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The way hamsters store food is the inspiration behind a word in German that emerged amid wartime hoarding. It has found new life during the pandemic.

Back in the early 1980s, when I was trying to learn Esperanto, I loved how you could make very specific words by gluing other words together. For example, we had a word in our house for me when I was the one to taste the filtered coffee to see if it was ready: kafgustumistino. If it had been my husband, we would have said kafgustumisto.

Rebecca Schuman at Slate explains why agglutinative languages are perfect for creating pandemic-appropriate vocabulary to suit one’s every need.

“During the otherwise Nietzschean abyss of the early pandemic, ” she writes, “one of the few bright lights was a German word: Hamsterkauf, which first emerged during World War II and began circulating in German media last March. Literally ‘hamster buy,’ this coinage described the act of succumbing to our basest animal-brain instincts to hoard more necessities than we would ever actually need. …

“Ah, those delightful Germans! Always with the single word that describes a very specific thing that any normal language would never have a single word to describe! … Over the past year, German has coined some 1,000-plus new terms endemic to the Now Times — ironic capitalization, by the way, being an annoying method that English speakers use to create new language.

“Speaking of which: Unlike English, whose own recent neologisms often read as nonwords that are only cute the first time you encounter them [such as] coronasomnia, situationship … German’s COVID lexicon just looks German. …

“Now, to really make a decent German compound noun, you have to either memorize a very long if-then chart, be a native speaker, or have what’s called a Sprachgefühl — literally ‘language feel,’ or an instinct for what sounds right. But for a semi-workable shortcut, it comes down to this: You start with two nouns, or an adjective and then a noun. … Now here comes the tricky part: Often you have to put in connecting letters, and which letter you use depends on the smaller words’ last letters; this will ostensibly make your big new word easier to pronounce. …

“There’s already a magniloquent viral Twitter thread in appreciation of new superstars such as Impfneid (vaccine envy) — but what about the particular cacophony of imperious voices bickering over how (or when, or if) to relax social distancing and lockdown measures? That’s an Öffnungsdiskusionorgie (OOF-nungs-dee-skoo-ZEEONS-or-ghee), literally an ‘orgy of discussions regarding opening,’ which is coincidentally also the only orgy it’s currently safe to attend.

“Then of course there’s the ol’ socially distanced drink, or Abstandsbier (AHB-stonds-BEE-uh, or ‘distance beer’), which carries with it the many connotations of the word Abstand, including ‘gap,’ ‘interval,’ ’empty space,’ and ‘difference,’ truly encapsulating just why chugging a Godforsaken Beck’s on a frigid sidewalk whilst avoiding small talk might be an unsatisfying Quarentänebruch (KVAH-ren-TAYN-uh-BRUK), or quarantine violation. …

“Here’s a new one: Risikoeinreisender (REE-SEE-koh-AYN-RYE-sun-duh), literally ‘risk-arriver,’ aka one who tromps undeterred into another country straight from an outbreak-rich region without regard to whether he might infect the entire staff of his $309 cabana at the Cancún Ritz-Carlton. (Hopefully the check-in counter at said Ritz-Carlton was already equipped with my personal favorite of this entire Teutonic enterprise: a clear fiberglass Spuckshutztrennscheibe (SHPOOK-shoots-TREN-shy-buh) — literally ‘spittle-protection separation pane.’)

“While it’s always fun to see exactly which surprisingly singular phenomena have heretofore claimed their own German word, I think that the nomenclatures of the Coronazeit (ko-RO-nah-TSITE) are particularly resonant for non-German-speakers because this really is a singular moment in time. …

“Even I, a blasé Germanist, could ruminate all night on such lexicographic majesty as Geisterspieltag (GUY-stuh-SHPEEL-tak), literally ‘ghost game day,’ or the practice of playing Fußball in an empty stadium. But alas, I don’t have time for all 1,000-plus words, given that my daughter has been in Zoom school for a year and possibly just set something on fire. But here’s one new German word that even I don’t really understand: Coronakindergeld (koh-RO-na-KIN-duh-gelt), the ongoing financial support for parents stuck at home with their kids.” Wow, is Germany really paying parents?

More at Slate, here.

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Photo: thebarrowboy

The game of Scrabble can be played in many languages, but English probably offers the most entertainment as it is known for having an awful lot of words.

And as Travis M. Andrews notes at the Washington Post, the number of words keeps growing.

“The Oxford English Dictionary, considered by many as the standard-bearer of dictionaries, …  just announced several new additions to its vast pages, including … ‘Zyzzyva,’ which now has the unique distinction of being the OED’s last word.

“It’s a noun, pronounced ‘zih-zih-vah and defined as ‘a genus of tropical weevils (family Curculionidae) native to South America and typically found on or near palm trees.’ …

“The insect was discovered in Brazil in 1922 by Irish entomologist Thomas Lincoln Casey, who gave it the strange name. The origin of the word is unknown, and it seemingly has no etymology. Many different theories exist, however, which the OED listed in its blog.

“Some think Casey was attempting to create a word that, when spoken aloud, mimicked the sound made by these insects. …

“Others, however, think Casey was merely having a laugh and came up with the strange combination of letters — so many z’s! — as a practical joke, knowing it would then be the final word in most English dictionaries. …

“If nothing else, Scrabble players should take note. The word, with no special boosters, is worth 23 points.” More here.

By the way, did you know this spelling of the life force chi — “qi” — is permissible in Scrabble? So many options! Remember this on your next rainy day at the shore.

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