From “firlefanz” to “kokolores”: when words simply disappear

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What is this for a hanebuchener kokolores, drives there a rascal schabernack? – no one talks like that anymore. Some people may shake their heads in disgust at the old words, some may be nostalgic for them, and some younger people have never heard these expressions before.

In the course of the years words disappear again and again from the active language use. "The reason for this is actually quite simple", says claudia wich-reif, professor of the history of german language at the university of bonn: "we don't need these words anymore."

Modern terms replace older ones

The causes for this are different. Terms are often replaced by more modern – often english – terms, for example "high heels" instead of "stockelschuh. Other words are no longer politically correct and are discarded because they are considered discriminatory.

Sometimes words disappear because the thing they describe hardly exists anymore – for example "consumption", but also "walkman or "videorecorder. The last two terms showed that it is by no means only very old words that are threatened with extinction, but also relatively young terms that have simply been overtaken by progress, says wich-reif. "But the language is not impoverished by the disappearance of words", emphasizes the linguist. "We constantly get new words to it." Many of them came from the youth language.

Katharina mahrenholtz has 100 "forgotten words" in a book recently published by duden-verlag, we have compiled a list of words and their origins. "Hardly anyone knows the original meaning of "hanebuchen", for example or uses the expression because of it", says the journalist. Because its origin has "hanebuchen" in the name of the hornbeam, a tree with very gnarled wood. From this the adjective "hornbeam" was formed, what happened in 18. Century to "hanebuchen has become and its meaning too "absurd or "unerhort" changed.
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"nonsense" according to mahrenholtz, it was probably created in the 16th century. Century as an imitation of a cockcrow, like "cock-a-doodle-doo". "Kokolores" is a synonym for "nonsense or "nonsense in the meantime rather useless, similar to "firlefanz", "mumpitz" or "hoax" – the latter comes from the time of the 14. At the beginning of the 20th century, when till eulenspiegel played his tricks.

"I like this "nonsense-words, they already imply a certain "funniness" from the sound of them, means mahrenholtz. That's why she still uses them sometimes – just like some others that are associated with personal memories for her, says the author: "schlingel" (rascal) for example, my grandmother used to say."

Childhood memories and nostalgia are often the reasons why people continue to use a word that has become obsolete – or because they regret that it is hardly ever heard anymore, says wich-reif. At the exclamation "sapperlot!" Some might think of the "robber hotzenplotz", with the "fraulein", which can be hoarded today at the most in the gastronomy erich kastner fans might remember the little girl "fraulein andacht" from "dot and anton a.
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however: "the words are not really gone, but continue to exist in old texts", emphasizes wich-reif. "Language is subject to change and is always a sign of a certain time."

By the way: it's not just individual words that are disappearing from the language, things are also being lost in grammar – for example, the dative e as in "dem manne" or "the book. "I don't think anyone mourns that", says the scientist. Her conclusion: "if we had kept everything that was there at some point, we would probably still be speaking old high german today."

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