German is known for its descriptive words and the possibility to always create new lexical units. But some of them can be really offensive and for this reason they are called Unwörter (non-words). The Duden Dictionary describes them as rude, unpleasant, inappropriate words.
Since 1991, every year the most offensive popularized German word is awarded. The purpose of this action is the sensitization and awareness-raising about the use of language in public communication. It draws attention to inhumane expressions by leading to a critical reflection. The Unwort is chosen by a jury made up of four linguists and journalists. But what is especially interesting is that they choose from among words submitted by citizens, who can send their proposal till the end of each year. The chosen Unwort is then announced during a public conference in mid-January.
Last year’s Unwort was Sozialtourismus (lit. “social tourism”), which refers to foreigners in Germany considered to leech on the welfare system. Other Unwörter nominated during the past years are:
– ausländerfrei (lit. “free of foreigners”): a xenophobic slogan referring to the idea of a country without foreigners;
– alternativlos (lit. “without alternatives”): this undemocratic-considered term was used by Angela Merkel in reference to her political program, which could have been the only solution against the European sovereign-debt crisis;
– Döner-Morde (lit. “Döner murders”): an expression used to designate the group of racist murders of Turkish shop and restaurant owners between 2000 and 2006;
– National befreite Zone (lit. “nationally liberated zone”): an expression used by neo-Nazi groups who defined in this way the area where no foreigners were supposed to live or go.
Since words reflect the behaviour of a society, the existence of these words makes us think about what Massimo D’Azeglio said after the Italian Unification «We have made EUROPE, now we have to make EUROPEANS».
By Maria Di Maro
Trainee at DAS Unit
Graduated in Linguistic and Cultural Mediation at the University of Naples “L’Orientale”