8 March 2012

Nightlife in High Heels und Flip Flops

Last week’s blog was about magic boots.  This week, footwear makes another appearance, but only because Nightlife in High Heels und Flip Flops was a newspaper headline that caught my eye.

It’s the word und that gives the game away, for this is actually German, and a phrase from a Viennese paper.  And it is the evidence that an awful lot has been happening in the German language since I last looked.

Basically, the world of fashion has embraced English in a caring sharing way.  So there are articles with lots of Tipps telling us how to appear younger through correct hairstyle und anderen Anti-Aging Tricks, or using den richtigen Make-Up.  We can chart die coolsten Outfits of the week.  Of course, dein Look is extremely important when you want to be seen at die besten Hot-Spots or even out Shopping.   

You might think that our generous donation of words to continental Europe has brought us slim pickings by way of return.  You, too, may have been disappointed by the arrival on our doorstep of that rather plain German prefix über (as in übertrendy).  Yet, to its credit, it has been valiantly punching above its weight and is now so überused in most of our British Sunday newspaper supplements that you may have become übersick.

But in fact, we have little to whinge about.  We Anglophones have for centuries been snaffling up words from different corners of the globe, stuffing them up our jumpers and into our bulging pockets, and then strewing them around as if we’d dreamt them up ourselves.

It’s time to redress the balance, and I’m hopeful that German will not ditch its original words to make way for the modish English imports, but keep both.  In this way synonyms arise, giving the option to match words to different contexts.

English speakers have long been basking in the luxury of this kind of choice, especially after King Harold took an arrow in the eye and the Normans waded ashore in 1066, unpacking their version of French in their requisitioned castles.  Rather than supplanting the Anglo-Saxon tongue of the local inhabitants, Norman French grew alongside as the language of the landed gentry.  Thanks to this legacy of duality, we can use words originating either from Anglo-Saxon, which often sound more basic, or words from Norman French, which give a more educated feel.  Depending on exactly what effect we are trying to create, we could say dig.  Or we could say excavate.  We could say lift or elevateFind or encounter.  Wash or launderSpeak or converseStop or terminate.  The list goes on and on (or continues, to use the Norman word).

Languages can be invigorated by their borrowings.  German speakers no doubt enjoy the flexibility provided by English additions running parallel to their traditional words, allowing them to decide between, for example, ladylike instead of damenhaft, or clever instead of raffiniert.

Or Nightlife in High Heels und Flip Flops instead of Nachtleben in hohen Absätzen und Gummilatschen

Nightlife in High Heels und schmützigen Trainers

Post Script
And in the way of these things, I've come across a fun blog called High Heels and Flip Flops.  You can check it out here http://www.highheelsflipflops.com/p/why-high-heels-flip-flops.html

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