Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Unword of the Year

Whilst some in the Knesset are happy to accuse a blameless language of the most terrible crimes against humanity (see "Reich-Ranicki" post below), the Gesellschaft fuer Deutsche Sprache prefers a more clinically selective approach: it chooses a single word, every year, to act as a scapegoat for human failings.

This word is declared an "Unwort" ("Unword") and is publicly denounced and humiliated. Whilst the Gesellschaft doesn´t have the power to actually banish the guilty word, there´s little doubt that were the thing physically possible, it wouldn´t have the slightest scruple about sending it to semantic Siberia.

This year´s Unwort is "Humankapital". The German love of compound words means that the Unword is impossible to translate into a single English equivalent: "human capital" is the best we can do.

Although one has to admit that Humankapital isn´t exactly pretty, it´s hard to see what it is that especially arouses the Gesellschaft´s ire. It appears that it isn´t so much the sound or form of the word that offends it, more its meaning, which can be interpreted as reducing humans to mere financial entities.

As if to add point to the Gesellschaft´s celebrations, another German society, the Institut der Deutsche Wirtschaft, chimes in with a helpful calculation of Germany´s Humankapital: it´s 3,750 billion euros, apparently.

It´s always satisfying to put a number to this kind of debate. And 3,750 billion euros is a satsifyingly precise, round number. God knows what it might mean. In truth, it does seem shamingly low, doesn´t it? In light of which, I can quite see why the Gesellschaft should single out the concept of Humankapital to be its Unword of the Year.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It seems the Germans are still not entirley free of their control-freak Naziistical ways - "Unwort" indeed! They´ll be burning bloggers next!