Last Sunday’s New York Times Review reminded me of my fascination with the German ability to form long compound words that are impossible to express in English.
Is there any synonym for Schadenfreude, the joy we feel at seeing someone else’s pain? Or Zeitgeist and Doppelgänger?
The Times suggests Dornschőenschlaf (dorn-hoos-sh’yen-shlaf) meaning to pretend you’re asleep to avoid having sex. Fetenlauschangriff, for tuning in and out of numerous conversations at a cocktail party. And Tantalusqualerlősung, for the relief that comes from slaking your thirst with the first martini (or drink of your choice).
I confess that I run across these neologisms and then try to find a way to sneak them into a story. Bildschirmbräune refers to screen suntan, for the pasty faces of computer geeks. That appeared in “Who Dares Call It Murder.” (Odd how I remember our bathing nude on the beaches of St. Martin, when Schiller laughed and pointed. “Bildschirmbräune,” he said. “Screen suntan,” referring to the hours you spent on computers, because your unblemished skin remained pale while I — more advanced — colored like a potted lobster.)
And in my as-yet-unpublished novel, Gerde the dental hygienist is made to say to her lover, “We have a word — Vergangenheitsbewaltigun. It means ‘coming to terms with your past.’ Have you come to terms?”
Now, if I can only find a way to shoehorn Verfremdungseffekt . A wonderful word meaning distancing oneself from a suspended disbelief.