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Verschlimmbessern

Thanks to guest blogger Irene Boa for this post!

This word is as German as it gets – first of all, it is pleasantly long and contains a satisfactory number of single and double consonants, secondly it reflects a tendency that I (being a purebred German myself) would call ‘the well-meant yet potentially highly destructive core of German-ness’. The verb ‘verschlimmbessern’ means nothing else but to make matters worse by trying to make things better.

Those vaguely familiar with the intricacies of the German language will probably nod their heads knowingly if I refer to the notorious last grammar and orthography reform as the result of ‘Verschlimmbesserung’ at its best. Instead of drawing clear lines, illuminating the dim(mer) cases of grammar and building bridges over the abyss of illogical and/or incomprehensive myriads of exceptions, the last reform of the German language has created even more confusion – confusion so great that IBM now follows certain, but not all rules, that different newspapers have adopted all, some or none of the new rules (while none follow the same rules) and that everyday users, many teachers and pretty much everyone not executing any profession connected to language plainly chooses to ignore any rules – old or new. The result is that the linguistic landscape now looks like a minefield covered with a wealth of the most diverse weapons ranging from the notoriously wrong yet relatively harmless use of the apostrophe to the most brutally incomprehensible anglicisms and false friends – with hardly anyone even remotely able to implement the appropriate corrections.

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