The Devil on the Wall

Typical Imperative! Can’t stop being extra! Here are some extra phrases and commands you often hear, say, or sing in life and opera, on streets, on the stage—and sometimes on the wall, too.

During rehearsals on stage you will often encounter the imperative. You will hear stage directions, mostly requests where to go, where to stand, when Tosca should take the knife, or how Hänsel and Gretel should shove the Hexe into the oven. Directors are mostly polite (I suppose) and so, they add bitte (please) to their requests and use the formal Sie.

Bitte stellen Sie sich vor den Commendatore = Please, step in front of the Commendatore.

Gehen Sie bitte nach hinten = go to the back. Kommen Sie nach vorn, bitte = come to the front.

If you wish a friend to come to you, you say Komm her. You use the verb kommen as well when you want to encourage someone to make a decision by adding the adverb schon: Komm schon, kauf das Ticket. (Come on, buy that ticket.)

If your friend is too fast and you wish them to stop walking, you yell: Bleib stehen!

If you want a person to leave, you say: Geh weg! Or more direct, more resolute, and aggressive: Hau ab!! To add a little threat you infuse the particle bloß and stretch the o a little bit: Hau bloß ab!

Leave me alone = Lass mich in Ruhe, or: Lass mich in Frieden.

From a friend who did or said something that hurt, you will hear a form of regret, almost an apology: Nimm’s mir nicht krumm = do not be angry at me (krumm = bent; krummnehmen = to take offense)

Does someone make a fuss about something? Throw at him or her: Stell dich nicht so an = do not act up.

The reflexive verb sich stellen plus adjective means to pretend: Stell dich dumm = pretend to be stupid. Often we hear: Stell dich nicht dumm, don’t pretend to be stupid.

You want a friend to abandon an idea you do not like? Schlag dir diese Idee aus dem Kopf! Literally, it means: Beat this idea out of your head.

Gib acht! = pay attention, be cautious. The word acht does not mean the number 8. It stems from achten auf (to pay attention), Achtung (attention, caution).

Seien Sie auf der Hut = be careful. Here Hut does not mean hat but protection stemming from hüten = to protect, care for (Kinder hüten). The protection-Hut carries the feminine article: die Hut. The Hut you put on your head is masculine: der Hut.

My favorite phrase is a warning to paint the future not too dark, a call to restrain from expressing pessimism, from describing a worst case scenario: Mal nicht den Teufel an die Wand! Do not paint the devil on the wall!

Alles wird gut.

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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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