May I have a word about… why Covid sounds so much better in German

One nation excels above all others in virus vocabulary

The Germans might be rather slow on administering Covid vaccines to their citizens, but they’re certainly not hanging about when it comes to coining words to describe elements of the pandemic. According to a new report from the Leibniz Institute for the German Language, more than 1,200 coronavirus-related words have been added to the language.

And some are absolute zingers. For example, do you sport a Spuckschutzschirm (spit protection umbrella) or do you favour a Gesichtskondom (face condom)? And are you always punctilious in observing Anderthalb-Meter-Gesellschaft (one-and-a-half-metre society)?

It must be such a comfort to the Germans that they can lead the world in one sphere of the Covid crisis even as their leaders exhibit Olympic-standard dithering in delivering the all-important jabs. There’s probably a word for that in German too.

Last week was a red-letter day in the Bouquet household with the delivery of Mick Herron’s new book, Slough House. I’m glad to report that Herron’s “hero”, Jackson Lamb, is on sparkling form, if anyone quite so dissolute and shambolic can actually sparkle, his malapropisms still flying off the page.

I was particularly taken by: “We can always rely on you to play devil’s asparagus.” And Herron has a nice touch in tweaking old favourites. Here’s Lamb again, talking to his hapless agents: “Remember, all of us are lying in the gutter. But some of you are circling the drain.” Pure joy.

And finally, I heard on the shipping forecast that a weather front “was losing its personality”. A new one on me, but so much more poetic that dribs and drabs, spits and spots, mist and murk, don’t you think?

Jonathan Bouquet is an Observer columnist

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