I posted the German version of this article a couple of weeks ago and now here’s the English version. Don’t forget to do the quiz at the end!
Corona has not just changed life as we know it, it’s also changing our language. Something that’s not only happening to the English language, I’ve noticed changes here in Germany too. A recent conversation with Birgit Kasimirski, a journalist, translator and language nerd like me, led us to collaborate on an article together about this topic and create a short quiz to “Test your Corona Language”.
I’ve lived in Germany for more than 20 years, speak good German and I’m surrounded by the language every day. You’d think there wouldn’t be many everyday words I hadn’t come across by now, right? Wrong. This became obvious recently at the start of the Corona pandemic. Suddenly, the German news was full of talk about Auflagen. Now, to break the word up into two parts auf = on and Lagen = a kind of layer. The only Auflagen I knew about before was related to a rather over-priced bit of mattress that completes our rather over-priced box spring/divan bed, known in the English-speaking world as a topper. A “layer on“, so to speak. So, what on earth were the Germans suddenly layering on? Of course, something Germans love almost as much as their wurst: rules and regulations! Now, having lived in Germany for 20 years means I’ve come across plenty of strange German Regeln (rules) – like, not being able to do housework between 1 and 3pm (I hear cheers from housewives across the land) or Richtlinien (Regulations) – like restricting the amount of gravel you are allowed to use in your garden (?!!), so why had I never heard of Auflagen in this context before?
Meet Birgit. Birgit is German and, like me, a language nerd. She’s a trainer, journalist and translator and particularly fascinated by the English language. We, therefore, got into a conversation about the Auflagen recently and she also admitted she hadn’t really thought about it much before, apart from the Auflagen you can put on garden furniture (furniture toppers!). It’s not a new word as such, just somehow the chosen German word for rules during Corona.
In true language-nerd style, she started researching how the Brits were “talking” during Corona times in comparison to the Germans and found out there is a stark difference. In Britain and the rest of the English-speaking world, a lot of Corona talk was made up of newly-created words like Covidiot (a person not following the Corona Auflagen) or Quarantini (quarantine cocktail). She was also amused, yet not surprised (after spending time living in the UK) that the Brits were also trying to handle the situation with humour and using rhyming slang e.g. Pete’s got the Miley Cyrus (virus). As I explained to her, this is often the way we Brits try to deal with tough situations. Nobody is trying to make light of the horrific ordeal the UK has been through with Corona, they’re simply trying to find a survival tactic to survive the depressing daily news.
In Germany, things are a bit different. In a recent survey published in a leading German newspaper, Germans were asked to rate on a scale of 0 – 10 (yes, German surveys start at 0 not 1, for things so bad they’re not even worth a 1!) how satisfied they were with the crisis management of their federal state and the government in general since the outbreak of Corona. The average response was 6 – 7.2 out of 10. That’s pretty high and I would also put myself around the 7 mark. Despite discrepancies between the federal states and the odd bickering here and there, the German response to the crisis has been like their language; direct and full of guidelines. Which of course has given them the chance to do something else they love to do; create gigantic compound nouns! When things get serious, the Germans get all “compound nouny”. Fantastic words like Ausgangsbeschränkungen (21 letters, fancy word for lockdown) or even better, Abstandsvorschriftenverweigerung (32 letters, basically means you’re a Covidiot and don’t social distance). So, they’ve slapped some nouns together and taken on some Anglicisms like homeschooling and working remotely but there has been much less play on words.
In addition to language differences, it is also interesting to see how our contrasting national habits and characteristics also shine through when dealing with a crisis. A recent article from the UK, published around the time hairdressers were due to reopen, talked at some length about the difficulties of avoiding small talk while having your hair cut. Something we Brits seem to find rather difficult. The Germans on the other hand (who are generally not keen on small talk at all and simply don’t see the point of it) have other concerns. After a large outbreak of Covid-19 at a meat production facility, a TV report discussed at great length whether it was now possible to catch the virus by eating a Mettbrötchen. Oh goodness, the Mettbrötchen. The strange German snack that sits in the window of a sandwich shop while foreigners stop and stare, amazed (appalled) at the sheer sight of it. Half a white bread roll, smeared with raw (yes, raw) pork mince and topped with chopped raw onion. And if you think that’s strange, trying googling the Mettigel. Same general ingredients but crudely shaped into the form of a hedgehog to be served at parties! Luckily, no hedgehogs are harmed in the process.
But while the Brits are surviving with humour and squirming in the hairdresser’s chair and the Germans are beating their own record at creating long words and pondering whether to munch on a Mettbrötchen, we all, of course, do have something in common: we very much hope the cases of the Miley Cyrus go down very soon, the Abstandsvorschriftenverweigerers aka Covidiots get a grip and show some respect for the rest of society and finally, we can remove some of these Auflagen and return to some kind of normality.
So how good is your “Corona Talk”? Take the quiz:
1. What is a Coronial?
a. A person who has been infected with the Corona virus
b. A favourite item bought during lockdown
c. A baby that was conceived during lockdown
d. A person who started a new job during lockdown and started their new job working from home
2. Germans are calling the extra weight gained during lockdown Coronaspeck / Corona bacon. Which of these is a common US expression for the same thing?
a. Corona fat
b. Corona belly
c. Covid 19 (pounds)
3. Which of the following expressions is used for ending a relationship during a Zoom session?
c. Zoom and Go
4. At the beginning of the crisis, people started hoarding/stockpiling toilet rolls. The Germans and the Dutch use an animal expression for this. What is it?
d. Polar bearing
5. What is the R number?
a. The number of fatalities due to Covid-19
b. The effective reproduction number
c. The Rona number
d. The repeat infection number
6. In order to save jobs in the UK, the government launched a support package allowing employers to send their staff into paid holiday where the government supported up to 80% of their salaries. The expression used for this in the UK is “to furlough”. This is not a new word but what was it originally used to describe?
a. Military or missionary workers home on leave
b. Hiring temporary farming workers
c. Another expression for being made redundant
d. Gardening Leave
7. When every day in lockdown starts to feel the same and you forget what day it is, you can say it’s:
8. In order to reduce loneliness for people in single households, the British government announced single households could form a group with another household where social distancing was no longer necessary. What is the name of this group?
c. Corona group