Book Review: Schottenfreude

Schottenfreude:  German Words For The Human Condition, by Ben Schott

This book has a particular audience in mind, namely those who are impressed or intrigued or amused by the ability of the German language to contain thoughtful words based on the joining together of smaller words [1].  I do not necessarily think that this is a large audience, but I happen to be someone who is interested in language games in general and I have fun with the coining of words, and so this was a book I wanted to read when I saw it in the library shelves in a recent trip there, and I basically enjoyed this book for the most part.  Aside from the author’s ill-advised attempts to assume that left-wing posturing against former president Bush was some sort of brave act of going against conventional wisdom–something that rings particularly hollow–most of this book is genuinely enjoyable and that is for the best.  Obviously, this book is best enjoyed by someone who either knows German or is somewhat of a language nerd, but for such an audience this author provides a fair amount of wit in a small book that is a pleasant read that brought a few smiles to my face at least.

At its core this book contains 120 neologisms or, as the author often describes them, portmanteau-portmanteau, created by the author to describe some kind of aspect of contemporary culture in an elegant and often haunting and humorous way.  The book is organized by having the German words, a phonetic guide, a definition, and then a literal translation of the German words being combined on the right side and a further explanation of the concept-terms on the left side of the book.  The author shows himself to be well-read in the references that this book has and thoughtful about the words that he coins.  His point that the lexical resources of German are sufficient to make any sort of word that can be conceived is definitely amply demonstrated by the materials, and the blend of humorous material and genuinely poignant material is definitely something to appreciate as well.  While it is unclear what exactly the point of this book is and why it was made–perhaps it was a personal challenge or some kind of fulfillment of a bet–the book as a whole demonstrates the author’s intellect and abilities at working with miscellaneous material.

Overall, I was struck by the large amount of Nathanish words [2] this volume contained.  I suppose, though, that being a bookish person with a delight in odd words that a book like this is by definition Nathanish already.  In reading a book like this, though, I wonder who else would find something like this appealing.  It almost feels like a bit of snobbery to praise a book like this, since it was written by someone involved in some high-level linguistic humor.  At the same time, though, this book simultaneously has the feel of someone who is an expert at humorous pub conversation, and the author as a whole has a reputation for writing miscellaneous books about various matters.  While it is a mystery that my library somehow managed to get a copy of it, it caught my eye, and is likely a book whose oddball sense of humor will impress many readers as long as they are not offended by his defective political worldview.

[1] See, for example:

[2] Examples include:

Ludwigssyndrom:  discovering an indecipherable note in your own handwriting
Deppenfahrerbeäugung:  the urge to turn and glare at a bad driver you’ve just passed
Srhlüsselszenenadlerauge:  knowing from memory where a specific passage is located in a book
Bammelbegierde:  inexorable attraction to something you fear or find unpleasant
Dreikäsehorhregression:  returning to your old school and finding everything feels so small
Srhmutzwortsurhe:  looking up rude words in the dictionary
Einsiedelei:  the melancholy of cooking for one
Dielennystagmus:  repeatedly catching and avoiding people’s gazes when, say, approaching them down a long corridor
Clashsyndrom:  moments of etiquette perplexity when there is no polite way of behaving

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: Schottenfreude

  1. Pingback: And They Were All Filled With The Holy Spirit And Began To Speak In Other Tongues | Edge Induced Cohesion

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