February 11th, 2007

Useful German words – and a new one

The German language provides English speakers with some excellent words for which we have only awkward phrases, including:

To these staples of North London conversation, must now be added…

  • Denkverbot – a prohibition against thought

Use spotted in an article in this week’s edition of the The Economist on whether Germany should rethink its nuclear power phase out: “there should be no denkverbot (‘thought embargo’)” says Bernd Arts of the Atomforum in Berlin.(see article)

But what a great word, and with such widespread application covering much of what happens in the workplace, a lot of politics, all of religion, most entertainment and much human behaviour. The formal meaning is an imposed prohibition – like suppression of intellectuals by Stalin or Pol Pot. But it can be used for a culture (for example the civil service culture of conformity and lazy consensus); a doctrinaire belief system (for example religious ‘faith’ or unthinking belief in supernatural explanations for natural phenomena); or merely a collective behaviour – like a determination amongst the guests at a dinner party to avoid serious subjects of conversation in case someone is embarrassed.

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