‘Mein Kampf’ goes for print next month in Germany for the first time since the end of the World War II. The anti-semitic rantings of probably the worst dictator that the modern world has seen will, however, have critical annotations on each of the pages by a panel of four academicians from the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich. Translated in English as ‘My Struggle’, the latest publication is supposed to be the last battle to annihilate the demagogue.
England’s brush with the Third Reich has given her mother tongue some iconic words and expressions defining the moments when the world found itself almost on the brink of apocalypse. We have seen in this space some of the war words that have entered the English lexicon and stayed put. The Holocaust which refers to mass killings of Jews during the Nazi rule is the recurring theme of Mein Kampf. Holocaust with ‘h’ in small letter now means any situation which causes a large number of deaths. So, it could be a nuclear holocaust in case of a war.
Strafe means to attack a place or ground troops by bombs and bullets by flying low. Originally a World War I expression meaning “to attack or shell (the enemy) heavily”, it is a humorous use of German ‘strafen’ (to punish) extracted from the slogan ‘Gott strafe England’ (May God punish England).
Blitz comes from German blitzkrieg (blitz=lightning and krieg= war). Originally meaning a heavy mechanized invasion in war parlance, it now implies any burst of large offensive ideologically or in physical terms. ‘Flak’ is another German origin word used for bursting shells from anti-aircraft guns. Figuratively, you could face flak from your boss for not meeting a target deadline.
Nazi is the short form of Nationalsozialistische, the National Socialist party. Fuhrer (Hitler’s title as Nazi chief of state), Gestapo (the Nazi secret police, acronym of Geheime Staatspolizei = secret state police), panzer (tank) among others are some of the commonly known words from that period.
But long before these coinages entered English leaving a bitter taste, German technology since the Middle Ages has been extraordinarily influential, and nowhere more than in the field of mining and related industries and sciences. Cobalt, feldspar (felspar), nickel, pitchblende, quartz, zinc, first discovered or noticed by Germans, were already established in English by the middle of the 18th century.
Diesel, Doppler effect, enzyme, Fahrenheit are other expressions which owe their origin to German scientists.
Ecology, the science of living creatures in relation to their environment, too has a German etymology. It comes from ‘okologie’, coined by German biologist Ernst Heinrich Haeckel to mean habitat study from Greek ‘oikos’ (house) and ‘logia’ (study).
And next time you take a bite of burger, remember it (originally, hamburg steak, patty of ground beef and eaten in a roll and then in a bun, hamburger) comes from the name of German city Hamburg.
As a self-exercise, find out what does demagogue mean.