One of the great joys of the German language is the ease with which you can make up compound words. Not just new words, but new concepts, even philosophical ideas. It was this feature of the German language as much as the climate, I think, that gave German philosophy its particular flavour and strength.
Making compound German words is a process of accumulation, adding simple terms together, one after the other, each one qualifying the preceding or the following until the unnamed concept or thing, (which you are really sure does exist), can be given a name. It is difficult to do this in English; long compound words are not really an English thing. One of the effects of this In German is the existence of very long words, marvellously, hilariously long words. They don’t defy pronunciation or reason, however; you read them and understand them by breaking them down into their constituent parts.
There are famous long German words. Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, for example, meaning ‘law delegating beef label monitoring’ comes in at 63 letters, (although it has now been struck from the dictionaries), and my favourite, Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft, a ‘Danube Steamboat Shipping Company electricity main control office building lower rank clerk’ comes in at 79 letters but could be made even longer if instead of the clerk being the noun, the clerk’s cap is, or better still the buttons on the clerk’s uniform.
But these two are not concept words, merely very long nouns, and it is concepts that I am interested in here. Thus far my contribution to the German language has been modest: I won the graduate German prize at university. I count this as a contribution since it demonstrated dedication to the cause, an example to others. Now I want to go a step further by coining a new German word of a yet (it seems to me) unnamed concept: die Nichtwiezeitgenössischebetrachtetangst.
Coming in at only 38 letters, Nichtwiezeitgenössischebetrachtetangst is not going to awe anyone with its length, but I am hoping it will make up for that with its Zeitgenössischeangemessenheit, that is, its aptness for these times. I am going to suggest that it is not just a concept for these times, but rather it is a concept that seems particularly appropriate for these times.
Nichtwiezeitgenössischebetrachtetangst, n, a fear that one will not be regarded as contemporary, in attitudes or opinions, esp. by one’s peers, esp. on social media. [G: time+regard+fear]
Nichtwiezeitgenössischebetrachtetangst is a significant problem because it encourages a superficial engagement with serious issues and results in broad support for philosophical, social and political positions, independent of any merit they might have. It is death to argument and debate, to intellectual inquiry. Above all, it is yet another fear in an age of fear.
It is obvious that Nichtwiezeitgenössischebetrachtetangst is not going to be absorbed into the English language. We were able to adopt Zeitgeist and Proletariat from the German, but Nichtwiezeitgenössischebetrachtetangst would really be a bridge too far. Fortunately the German language offers a solution.
I discovered this one in Austria. With much humour, my host introduced me to the word Grofehzt, an ironic term for the Nazi period. Reflecting the shortening of Nationalsozialist into Nazi, Grofehzt is the shortening of the term grosse-Fehler-alle-Zeiten, (the ‘biggest mistake of all time’), into a witty Austrian-joke. (Isn’t it good that people can laugh about all this?)
Nichtwiezeitgenössischebetrachtetangst offers plenty of opportunities for radical shortening, and I have chosen the term ‘Nizgen’ from the possibilities, mainly because it sounds serious. Nizgen is not a German word then, but a new English word adapted from the German. If I wanted to give it greater gravitas, I could pathologise the condition by defining as it a ‘syndrome’, the Nizgen Syndrome. I can’t decide. Calling it a ‘syndrome’ is not strictly correct, but a ‘syndrome’ is more likely to be the subject of someone’s Master’s research one day.
Nizgen, also Nizgen Syndrome, n. the fear that one will not be regarded as contemporary, in attitudes or opinions, esp. by one’s peers, esp. on social media. [G: abbrev. Nichtwiezeitgenössischebetrachtetangst.]
Two languages, two new words. Let’s see what happens.