Im Schlafzimmer sind zwei getrennte Betten, die man aber problemlos zusammenrücken kann.
  • In the sleeping room there are two separate beds but you can move them together without problems, if need be.
  • Zitate werden oft eingerückt.
  • Quotes are often indented.
  • Nach heftigen Protesten ist die Regierung von ihren Plänen zu einer Smart-Phone-Steuer abgerückt.
  • After heavy protest the government has backed away from plans for a smart phone tax.
  • Katzenbaby auf Baum – Feuerwehr musste anrücken.
  • Kitten on a tree – fire fighters had to show up.
    (using “rücken” here implies mass, it’s not just one guy, it’s a whole unit)

While not super common, all these verbs are definitely in use and you’ll come across them in spoken and written German. But as long as you know that it’s about movement and not about back you’re good and you don’t really need them to express yourself. Well… except one: verrücken.
Verrücken by itself simply means to change the location of something by rückening it. What makes this verb really REALLY useful though is it’s ge-form… verrückt. Why is it so useful? Because it’s the number one German word for crazy. This meaning is not crazy at all if you thing about it… the crazy mind has been moved, shifted a bit, away from normal,

  • Du bist verrückt.
  • You are crazy.
  • Heute in der Bahn war so eine Verrückte die voll laut über irgendwelche Verschwörungstheorien erzählt hat.
  • Today on the train there was this lunatic/crazy person who was very loudly rambling on about conspiracy theories.
  • Thomas hat immer so verrückte Ideen.
  • Thomas always has these crazy ideas.

Now, the word crazy is used like crazy in English. Some of the expressions are the similar in German. But there are differences too. Besides real crazy-ness verrückt can express oddness or curiousness. But not extreme-ness. For crazy in sense of extreme I think krass is the better choice.

  • My back hurts like crazy.
  • Mein Rücken tut krass weh.
  • “Did you know that Maria made third place at the Iron Man last year?”
    “No. Crazy shit.”
  • “Wusstest du, dass Maria letztes Jahr beim Iron Man dritte geworden ist?”
    “Nee. Aber krass/krasse Scheiße.” (very colloquial)

Wait a second… krass, crazy... could they be related? Let me find that out for you, hold on… hey, can one of you interns look up the background on crazy and krass real quick… yeah…… yeah now. I need it now,so hurry up!…  so … uhm… it’ll take a minute till my …uhm… search engine has the results so we have some ti… oh, there’s a call, well that is just in time: Melanie fromWinooski, Vermont, welcome to the show.
“Hey Emanuel, I have a question about to back.”
Sure, go ahead.
“So .. you said that rücken does not mean to back in sense of backing someone and I was wondering how I could translate that.?”
Oh that’s a good question … I think the most generic option is unterstützen but there are other versions like hinter jemandem stehen so it depends on context, I guess. Oh and there’s one with Rücken, too….  jemandem Rückendeckung geben. This is pretty much to have one’s back.
“Ah cool, thank you so much.”

Oh you’re welcome, thanks for your call.
And by now the result of the little research are here, too. The question was whether crazy and krass are related and it turns out … drum roll…. drrrrrrrrrrrr… dishhhhhh…. they’re not! Crazy is related to a French word écraser, which is about breaking, while krass is related to grease and both words gehen zurück to Latin crassus which meant fat, solid, dense. 
And that’s it for today. This was our look at the word rücken. The noun der Rücken means the back and just like back in English rück is used in all kinds of contexts about reverse or turn around. The verb rücken, related to to rock, is about moving across a surface but in colloquial speech it’s used rather freely.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions about Rücken, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Oh and here’s the hilariously bad video of the Rücksicht-campain. The actors are SOOO bad that they over-pronounce everything so I think you might be able to understand a lot.

Vocab:

der Rücken – the back
der Rückenwind – the tail wind
zurück – back (as a direction)
zurückbleiben – remain behind, also “stay back” on a train platform
geistig zurückgeblieben – mentally retarded

zurückkommen – to come back, to return
zurückgehen – to go back, also to recede, to decline
zurückgeben – give back, to return
zurückhalten – hold back (careful there, not the same idea as Rückhalt)
sich zurückziehen – to retreat, to seclude oneself, to go to the back room to ponder
die Zurückhaltung – the restraint (as a behavior)
der Rückhalt – the support
der Rücktritt – the resignation (stepping down from a position)
die Rücksicht – the regard, respect (implies that you act on it)
der Rückblick – the look back, the retrospective
der Rückgang – the decline
der Rückruf – the call back
die Rückrufaktion – the call back (for car parts with a production fault)
die Rückendeckung – the backing
der Rückspiegel – the rear view mirror
das Rückgrat – the spine
rückständig – backward, underdevelopped
rückwärts – backward (as a direction)

rücken -move (small distance, stuttering fashion)
“Rück mal’n Stück” – “Scooch over/Move over a little so I can sit there, too”
vorrücken – move forward (often for armies)
abrücken – move away from (also for armies)
anrücken – colloquial term for “to show up in force”
einrücken – to indent, also: to invade (for armies)

zusammenrücken – move together, also used for getting closer as a group
verrückt – crazy
krass – extreme-crazy’
Das macht mich wahnsinnig – That is driving me crazy.