I’m a linguistics geek.
You’ve been warned.
Languages borrow from and give back to each other in a constant ebb and flow of words and ideas that, often as not, reflect cultural shifts.
English is, of course, a language made up of borrowed words. It’s really a hash arising from the collision of two linguistic families – Anglo-Saxon languages descended from German and Dutch, and romance influences descended from the Norman conquest of Britain. And American English is even more so – a melange of immigrant dialects (the southern drawl is a descendant of the Scots-Irish brogue the south’s original inhabitants brought over; the various New York and Boston dialects are combinations of Northern, Eastern and Southern European accents).
Of course, the booming success of American pop culture has meant that American English has given back to the world; the ascendancy and dominance of Americana has led to American-English words popping up in languages all over the world; “Okay” is found in a great many of the world’s languages, and considered perfectly acceptable usage, to denote that something is “Okay”; Japanese absorbed “Besoboru” and “Aisukurima” and “Disokujokii” for Baseball, Ice Cream and Disc Jockey, among many others. This has led some nations – mainly France – to try to plug the hole in the cultural, linguistic dijk (there’s another!) to try, in vain, to “preserve” their language in its “pure” form.
Of course, American English has borrowed much in return, not just from immigration, but from its expansionist past – everything from “Boondocks” (from the Tagalog bundok, or “mountains”, brought back in the early 1900’s from the Philippines by US servicemen) to “pow-wow”, to “Jazz” among many, many others terms derived from the argot of Afro-American slaves.
So it’s always interesting to watch new words getting borrowed.
I started noticing the prefix “über-” popping up in my kids’ conversation four or five years ago; it is (says the guy with the undergrad German minor) a German modifying prefix meaning, roughly, “Super”. “That was übercool!” became a common expression among the local Twilight-‘n-Jonas-Bros set.
Then, last fall, I heard it in a TV commercial for the first time, as I wrote in a piece I never got around to posting. Which, as it turns out, is a good thing, since the piece has apparently taken the next step.
What the “next step” exactly is, of course, is a matter for debate; it might be “on the brink of entry into the AP Style Guide”, or it might be “further proof of the decline of Journalism”.
Via Allahpundit, you be the judge:
…The president-elect, looking uber-cool [sic] with his White Sox baseball cap on backwards, flipped the shaka to a crowd of about 30 people as he left a gym on a Marine Corps base on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, where he is vacationing.
AP goes on to ask:
Does he really need the hat to attain uber-coolness [sic]? Being married to a “goddess” should be enough. And hey, nothing says
creepyhip like a president who hits the gym every morning. Exit question: What other fashion conventions that have been passe for, oh, at least 20 years are we about to learn are “uber-cool”? [sic] Obama should start wearing skinny ties just to dare the press to call him outmoded.
I’d be the last one to judge fashions, über-or-unter cool.
But borrowing superlative modifiers from Germans? The idea so über-fills me with angst, I’m verklemmt.
UPDATE: Viä Hässlingtön, I see I’ve förgötten certäin rüles aböüt ümläute…
UPDATE 2: Unless you are a highly-trained speaker of German or Finnish, do not try to pronounce all the words in the previous update correctly. You could sprain your tongue.