Dull Work, or On the Uses of a New Metal
English-language reactions to French rioting

German Words of the Week: Erklärungsnot, Sitzfleisch, and Mundtot

It's been a while, but the GWOW is back.  To make up, I'm giving you three for the price of one: Erklärungsnot, Sitzfleisch, and Mundtot.

The words are unrelated, except in that they all highlight German's extraordinary ability to weld together separate units of meaning to form unique and subtle new ideas.  The result says in one word what it would take English at least a phrase, and sometimes a sentence, to say.  To wit:

Erklärungsnot.  Erklärung ("Explanation") + Not ("Emergency").  Explanation-emergency.  The situation you're in when, as we say it in English, you have a lot of explaining to do.  Such as when you've constructed a building of lies.  One sees the word Erklärungsnot frequently in recent discussions of the German Social Democratic Party, which very foolishly withdrew support for its own chairman in the middle of sensitive and demanding coalition negotations.  "We are in explanation-emergency!" say the party members, and what they mean is that half of Germany is saying "What the f%&$ were you thinking?"

SitzfleischSitz ("Sitting") + Fleisch ("Meat"). You need a few things to be able to appreciate Richard Wagner.  A refined sensibility (opinions vary), a tolerance for his faux-antique versification, some knowledge of German myth.   But most of all, you need Sitzfleisch, or the ability to sit patiently in an opera seat for about four hours, (of course, there are breaks).  Sitzfleisch also comes in handy when preparing for exams or enduring Germany's famously dull academic conferences and official ceremonies.  In case you're curious, I have kilos of Sitzfleisch for Wagner, but not a gram for these last two.

MundtotMund ("Mouth") + Tot ("Dead"). This is what autocratic rulers do to people whose opinions they don't fancy; they "make them mouth-dead" with repressive measures and surveillance.  The closest English equivalent would be to "muzzle," which is pretty good in itself, but there's a certain chilling quality to Mundtot that muzzle doesn't quite capture.