So many words and phrases

A look back at the past year

We thank our colleague Michel Decker for sharing this article, which first appeared in Kulturissimo in December 2021. He, too, has not failed to notice the great change we are currently witnessing in the use of our language.

The year 2021 was the continuation of the first Corona year 2020, i.e. year two in the Corona calendar. The new way of life suits some better, others worse. The good news for some is that since Corona, there are 135 billionaires more in this world. And those who were already billionaires were usually able to increase their wealth considerably. For the less fortunate, i.e., the vast majority, the task remains to repair the damage. Thus, to pay off the national debt, which has increased considerably in all countries due to the numerous Corona measures. This means further austerity measures for the ordinary consumer, probably also in the health sector. One can say with Brecht:

„Denn die einen sind im Dunkeln und die andren sind im Licht, und man siehet die im Lichte, die im Dunkeln sieht man nicht.“ “For some are in darkness and some are in light, and those in light are seen, but those in darkness are not seen.”

Berthold Brecht

Brecht again

Besides Corona, climate change has been on people’s minds in 2021, especially because of the big event that took place in Glasgow in November called COP 26. The statement was, that hard times are coming for all of us because of climate change. But hardly any immediate action was taken. Except for good intentions to reduce our consumption of energy and other raw materials sometime in the upcoming decades. But then massively! And again, one can quote Brecht quite appropriately:

„Ja, mach nur einen Plan, sei nur ein großes Licht, und mach dann noch ‘nen zweiten Plan, gehn tun sie beide nicht.“ “Yes, just make a plan, just be a big light, and then make a second plan, they both won’t work.”

Berthold Brecht, Dreigroschenoper

It is simply not possible to focus on growth everywhere in the economy on the one hand, and on the other hand to pin the solution to the problems on the opposite of growth. This borders on schizophrenia for politicians. The economy, with its short-term thinking, is of course happy about this and continues as before. Anyone who believes that electric cars can be the solution to the climate issue probably also believes that lemon butterflies fold lemons. A small educational approach in this regard could be to point out the elementary laws of physics in our schools. Foremost, the heavier the load I move, the more energy I need. This also applies to the heavy cars that many people still drive around in. A second principle regarding movement says that the faster I accelerate a load, the more energy I need to apply. If you apply these principles to the car industry, you have to ask yourself whether the daily advertising for the nice, big cars, with ever higher acceleration power is not leading the customers in the absolutely wrong direction with a lot of marketing skill. So, it is important, for example, to reduce fossil energy consumption and thus its production. But the problem is that the big energy companies will not go ahead with this as long as they can still earn huge amounts of money from their existing businesses. So, it should be the governments that prescribe these measures in the interest of the citizens. 



Now you can read that energy companies are fighting back against such measures. And they are doing so by suing governments before international arbitration courts. With good prospects of success, since our governments have signed several international trade agreements recently, without publicly discussing their content and possible consequences. And these agreements contain many possibilities to put pressure on governments; in contrast, the possibilities that would allow governments to put pressure on companies are missing. Our rulers have allowed themselves to be cheated, which is probably one of the reasons why these agreements were negotiated in secret. Let’s hope that the same governments have not made similar mistakes with the billion-dollar contracts, recent and ongoing, with the pharmaceutical industry.  

Back to the energy companies.

One of these mighty energy companies is Total, the largest French company. This company has a very pleasant reputation in Luxembourg as a sponsor of the basketball federation, for example, whose basketball championship runs under the name “Total League”. So, the sporty young people get a positive relationship with this energy giant right from the start. And no one tells them what the company actually does apart from supporting athletes, although that is fascinating. They can learn that Total has illegally fixed oil prices and divided up markets, colonized Africa to exploit it and collaborated with racist regimes; moreover, it has bribed dictators and placed its considerable profits in tax havens and thus has to pay a ridiculous amount in taxes. All this can be read in Canadian philosopher Alain Deneault’s book (2017) “De quoi Total est-elle la somme?” Who would have thought that of the nice sponsor in Luxembourg? And these fake corporate facades could be part of the reason why many people cannot or do not want to imagine a world without the multinationals. Our EU Commission is fighting climate change on a global level with its Green Deal; let’s see if this initiative produces more than just hot air this time. 

