Word of the Day – “das Ziel”

Hello everyone,

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

das Ziel

 

And this is one of the few examples, where English actually has more words for something than German. Das Ziel is aim, target and goal. And it’s related to neither of them. The origin of goal is a bit in the dark, aim is actually a (very slurred) cousin of estimate, and target is based on an old French word for shield. Hmmm… I wonder if that’s why they didn’t do so well against the French in the 11th century. Like… shouldn’t you try to shoot for NOT the shield?

But anyway, so Ziel is not related to any of its translations. But it does have a couple of relatives in English.

Das Ziel comes from an old Germanic verb that was about the idea of striving, working toward a goal. In English, this verb eventually turned into the verb to till. Seems odd at first but think about it – farming (tilling) your land,  plowing and sowing and weeding, is hard work and there’s a clear, very, very important goal – have enough food to last till spring comes.
Now you might be wondering “Wait a second what about till as in till spring comes… is that related, too?”
And indeed it is. Till/until are also related to das Ziel and I don’t think the connection is too abstract, because they basically define an end-point, a destination in time.

But enough with history, let’s look at some examples. And by the way… destination and objective are translations for das Ziel, as well.

  • Maria hat ihr Ziel verfehlt.
  • Maria missed her goal/target.
  • Sie haben Ihr Ziel erreicht.
  • You’ve reached your destination/goal.
  • Ziel der Übung ist es, die Pomuskeln zu aktivieren.
  • Aim of the workout is to activate the glutes.
  • Das Team hat das Ziel aus dem Auge verloren.
  • The team lost sight of their  objective.
  • Maria ist als zweite ins Ziel gelaufen.
  • Maria was second to cross the finish line.

Of course there are also lots of compounds.

  • “Ich finde die Show ganz furchtbar.”
    “Du bist halt überhaupt nicht die Zielgruppe.”
  • “I find the show really horrible.”
    “Well, you’re not the target group/demographic at all.”
  • Maria ist ein sehr zielstrebiger Mensch.
  • Maria is a very focused/single-minded person.
    (A question for native speakers:  Zielstrebig is 100% positive, to me single-minded has a negative sound… is that the case, or is it a positive trait?)
  • Nach dem Streit mit Maria, wandert Thomas ziellos durch die Stadt.
  • After the argument with Maria, Thomas wanders around the city aimlessly.

Those were just a few examples of course. If you’re in the business or manager world, you might want to also learn stuff like Minimalziel (minimum goal), zielorientiert (goal-oriented) and zielführend (expedient).

  • Also meiner Meinung nach ist Piano in Beispielen nicht zielführend.
  • So, in my opinion, using a piano in examples is not helpful/doesn’t help the cause. (lit: target leading)

Your boss will have a CEO-gasm when you drop that at the right moment during a meeting. There, I just got you a raise :).

All right.
So this was the noun das Ziel. Now let’s take a look at the verb zielen. And this one is actually not all that useful. We learned earlier that it used to be about thriving, working toward a goal. But it has lost pretty much all of that and is now just about taking aim, targeting.

  • Ich ziele auf den Apfel.
  • I aim at the apple.

And only in the very literal sense.
For more abstract targeting or aiming you’d usually use richten an or something.

  • Meine Frage richtet sich an alle, die die C1-Prüfung gemacht haben.
  • My question is aimed at those who sat the C1-Exam.
    (lit.: “directs itself“)
  • Eltern sind wütend, denn die neue Bierwerbung richtet sich offen an Teenager.
  • Parents are outraged because the new beer ad is openly targeted at teenagers specifically.

The only instance where zielen is used in an abstract sense is the ge-form gezielt which can express the idea of specifically.

  • Der neue Virus namens CatSHAME_X3 attackiert gezielt Webseiten von Bloggern, die Online-Dating-Portale nutzen, und ändert die Links.
  • The new Virus called CatSHAME_X3 specifically targets/attacks websites of bloggers who use online dating sites and changes links.
  • So nehmen Sie gezielt am Po ab.
  • Here’s how to lose weight on your butt specifically.

Wait the cat is not what I li… oh… uh… awkward… I uh…
Let’s have a quick look at the one prefix version that matters here. Erzielen is essentially about the result of aiming – getting whatever you were aiming for. The actual translation depends on context but in practice, erzielen is pretty formal sounding and limited to politics and business.

  • Das Unternehmen erzielt hohe Gewinne.
  • The company is making great gains.
  • Auf dem Treffen konnten die Staatschefs eine Einigung erzielen.
  • At the meeting, the heads of state were able to reach an agreement.

It would sound REALLY out of place for reaching C1-level, even though that’s totally a good Ziel to work towards. Or should I say, walk towards?!?! Because don’t forget the wise words of Confucius, that apply especially to learning a language

“Der Weg ist das Ziel. ”

On second thought… screw that. Fluency is das Ziel. Dream big! You can do it. You just got one step closer because you learned Ziel. And to make sure you don’t forget it, here’s a little rhyme.

Ziel – you’ll get there with zeal. 

