Still braining up / Es ist nicht immer Denglisch

Some time ago I was irritated, like many people, by the then minister of cultural affairs’ use of the word brain up. Scarcely twenty-four hours after I had posted about this, I had to eat my words (in German, one eats Hirn rather than Gehirn): sure enough, the term could be justified – although I still don’t like it.

Now Bremer Sprachblog reports that German papers are still complaining about it. My past record means I can’t be very smug about this.

Mir ist schon klar, dass die Fähigkeit zur eigenständigen Recherche auch in den Printmedien nicht mehr so ernst genommen wird wie früher. Vielleicht steht in den Redaktionsräumen der ZEIT auch kein aktuelles englisches Wörterbuch. Aber ich bin mir ziemlich sicher, dass man dort Internetzugang hat und dass man weiß, wie Google zu bedienen ist. Also hätte man doch einfach einmal die Wörter to brain up eingeben können. Die Suche hätte man auf Webseiten aus Großbritannien, dem Mutterland der englischen Sprache, einschränken können, um wirklich nur englischstes Englisch zu erhalten. Und dann hätte man unter den ersten Treffern gleich mehrere Seiten bedeutender britischer Presseorgane gefunden, die zweifelsfrei belegen, dass das phrasale Verb to brain up sehr wohl existiert.

Of course, these are the people who think we stole wishy-washy from them.

16 thoughts on “Still braining up / Es ist nicht immer Denglisch

  1. The fact that the slogan initially confused even you as a native speaker of English is interesting, though: the phrasal verb to brain up seems to be relatively infrequent in English (as you point out in one of your earlier postings, it may not actually catch on). Assuming that the slogan was dreamed up by a German advertising agency, this shows one of the pitfalls of using foreign language material: as a non-native speaker, one has no sense of how common the expressions are that one makes use of. Thus, one can create slogans that are grammatically correct and still difficult to parse even for a native speaker.

  2. Yes, I’ve thought about this before. I don’t know if I’ve written about it, although the tag ‘German language’ (only visible when entries are on opening page) may help me.

    Do you think there’s any money in writing a grammar of Denglish?

    Another related issue: if a non-native speaker uses an idiom, it may sound forced, even if it’s common, but certainly if it’s uncommon. A German speaker may not be allowed to get away with it.

    One can make even worse mistakes, like the full-page ad for Air France that said ‘Air France wants you to fly united’, but did not mean ‘fly United (Airways)’.

  3. What’s the German verb for “to google something and get a false impression that the phrase exists simply because the two words occur juxtaposed”, Margaret? Was it “fehlgoogeln” or “missgoogeln”? I often have to remind customers that simply because they have found a juxtaposition of two words by googling, it does not mean that the two words necessarily exist as a stand-alone term in English (i.e. thinking the verb “einspielen” of software must somehow be equivalent to the non-existent verb to “in play”, simply because the sentence “the ball was however still in play” can be found on the Internet by googling).

    Paul

  4. Do you think there’s any money in writing a grammar of Denglish?

    Well, if our friends of the VDS are to be believed, Denglish will soon replace German. Surely fame and fortune await the first author to publish a grammar.

    Another related issue: if a non-native speaker uses an idiom, it may sound forced, even if it’s common, but certainly if it’s uncommon. A German speaker may not be allowed to get away with it.

    Yes, that is interesting. There is a similar issue with dialects: although we tolerate an amazing amount of linguistic variation from native speakers, we expect non-native speakers to speak a standard variety.

  5. It’s good because they both cultivate their own stuff and talk to each other about what they’re growing. I’m not convinced the man from Kosovo will ever grow non-Balkan things. He and some others had been to look at other examples, in Berlin for example. The last I heard of initiatives for immigrants were 1) a group of German women eating an Italian lunch prepared by one of them who was married to an Italian and 2) people helping immigrants in this district to separate their rubbish properly!

  6. No, I can’t prove that about the bones. I think there was something odd, but I can’t trace that either. And yes, sometimes there are very peculiar things in that bin.

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