Doch, krass, super – Particles and Intensifiers

Sag bloß, du willst wieder die Staatsoper gehen? Renovation. Berlin.

At one point early in their studies, German language learners grow more and more irritated with certain words that stick in sentences without an obvious purpose. The word doch is one of them.

People say, “Trink doch!” when “Trink!” would do.
In “Die Zauberflöte”, Tamino sings, “O wenn sie doch vor mir stände”. Pamina is still out of reach without the doch.

Other words of this kind are:

etwa

“Sternflammende Königin! Wenn es etwa gar die mächtige Herrscherin der Nacht wäre!” (Tamino)

denn

“Was soll denn das Lachen?” (Zauberflöte’s second slave)

bloß

Sag bloß, du willst wieder die Staatsoper gehen?

These words have a main job with a real meaning (doch means but, etwa means approximately, denn means because), but here, they take a second job. Here, they belong to a group of words, called “die Partikel” (plural: die Partikeln).

A Partikel (yes, it means particle) is a word that does not change – no inflection, neither different genders nor different endings, no conjugations – sounds like utopia, doesn’t it? Most common are the prepositions (in, auf, an, über, neben etc.)

In many cases we use a particle to emphasize certain parts of the sentence. In the examples above, the words etwa, denn and bloß express surprise or astonishment or curiosity, and in the case of the Staatsoper-goer a hint of criticism.

The particle doch works as an intensifier. Tamino who just received Pamina’s picture really wants her right in front of him, in person. The doch says, “Why can’t she be here, for Christ’s sake?”

There are many intensifiers. They show up when the speaker is excited. In the German grammar vocabulary they are called Intenistätspartikel which sounds like a neutrino running wild. The German language recruits intensifiers from all types of words. Many of them are adjectives in their normal lives.

unheimlich (creepy), here: incredible
unglaublich (unbelievable)
ungewöhnlich (unusual)
wahnsinnig (mad), here awsome, incredible
Stretch the a to a waaaahnsinnig and you say “incredibly incredible”.
irre (mad, crazy), here: incredibly incredible
total (totally)
ausgesprochen (distinct)

Simple particles are at hand, when you don’t want to exaggerate too much:

sehr
ganz
ziemlich (rather)

Every young generation creates its own intensifiers.

Two or three years ago, the word “krass” (extreme) was popular among the young in Germany. The generation before favored “cool”. The word “geil” (lecherous, horny) lasted almost a decade until the mid 1990s and was extensively used by youth and children alike to tell everybody how enchanted they were.

Most popular among English-speakers seem to be the familiar “super!” and, of course, the evergreen “wunderbar”.

Erste Dame zu Papageno: “Du willst vermutlich wissen, warum die Fürstin dich heute so wunderbar bestraft?”

Next update, Sunday, April 1st.

Published by

berndhendricks

Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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