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Mar 29, 2010
This week's theme
Words borrowed from German

This week's words
gotterdammerung
realpolitik
zeitgeist
weltanschauung
poltergeist

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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

The German language's affinity for sesquipedalians once led Mark Twain to quip, "Some German words are so long that they have a perspective." Having polysyllabic words in a language is no sin as long as you get your words' worth. In that respect, those lengthy German words are worth every syllable. Where else can you find a single word, schadenfreude, for example, that conveys the whole concept of 'pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others'? The English language knows a good thing when it sees one, and has helped itself to many terms from German. This week we'll meet five of them, both with and without 'perspective'.

Note: German nouns are capitalized, so often you'll see these words written the same way in English.

gotterdammerung

PRONUNCIATION:
(got-uhr-DAM-uh-roong, -rung)

MEANING:
noun: Complete destruction of an institution, regime, order, etc.

ETYMOLOGY:
From German Götterdämmerung (twilight of the gods), from Götter, plural of Gott (god) + Dämmerung (twilight). Götterdämmerung was the name of the last of Richard Wagner's four operas titled Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). The German word Götterdämmerung is a translation of the Old Norse Ragnarök which in Scandinavian mythology refers to the destruction of the gods in a battle with evil, resulting in the end of the world. The term Ragnarök is from regin (gods) + rok (fate, course) confused by some with Ragnarökkr (literally, twilight of the gods).

USAGE:
"What began as the exuberant union of two college-age strivers is coming to a devastating end after 18 years, and the Gotterdammerung is being fought out not in court but inside the couple's perfect house."
Michelle Green; Dirty Divorcing; People (New York); Feb 19, 1990.

See more usage examples of gotterdammerung in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
I'd rather be a climbing ape than a falling angel. -Terry Pratchett, novelist (b. 1948)

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