And if you need something even more visceral… here’s a picture for Ziel that’ll ingrain Ziel in your memory once and for all

 

 

 

 

What? Cruel? Come on…  I know it’s not nice. But it works. You can thank me in 10 years, when you still know what Ziel means :).

All right, so that’s it for today. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions or if you want to try out and tell us what your language goal is, let me know in the comments. I hope you liked it, and see you next time.

** vocab **

das Ziel – the goal, target, aim, destination, objective
die Zielgruppe – the target group
das Urlaubsziel – the vacation destination

ziellos – aimless(ly)
zielstrebig – determined, focused, single-minded (sounds 100% positive in German)
zielen – aim, target (only in context of actual projectiles) 
gezielt – specifically, “in a targeted manner”
erzielen – make, reach (finance and politics)

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Graham
Graham
3 years ago

The English word zeal: great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective.

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

I am poor and cannot donate to you at this time, but thank you so much; I truly enjoy your site.

billkamm
billkamm
5 years ago

I personally feel single-minded usually has a negative connotation to it. I think “focus” is a good single word translation here. Most of the other translations to keep the same meaning require a phrase. My boss tells me I’m “zielstrebig” all the time (only in English lol). He says things like “I’m focused on the task” “See it through to completion” “know it inside and out” “detail-oriented”. I personally like “focused” the best though, because it reminds me of the phrase “focused on the task at hand”.

RuthE
RuthE
5 years ago

To Ruth (the other one): Love it!

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

Thank you so much I love this blog, and I enjoy reading the discussions regarding the english expressions so I improve my english as well.

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

Look what you did…. wrong target :-( comment image

Hugh Warren
Hugh Warren
5 years ago

My mother used to say that her mother used to say “I am single minded, you are obstinate, he is pig-headed”. So it’s less negative than the others, but depends quite a bit on context. If the situation calls for focus then it’s positive, but if a bit of lateral thinking or sympathy for alternate points of view
is required then it can be negative.

RuthE
RuthE
5 years ago
Reply to  Hugh Warren

Hugh, I remember both my mother and grandmother saying that! I’m not sure the point was understood by all members… :-D

RuthE
RuthE
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

If I recall correctly, it was usually two women discussing someone, most likely Dad, Uncle or Brother, who may or may not have been present. I do remember that it was done with tongue in cheek, often to tease whoever ‘he’ happened to be at the time. Occasionally it would be ‘she’ instead. I was shocked many years later to realize that one of my aunts always took it seriously. I have no idea how she could miss the point…..

Ruth (the other one)
Ruth (the other one)
5 years ago
Reply to  RuthE

“He” is anyone other than “me” and “you”. The character Bernard in Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister called such things “irregular verbs”. Wikipedia has a brief item on the topic, calling it “emotive conjugation”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotive_conjugation
A similar sentiment is said to have been expressed by Robert Owen as “All the world is queer save thee and me, and even thou art a little queer.”

person243
person243
5 years ago

Cool article. I like the example with the navigation system, do you know if they say it like that in English systems or did you just guess?

I saw “auf etw. abzielen” already in the comments. There is also “auf etw. hinzielen” with about the same meaning, probably less common. I would say the difference between the two is that “abzielen” has a more clear objective and you can already do actions for that while “hinzielen” is more for goals far away that you just hope with your actions to get there. Anyway, here is an example:

“Seine Bestechung zielt darauf ab, den Wettkampf zu gewinnen.” = “His bribery is aimed with at winning the competition.”
“Mit seinem Training zielt er darauf hin, den Wettkampf zu gewinnen.” = “His training is aimed with at winning the competition.”

Till next time, I’m aiming to tune in.

person243
person243
5 years ago
Reply to  person243

*
“Seine Bestechung zielt darauf ab, den Wettkampf zu gewinnen.” = “His bribery is aimed at winning the competition.”
“Mit seinem Training zielt er darauf hin, den Wettkampf zu gewinnen.” = “His training is aimed at winning the competition.”
*

person243
person243
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Wow, the last eight years “zielt darauf ab” skyrocketed (2000-2008).

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

It’s been a while since I heard one in English, but I think you usually hear something like “the destination is on your [left/right].” Though it’s definitely possible that some systems say, “You’ve reached your destination” or something more like that.

Ruth
Ruth
5 years ago

As well as das Ziel, I’ve learned der Po. (Sheltered life?) I’m wondering how the latter relates to the English expression “po-faced”?

The different readings of the piano example are interesting. With just “piano” my interpretation would be that it referred to music played on a piano, rather than any other instrument(s) or voice(s). With “a piano” I’d think it probable that an instrument would be visible. ….But I’d expect the instrument to be called das Klavier in German. Is das Piano more commonly used?

Ruth
Ruth
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thanks for the Google books thing. Very nifty. I’m glad Klavier is well ahead!

Not sure whether this one will help or hinder remembering, but there’s also
ein Tor erzielen – to score a goal

aaron
aaron
5 years ago

Does “abzielen auf” have the same meaning in most cases as “sich richten an”? I looked it up and, like one of your examples, the example there also involved Werbung.

And how about “anzielen”? Is it just a more targeted, precise aiming at something?

