Picture the moment – you’re at a public meeting. The leader of your country swears slightly in a foreign language. No one flinches. And the leader carries on.
This wasn’t Enda calling someone a pantat bau (I hope no one speaks Indonesian). It was Angela Merkel, last week, using the latest word to enter the German dictionary: Sh*tstorm. Don’t worry, I won’t repeat it throughout the article. There’s a nationwide asterisk shortage after the sh*tstorm that erupted last week about Brian O’Driscoll.
It entered the German dictionary last year with a definition of a crisis situation and its ensuing public outcry – especially where the crying out that takes place via the internet. Merkel was using it to pithily describe the whole Eurozone crisis.
It has been named Anglicism of the Year in 2012 and the consensus is that the German language needed this word. I suppose since they’re paying for the Eurozone crisis, that’s only fair.
And indeed there are words in other languages that perfectly encapsulate situations that take paragraphs to describe in English. German itself has many examples that seem familiar to us: Betriebsbleindheit – or organisational blindness – a word that would be worn thin from overuse when describing te giggling bankers describing their rinky-dink activities on tape
Likewise, we could definitely do with Torschlusspanik – the fear that as one gets older, the opportunities afforded to you diminish. It literally means gate-shut panic, the feeling that medieval peasants had when the castle gates were closing for an upcoming onslaught by enemies.
It’s not just German though that might add a few new loan words to the flexible English. In later Summer, some people will have the unfortunate need for ‘ronin’ – a Japanese word which means having failed your university exams and waiting around to repeat. In Ireland that is described with the lengthier – “And I had to come back from the J1 an’ all, feck sake.’ If you do find yourself in that position, console yourself with the fact that a ronin was originally a samurai without a lord. That sounds WAY better. Just don’t bring a sword into the Business Administration exam.
We don’t need to look so far for new words – Irish has a long history of saying somthing, not in so many words. A man on Twitter publishes little snippets from the classic Dinneen’s dictionary from 1904. My favourite is corránas – a desire to eat from seeing other people eat.
And if the fear of the vagaries of Irish grammar (in German Tuisealginideachpanik) makes you antipathetic to introducing any Gaelic Irish words, how about Hiberno-English – the greatest dialect on earth? If the Germans need one word from us that would help in their understanding of at least the Northwest Atlantic segment of the Eurozone crisis then here is our gift to them – a word which describes a large proportion of our mishaps, which follows bouts of organisational blindness, which precedes a sh*tstorm: Hames.
This article was first published in the Irish Examiner on July 7th, 2013