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A few weeks ago, the Verein Deutsche Sprache awarded its 2013 Sprachpanscher prize to the Duden dictionary, for Duden's role in the "shitstorm" shitstorm ("'Shitstorm' Shitstorm: Dictionary Wins Award for Ruining German", Spiegel OnLine):

The most respected dictionary in the German-speaking world has come under fire for its excessive use of English words.

The Association for the German Language (VDS) — a group that campaigns to protect and promote German — gave the dictionary its annual "Sprachpanscher" (language adulteror) award, which singles out people or organizations responsible for legitimizing anglicisms in German.

(For background, see "Das Wort "Shitstorm" hat nun einen Platz im Duden", 7/4/2013.)

Meanwhile, Spiegel is engaging in a creative relationship of its own with English: Aside from the -or/-er issue with "adulteror", I believe that panschen actually means "to adulterate", not to commit adultery.

But "language adulterer" is a much better concept, it seems to me — I guess that the German word would be Sprachehebrecher, or maybe Sprachhurenbock. Perhaps some kindly German-speaking readers can help out with the terminology.

Whatever the right purely-teutonic expression for illicit intercourse among languages, it will resonate nicely with James Nicoll's famous characterization of English:

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.

A similar point was made in commentary on the Verein Deutsche Sprache's  2011 awards:

„Die Deutsche Telekom hat ihre Kunden über Jahre hinweg mit englischen Sprachimporten verärgert. Der Besuch der Netzseiten der Firma ist eine Schocktherapie im Horrorkabinett der deutschen Sprache“, begründete der Vorsitzende des VDS, der Dortmunder Wirtschaftswissenschaftler Walter Krämer, die Wahl.

Im|port … engl. import, zu: to import < frz. importer < lat. importare, importieren
Fir|ma … ital. firma,
Schock … frz. choc, zu: choquer
The|ra|pie … griech. therapeía
Hor|ror … lat. horror; b: engl. horror
Ka|bi|nett … frz. cabinet

Why is it I have such trouble taking it seriously when people make a fuss about using "pure" German? :-)

But maybe we should view this sort of thing as linguistic teen spirit rather than adult sleaze.  Kory Stamper put it this way ("English is a little bit like a child", 10/27/2012):

English is a little bit like a child. We love and nurture it into being, and once it gains gross motor skills, it starts going exactly where we don’t want it to go: it heads right for the goddamned light sockets. We put it in nice clothes and tell it to make friends, and it comes home covered in mud, with its underwear on its head and someone else’s socks on its feet. We ask it to clean up or to take out the garbage, and instead it hollers at us that we don’t run its life, man. Then it stomps off to its room to listen to The Smiths in the dark.

Everything we’ve done to and for English is for its own good, we tell it (angrily, as it slouches in its chair and writes “irregardless” all over itself in ballpoint pen). This is to help you grow into a language people will respect! Are you listening to me? Why aren’t you listening to me??

Like  well-adjusted children eventually do, English lives its own life. We can tell it to clean itself up and act more like one of the Classical languages (I bet Latin doesn’t sneak German in through its bedroom window, does it?). We can threaten, cajole, wheedle, beg, yell, throw tantrums, and start learning French instead. But no matter what we do, we will never really be the boss of it. And that, frankly, is what makes it so beautiful.


  1. Fabian said,

    September 26, 2013 @ 6:31 am

    You're right, panschen means to adulterate, so the correct translation of Sprachpanscher is language adulterator. It seems Spiegel simply got that translation wrong.

  2. RP said,

    September 26, 2013 @ 7:31 am

    According to the OED, in its second definition of "adulterer":

    "A person who adulterates, corrupts, or debases; an adulterator of something. N.E.D. (1884) describes this sense as Obs. and rare in the late 19th cent., but it has since regained some currency."

  3. flow said,

    September 26, 2013 @ 8:28 am

    i cannot believe that english has no better way to express the concept of 'panschen', 'panscher'. surely the 'adult-' lead is correct, but isn't there a more graphic way to say 'die weinpanscher mischten glykol in ihre produkte, um die weine süßer zu machen'?

    [(myl) We used to be able to say that a product was "sophisticated", which the OED glosses as

    1. Mixed with some foreign substance; adulterated; not pure or genuine.

    But the Kids Today of a century ago spoiled that one. We still have contaminated, corrupted, counterfeit, etc. As for the guilty parties, I can't think of a crisp word that refers only to people who mix cheaper foreign substances into a product in order to save/make money.]

  4. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 26, 2013 @ 9:48 am

    In line with what MYL said, I think we'd do it with the verb. "The winemaker adulterated his product with ethylene glycol to make it sweeter," maybe.

  5. Adrian said,

    September 26, 2013 @ 10:04 am

    Maybe I'm tired – When I saw "adulteror" I understood the meaning and didn't think of adultery at all.

  6. KeithB said,

    September 26, 2013 @ 10:21 am

    I am sure there is some good drug slang for that, but all I can come up with is "cut".

  7. ChrisB said,

    September 26, 2013 @ 10:27 am

    Not sure the word "adulterator" is all that commonly used, but what's wrong with sth like "language corrupter" or "language polluter"? That should be strong enough, and fairly close to "Sprachpanscher".

  8. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 26, 2013 @ 11:50 am

    By the way, is there any way to combine "language adultery" with a more familiar trope of peevers, "bastardize"?

  9. Jeff said,

    September 26, 2013 @ 2:53 pm

    "Panschen" could also be translated as "to debase"; so you could call a "Sprachpanscher" a "debaser of language".

  10. Greg Malivuk said,

    September 26, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

    Language miscegenator?

  11. Marion said,

    September 27, 2013 @ 12:31 am

    Native German speaker here. Acutally I've always known "panschen" to mean "to dilute, to water down", with wine, basically. Or, in broader terms, mix a substance with another (cheaper) one that doesn't belong to maximise profit. The "adulterate" meaning is completely unknkown to me, I wouldn't understand a sentence where it was used that way.

  12. Marion said,

    September 27, 2013 @ 12:33 am

    Oh well, turns out I should have checked the meaning of adulterate before piping up. False friends…

  13. Michael said,

    September 27, 2013 @ 9:24 am

    Are you guys really trying to show how difficult to impossible it is to translate? How original…

  14. a George said,

    September 28, 2013 @ 9:57 am

    @flow and @myl: to British of a certain generation, adulterated food was called 'Ersatz'! But then they also had a domestic use for the Siegfried Line.

  15. Ted Powell said,

    September 28, 2013 @ 11:47 am

    For those too young to remember the "domestic use" this may help:

  16. Phillip Minden said,

    September 29, 2013 @ 10:43 am

    Concerning all the loans (Import etc.), the worst is the silly calque Netzseite for website. Vapsite (or even vapzite) sounds strange, but Netzseite is just as English and has a touch of 1930s language policies.

  17. Willi Wamser said,

    October 12, 2013 @ 4:06 am


    the frame "marriage" rather in Austria virulent and half-fresh,
    cf. http://www.oesterreichisch.net/oesterreich-853-Pantscherldas.html

    In German this adultery-frame nearly not in denotation or connotation:

    wieso bekamen Auswärtige nur den schlechtesten Fisch und was geschah mit Kellermeistern, die ihren Wein mit Holunder oder Vogelbeeren pantschten?

    Why did out-of-towners get the worst fish, and what happened to cellar masters, who adulterated their wine with elderberries or rowan berries?

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