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Diagonal or Just Plain Weird?

The Duden German Dictionary has the definition of the standard form of the adjective/adverb schräg as "deviating from a vertical or horizontal line at an acute or obtuse angle." With this standard meaning, schräg is usually translated into English as "diagonal" or "diagonally."


Sie lehnen den Kopf schräg nach links...

You'll turn your head diagonally to the left...

Caption 12, Nackenschmerzen - steifer Nacken

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In dem er sich senkrecht oder schräg positioniert,

By positioning itself vertically or diagonally,

lauert der Trompetenfisch seiner Beute auf.

the trumpet fish lies in wait for its prey.

Captions 47-48, Evolution - Meeresbewohner

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The second definition of schräg as a slang term is more interesting. Duden's definition describes schräg as "deviating from the norm, customary, or expected, and therefore unacceptable." In other words, "weird"—and not in a good way.


Although the German dictionary mentions that the slang usage of schräg is usually a pejorative or put-down, it does not give any examples of schräg used in a complimentary sense. In fact, the slang adjective—probably originally used as a put-down of jazz, experimental music, and modern art—eventually had its negative connotation turned on its head. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the advent of punk and industrial music, as well as increasingly "difficult" contemporary art, describing music or art as schräg was often meant as a compliment.


It might seem a bit tricky to tell if something somebody describes as schräg is meant as an insult or a compliment, but it's usually pretty easy to tell in context.


Alles frei nach dem Motto:

Everything freely according to the motto:

„Je schräger desto besser."

"the more eccentric, the better."

Caption 12, Auftrumpfen - Mit Kitsch und Protz

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Der war irgendwie psychisch ziemlich... schräg drauf.

Who was, in a way, quite psychologically... skewed.



Caption 75, Sons of Sounds - Interview

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Die Kanzlerin auf einer vom schrägen Designer gepimpten Glitzer-Harley?

The Chancellor on a glittering Harley pimped out by the weird designer?

Caption 13, Stardesigner Harald Glööckler - Jetzt auch noch "Bling-Bling"-Motorräder

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Er fahre eigentlich Mercedes und kleide sich deshalb so schräg,

He actually drives a Mercedes and the reason he dresses so weirdly

weil er vor 20 Jahren Boris Blank getroffen habe.

is because he had met Boris Blank 20 years ago.

Captions 31-32, Yello-Biographie - Ein Leben für die Avantgarde

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The most common English translation of the slang meaning of schräg is "weird," but as you see above, there is a lot of latitude in translation, depending upon the context. The translation in the "Sons of Sounds" video as "skewed" is very clever, since it also acknowledges the translation of the standard meaning of schräg as "diagonal" yet still conveys the slang meaning!


Further Learning
Think of a concert or some kind of art event that you have attended that surprised you by being strange in a way that you liked. Make up a few sentences describing the event in a positive way using the slang meaning of schräg. Now think of some events you attended that were just too strange for you to like. Think up a few sentences describing these events in a negative way using schräg. Then go to to Yabla German and watch the full-length videos quoted above to get a better sense of the contexts in which schräg was used.

English Words Adopted from German

English, as a Germanic language, has many words that are originally derived from German. Many of these words have had their roots in the English language for over a thousand years, but there are also German words that have been adopted by English speakers much more recently. Let's take a look at some of these German latecomers today!


The German noun die Angst, as used in the phrase Angst vor etwas haben, is commonly translated as "to be scared," "to be afraid," or "to be frightened," but only occasionally as the English word "angst." The reason for this is that the English word is often used in a more intellectual context when writing about art, sociology, or psychology. In English, it's not merely "being afraid" in the German sense of Angst haben, but rather, as the Oxford dictionary describes it, "a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general." English seems to have adopted "angst" in order to give it a meaning far more specific than plain old "being afraid."


Die typischen deutschen Gerichte sind immer so einfach. Bratwurst, Currywurst, alles immer mit Wurst.

The typical German dishes are always so simple. Bratwurst, currywurst, everything always with wurst.

Captions 31-33, Nicos Weg: Essen gehen

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As you see above, the English versions of the German nouns follow English rules for lowercase capitalization. A good code-switching pun—if there is such a thing as a good pun—will take us from bad to Wurst. Actually, since "wurst" is English too, it's not even code-switching unless you capitalize the noun and format it as italics!


Dort auf der von ihm legendär besungenen geilen Meile Reeperbahn steht seit mehr als einem Jahr sein Doppelgänger aus Wachs.

There on the lecherous Reeperbahn mile, which he famously sung about, his doppelgänger made of wax has been standing for more than one year.

Captions 13-14, 65 Jahre: Udo Lindenberg

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According to Merriam-Webster, the preferred American English spelling of this is with the umlaut ä, though doppelganger with a standard English "a" is also an accepted spelling. The Brits, however, want nothing to do with an umlaut—another German word found in English by the way—and only accept the spelling "doppelganger." Well, more umlauts for us Americans then!


Auf der Konsumgütermesse Tendence in Frankfurt dominiert Kitsch viele Stände.

At the consumer products trade show "Tendence" in Frankfurt, kitsch dominates many booths.

