I recently came across this interesting Economist article on Denglisch,i.e. the infusion of English words into the German language, or for you formula-lovers, Deutsch + Englisch = Denglisch.
Now this topic that is dear to my heart. How I miss the code sharing and inter-language borrowing that occurs when living abroad. Such immersion was particularly fun in Switzerland where the locals are so linguistically gifted (High German, Swiss German, French, Italian, und so weiter…) that, as an act of laziness, I could throw both English and French words into my German to make myself understood. And then amongst my fellow anglophone expats, it quickly felt more natural to talk about “umsteiging” on “Gleis” 6 instead of using English train station equivalents.
But back to the article, I remember learning the German word for cell phone, Handy, and also finding it amusing. Handy aptly describes the convenience of a cell phone, but the adjective is rarely, if ever, used in English in connection with cell phones. The word has a manual quality about it, evoking a jack-of-all-trades handyman in an antique brownstone. An interesting contrast to the sleek digital world of smart phones and text messaging.
For harmless English words, like “handy”, no native nuance is required for appropriation by another language. However, as I’ve said before, you need to be very careful when using foreign profanity. Angela Merkel may have helped the word Shitstorm officially become a part of the German language, and the official Duden definition sounds quite official:
Sturm der Entrüstung in einem Kommunikationsmedium des Internets, der zum Teil mit beleidigenden Äußerungen einhergeht
However, that does not mean she should have publicly used it. Yes, I know that shitstorm in English figuratively refers the same sort of controversial situation covered by the Duden definition, but the unfortunate imagery (unsanitary precipitation, anyone?) is enough to make me think twice before using it at any sort of official government press conference.