German Lessons


Thick as a Brick

The German adjective and adverb dicht sounds a lot like the English word "thick," and while there are cases where it can be translated as "thick," it's the exception rather than the rule. Let's take a look today at the different ways that dicht can be translated in formal and informal contexts.


Dicht is often translated into English as "dense" or "densely," or in the case of dichter, "denser":


Er sollte dehnbar sein, und je dichter, desto besser.

It should be stretchy, and the denser, the better.

Caption 79, Coronavirus: Schutzmasken zum Selbermachen

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Die Kaimauer des Südhafens ist dicht mit Seescheiden besiedelt.

The quay wall of the south harbor is densely populated with sea squirts.

Caption 13, Abenteuer Nordsee: Unter Riesenhaien und Tintenfischen

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It's also common to see dicht translated as the adjective "close" or the adverb "closely":


Die kommen ganz dicht dran. Sie beachtet die Leute überhaupt nicht, die Besucher.

They come very close. She doesn't pay attention to the people, the visitors at all.

Caption 41, Für Tierfreunde: Geparden

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Darin warten etwa 3.600 kleine Zähne, die in mehr als 300 dicht zusammenstehenden Reihen angeordnet sind.
Inside await roughly 3600 little teeth that are arranged in more than 300 closely set rows.
Captions 66-67, Evolution: Meeresbewohner


In slang usage, dicht machen can mean "to close": 


Komm, wir machen hier dicht.

Come on, let's close up here.

Caption 15, Die Pfefferkörner: Alles auf Anfang

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Frau Korff kann dicht machen, ich verliere meinen Job,

Ms. Korff will have to close the business, I'll lose my job,

Caption 2, Großstadtrevier: Von Monstern und Mördern

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A rather unexpected formal usage of dicht conveys that something is sealed, in the sense of "not leaking": 


Das Boot ist dicht.
The boat is sealed.


Das Fass hält nicht mehr dicht.
The barrel is no longer sealed.


Probably related to dicht halten as “to keep sealed,” dichthalten is a slang way of referring to keeping a secret, in a similar sense to "my lips are sealed":


Bitte halte dicht, psst...

Please keep it a secret, shhh...

Caption 7, JoNaLu Wo ist Rosalie?

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When you rather rudely call somebody "thick" in English, you're saying that they are slightly crazy or stupid. But in German slang, you'd say nicht ganz dicht, the suggestion being that thoughts are "leaking" out of someone's head:


Johannes ist nicht ganz dicht.
Johannes is a crazy.


Last but not least, dicht may be formally translated in certain contexts as "thick": 


Das Wetter heute: Vormittags dichter Nebel, nachmittags sonnig.
Today's weather: morning thick fog, afternoon sunny.


Further Learning
Go to Yabla German and search for dicht to see the many different ways it is used in a variety of real-world contexts. 

Gelegenheit, Angelegenheit and gelegen

I still sometimes find it difficult, despite speaking German for decades, to distinguish between the two nouns die Gelegenheit and die Angelegenheit. In all fairness, though, the fact that prefixes like an-, be-, ver-, ent-, etc. radically alter the meanings of German words is part of what makes German difficult for English speakers.


Let's start by stripping Gelegenheit of its -heit suffix, leaving us with the adverb/adjective gelegen:


...eine Kleinstadt für sich, gelegen entlang der schweiz-französischen Grenze.

...a small town on its own, located along the Swiss-French border.

Caption 2, Die Weltmaschine - Der LHC-Teilchenbeschleuniger

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Vor der abseits gelegenen Düne gelang ihm eine sensationelle Entdeckung:

In front of this remotely situated dune, he managed to make a sensational discovery:

Captions 22-23, Abenteuer Nordsee - Unter Riesenhaien und Tintenfischen

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Thus gelegen is usually translated as "located" or situated," though it also can mean "desired" (erwünscht) or "opportune" (günstig). When we add the suffix -heit and make it a noun, it becomes: 


Die Gelegenheit lässt sich Florian nicht entgehen.

Florian doesn't let this opportunity slip by.

Caption 18, Abenteuer Nordsee - Unter Riesenhaien und Tintenfischen

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Dann lernst du ihn auch gleich kennen bei der Gelegenheit.

Then you'll also get to know him right away on this occasion.

Caption 28, Fine - sucht einen Hammer

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Die Gelegenheit is almost always translated as "opportunity," except when preceded with the preposition bei, when it's usually translated as "occasion." On a more humorous note, just as "the facilities" are used in English as a polite euphemism for the toilet, so too is die Gelegenheit an old-fashioned euphemism in German for das WC. A perhaps overly polite way to ask where the toilet is would be Wo ist hier die Gelegenheit, bitte? 


Die Angelegenheit is, on the other hand, literally a different matter altogether: 


Die Königin war fuchsteufelswild und beschloss, die Angelegenheit jetzt selbst in die Hand zu nehmen.

The Queen was "fox devil wild" [slang: angry] and decided to take the matter into her own hands now.

Captions 55-56, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Schneewittchen

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Musste zufällig jemand den Kaiser in kaiserlichen Angelegenheiten sprechen, gaben seine Diener stets dieselbe Antwort.

Should someone need to speak to the emperor about imperial affairs, his servants always gave the same answer.

Captions 20-21, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Des Kaisers neue Kleider

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I use this mnemonic device to remember the difference between Gelegenheit and Angelegenheit:


–An "opportunity" should be easy and is thus the shorter of the two words, Gelegenheit. 


–A political affair or business matter tends to suggest difficult bureaucratic procedures and is thus the longer word Angelegenheit.


Further Learning
Go to Yabla German to find other examples of gelegen, Gelegenheit and Angelegenheit as used in real-world context.

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