Caption 2, Auftrumpfen: Mit Kitsch und Protz

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Back when I was a kid in the last millennium or before, a friend of mine with German parents showed me one of his parent's German books about kitsch, and a new word entered our everyday vocabulary. It made us sound smarter than we probably were to say "Oh, that's kitschy" instead of "Oh, that's trashy" or "that's tacky." Anyway it probably impressed our small-town American teachers, who may not have even known what it meant themselves!


Tja, Schadenfreude ist eben doch die schönste Freude.

Well, schadenfreude is still the best kind of enjoyment.

Caption 36, Umweltlernen: Propellerpflanzen am Kräutertag

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One could argue that the German invention of the word Schadenfreude, which means "a pleasure derived from the pain of others," says some not very nice things about German culture. But it could also be argued that it shows how the German culture had accurate insight into the human psyche, and this as early as the first appearance of the word in 1740. According to some studies, schadenfreude has been observed in children as young as 24 months of age. Hopefully, humans will eventually evolve beyond such sordid pleasures and develop a better sense of empathy for their fellow human beings, even those they dislike.


Further Learning
A number of German words adopted by English tend to be used much more often in written English than in spoken English, which is why you may not find them so often in Yabla German videos. Look up the words die Gestalt, die Weltanschauung, and der Weltschmerz in the DWDS dictionary, then compare them to their English equivalents in an English dictionary. Are the meanings nearly identical, such as Bratwurst (bratwurst) and Doppelgänger (doppelgänger) are? Or are they somewhat different, as Angst (angst) is?

German: besonders, besonderes or Besonderes ... ?

German language beginners may easily get besonders, besonderes, and Besonderes confused, since they sound nearly the same and have only minor differences in spelling. Once you learn the grammar behind the different spellings, however, you should be able to easily distinguish the reasons for the spelling differences. 


The adverb besonders (and remember, adverbs modify adjectives as well as verbs), usually translated as "particularly" or "especially," is spelled in lower case (except at the beginning of a sentence) and without the third "e" before the "s."  It will only be used with this spelling as an adverb:

So was zum Beispiel läuft besonders gut.

Something like this, for instance, is going particularly well.

Caption 15, Auftrumpfen - Mit Kitsch und Protz

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The adjective besondere (only written with "-s" in its nominative neuter form) is usually translated as "special" or "particular." It is always written in lower case except when it is the first word in a sentence. It will, like all German adjectives, have different endings depending on whether it's in the nominative, dative, accusative, or genitive case, and depending on whether the noun it modifies is feminine, masculine or neuter, and singular or plural.

Here's an example of the adjective besondere in the singular genitive (feminine) case:

Einen Wettlauf der besonderen Art liefern sich der

A race of a special kind is being carried out by the 

britische Milliardär Richard Branson

British billionaire Richard Branson

und Hollywood-Regisseur James Cameron.

and Hollywood director James Cameron.

Captions 2-3, Expedition Marianengraben - Zum tiefsten Punkt der Erde

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The word Besonderes, always written capitalized and with the extra "e" before the last "s," is a nominalized adjective, which is an adjective that has been turned into a noun. Note that nominalized adjectives in German are not necessarily so in English! In German, it is usually preceded by either etwas or was (meaning "something" in this context) or the word nichts (meaning "nothing"). 

In vielen Familien ist es an Weihnachten Tradition,

In many families, it is a tradition at Christmas

dass es etwas Besonderes zum Essen gibt.

that there is something special to eat.

Captions 3-4, Weihnachtsessen - mit Eva

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Further Learning
To review: besonders is an adverb, besondere (with possible declensions ending with -r, -s, -n, -m) is an adjective, and Besonderes is a nominalized adjective. For more in-depth information on how German turns non-nouns into nouns, read this paper. Then visit Yabla German and search for examples of the above words as spoken in a real world context. 

If Wishes Were Horses and When Pigs Fly - Wenn

English speakers learning the word wenn for the first time often find the parallels to “when” helpful at first. But wenn can also mean "if." For example, a German child pleading for something and promising to be good in return can expect to hear:

Wenn das Wörtchen wenn nicht wär, wär mein Vater Millionär.

If the word "if" did not exist, my father would be a millionaire.

This is comparable to the English expression "If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride" and can be translated more idiomatically as "When pigs fly."


While the uses of wenn in German are varied, it is most commonly used in such simple cases as:


Ich habe kein Geld, wenn ich Dinge einkaufe.

I have no money if I buy things.

Caption 40, Deutschkurs in Tübingen - Die Konjunktion "wenn"

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The German use of wenn... dann is also parallel to the English “if... then.” We see this in the following example.


Aber auch wenn die Zeit noch 'n bisschen schwierig ist,

But even if time[s] are still a little bit difficult,

dann nimmt man sich gern zu Hause 'n bisschen Ablenkung davon...

then one gladly takes a little bit of distraction from it at home...

Captions 7-8, Auftrumpfen - Mit Kitsch und Protz

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Sometimes wenn really does mean "when": 


Und der, wenn er wild wird, uns Sand in die Augen weht.

And the one that, when he becomes wild, blows sand into our eyes.

Caption 17, Piggeldy und Frederick - Der Wind

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So now you see that that Wenn das Wörtchen wenn nicht wäre, there would be quite a few things you'd have trouble expressing!



Learning Tip

When going through your videos, pay particular attention to a specific aspect of the language, such as a tense, a part of speech (such as the wenn above) or a tricky bit of vocabulary. And then reward yourself by watching one of the fun episodes to allow your mind to process.