Great post!

jmedway
jmedway
5 years ago

I forgot to say that I can’t think of a single English word that really does justice to “zielführend”. “Helpful” is the nearest I can think of. One up to German!

jmedway
jmedway
5 years ago

“So, in my opinion using a piano in examples is not expedient/doesn’t help the cause.”

I don’t think “expedient” is a good translation here for zielführend as it has slightly negative connotations – eg “It was politically expedient to freeze the tax but it made the deficit worse.” “Expedient” usually implies something that is less than ideal.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I’d disagree with jmedway here – granted, “politically expedient” tends to be negative, but I think it’s the “political” part that lends it the negative connotation… :\

“Expedient” really is neutral in itself. It might mean “less than ideal but helps achieve a goal,” but it might just as well mean “helps achieve the goal without getting bogged down by secondary concerns.” The positivity or negativity really comes from whether the things an expedient solution bypasses really ARE secondary.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Eh, I think “expedient” is a little different… I think it tends to be more general in meaning, just sort of describing something advantageous or that is a good idea, with a connotation of getting you from Point A to Point B quickly and effectively.

I’ve heard “zielführend” before, though not often. LEO suggests “constructive” or “productive,” which I actually think are pretty close to the vibe as I understand it, even though the literal meanings aren’t related.

TW
TW
5 years ago

Question:
In your example: “Das Team hat das Ziel aus dem Auge verloren.” you translated it as “The team lost sight of their main objective.” Would “main objective” usually be more like hauptziel?

RuthE
RuthE
5 years ago

Yes, I would think that “focused” is the best option for a “zielstrebig” person, if I understand your excellent explanations well. No negative connotations at all.

Pianos – the English comes across as referring to the use of the word “piano” rather than actual pianos (or even “sugar in coffee”). After some consideration, I think that in English, to distinguish between ”use of the word X” and “use of X” would have to be contextual (or actually use punctuation! One can’t count on that any more…) – it’s amazingly subtle for a piano!! :-D

Jamie Shepherd
Jamie Shepherd
5 years ago

Here are some helpful „Verben-Nomen Verbindungen“ for everyone:

1. to target something/set a target

ein Ziel ins Auge fassen
sich etwas zum Ziel setzen
das Ziel stecken

2. to make goals

Ziele um•setzen/planen/entwickeln/formulieren

3. to reach a goal

das Ziel erreichen

4. to miss a goal

das Ziel verfehlen

5. to overshoot a goal

über das Ziel hinaus•schießen

6. to not deviate from a goal

nicht vom Ziel ab•lassen

Jamie Shepherd
Jamie Shepherd
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I have them on flashcards. I have 100s of idiom flashcards for German

Sabine Alice
5 years ago

Thank you, Danke, Merci!!! Love your posts, they are perfect companions to (my attempts at) learning German!

Mark
Mark
5 years ago

Agree with the others. I would add that single-minded is only negative to the extent that you disagree with the person’s goal. And even then the term carries a sense of grudging respect. “The Terminator is single-minded in his pursuit of Sarah Connor.” As Jeff said, the word always needs some context, but in my opinion it is essentially neutral.

On the other hand, if you say someone has a “one-track mind”, that’s kind of a negative (i.e. said more in dismay than admiration).

Trying hard to think of a word that is unambiguously positive/complimentary. English has a tendency to make a vice out of virtue. (See “proud”, “ambitious”, etc.)

Thanks for the post!

Mark
Mark
5 years ago
Reply to  Mark

Er, Jake… beg your pardon

RuthE
RuthE
5 years ago

As usual, I enjoyed my bit of German – thank you so much!

I agree with Jake, I’d be more likely to use “single minded” as a description of a specific effort. However, I have heard it used as a general description of a person. I don’t get any negativity with it either way. However, I have heard “Tom is stubborn” used in place of “Tom is single-minded” which does give it a slightly negative connotation. I personally don’t think ‘single-minded’ and “stubborn” are exactly the same – “single-minded” has a more focused, zielstrebig feeling, while ‘stubborn’ is a relatively mindless attitude.

In “So, in my opinion piano in examples is not expedient/doesn’t help the cause.” It just sounds incomplete to me, it stopped the flow of the sentence, though I could just be odd. At any rate, I would have used “..in my opinion, using piano in examples…” Would the German sentence turn out any different?

In “Ziel der Übung ist es, ..” Even on a sales blurb, I would expect an article in English, “THE aim of the workout is..” I guess the same feeling does not hold in the German version.

However, one day thanks in part to your efforts here, I WILL have more than enough German Sprachgefühl to be much more sure of these questions myself. Thank you very much!!

Jake
Jake
5 years ago

You left out the “ist” from “Maria ist als zweite ins Ziel gelaufen.”

For me, single-minded does not have to be negative at all. That said, I don’t think I would typically use it to describe a person.

Tom is single-minded. >> doesn’t sound quite right to me, needs something more
Tom is single-minded in his pursuit of that girl. >> sounds ok
Tom has been practicing his German with a single-minded determination that puts his classmates to shame. >> sounds ok

Also, you probably know this, but “to sit an exam” strikes me as very British. I think most Americans would say “to take an exam.”