Change of language

Something that has particularly struck the writer today is the intense change in language. This is especially true of the German language, which lends itself to the creation of new words, unlike other languages such as French. And it also adopts terms from foreign languages more easily, especially if they come from the Anglo-Saxon world. These are terms like lockdown, virus bomber, online happening, risk tourist, presence audience, AHA rule, 3G model, vaccine envy and many more. A full 1500 new words have entered daily use since 2020, with an average of 750 words being sufficient for normal language use. This novel linguistic phenomenon immediately makes the language enthusiast think of Victor Klemperer, the German philologist who studied in great detail the influence of language in the introduction of the National Socialist system in Germany in the 1930s. The very title of his book “LTI-Notizen eines Philologen” (LTI stands for Lingua Tertii Imperii) is a sideswipe at the numerous abbreviations from the language of National Socialism, such as HJ (Hitler Youth), BDM (Bund deutscher Mädchen), KdF (Kraft durch Freude). Klemperer comes to the conclusion that the language of the National Socialist era influenced people less through individual speeches, leaflets, or the like than through the stereotypical repetition of the same terms over and over again, imbued with National Socialist ideas.


Regarding the above-mentioned 1500 new word creations since Corona, language teacher Kerstin Chavent says: “The many new words are not empty shells, but content-pregnant carriers of messages. In one fell swoop, the terms were on everyone’s lips. At breakneck speed, even the older generation understood what lockdown means, AHA, incidence or 2G. It’s as if we learned a new language in a very short time.” Since Victor Klemperer, we have known that the little units of information do not sit dutifully in the corner, waiting to be retrieved at some point. Memes shape our thoughts and ideas. And it is only since the terms have existed that we have been able to imagine them, terms like hotspot, immunity test, loosening scenario, online semester, contact tracking app. And for the critics of the Corona measures, the Leibnitz Institute for the German Language has included four expressions: Conspiracy narrative, Conspiracy believer, Conspiracy fairy tale, Conspiracy myth. That for which there is a word that exists. First in our minds, then in our reality. Here are some more examples of neologisms: Hotspot strategy, returnee flight plan, spit shield slice, boosters, breakwater shutdown, accommodation ban, containment measure. Amazing what man can invent!

While we are on the subject of linguistics, it is not uninteresting to note that various basic terms have acquired a different definition over time. For example, the term pandemic, which signals to everyone a threat of contagious disease with many deaths. But in 2009, shortly before the outbreak of swine flu, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially modified the definition of the term pandemic to the effect that the many sick and dead people disappeared from the definition. Thus, all pathogens that spread worldwide can constitute a pandemic, whether with many sick and dead or not.

Something similar has happened with the term vaccination. Only since 2020, within the framework of Corona, have the genetic engineering interventions of the current injections been allowed to be called vaccinations. This old term vaccination is associated by people with the conventional vaccinations without addressing the innovation. And a redefinition of the term immunity is also said to be planned, along the lines that only those who have been vaccinated can be immune. Natural immunity, which one could gain by getting through an illness since time immemorial, would no longer be recognised.

The meaning of words and definitions can change people’s lives. For this reason, it is worthwhile to always be sceptical enough about any interventions in the existing. By the way, sceptical comes from the Greek “skeptomai”, which means to think. And we should by no means allow ourselves to be forbidden to think. Whereby we might notice that the term 3G-, 2G- or 1G-rule, which is very common in German-speaking countries, says nothing else in Corona times than still denying citizens a large part of their basic rights. But the 2G rule sounds more noble than, say, a permanent state of emergency, doesn’t it?

The optimist can only hope that the state of emergency will not continue next year.

Michel Decker