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Much associated with Hitler and the Nazis has become taboo or gauche in the English-speaking West as a result of the terrible tragedies of the Second World War; one can point to many things, from personal names, to styles of moustaches, to the manner of military parades, that have been affected by this association.

What's more, I understand that Germans are sensitive to that period of their history in the vocabulary they employ — for example, a native German speaker once told me that the word Endlösung, which might be applied most ordinarily to mean "an end solution" before Hitler, is now taboo in German. Indeed, I just recently read an article about the furor raised when a German Roman Catholic bishop used the word "entartet" (degenerate) to describe art that didn't subscribe to Christian ideals.

My question is simple then: Does the word Lebensraum fall into this same taboo status as a result of an association with Hitler and the Nazis? I read on Wikipedia that it could used roughly as a synonym for environment, but I'm not sure how archaic or dated the usage they give is.

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Is there a taboo tag? "Political-correctness" is the only tag I could think of closest to it. –  Uticensis Jun 4 '11 at 19:21
    
Feel free to create a taboos tag. I think it would be useful. –  Tim N Jun 4 '11 at 19:23
    
Why would "lebensraum" be a taboo word? I don't know what it has to do with hitler or nazis. Perhaps I'm too noob on it. –  Johannes Schaub - litb Jun 4 '11 at 19:27
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@Johannes Schaub It is strongly associated with Hitler's imperialist policies w.r.t. Poland and Czechoslovakia in the mind of this non-native speaker. –  Uticensis Jun 4 '11 at 19:36
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Lebensraumerweiterung im Osten was an "idea" Hitlers in "Mein Kampf" as far as I remember –  splattne Jun 4 '11 at 19:49

5 Answers 5

up vote 23 down vote accepted

I think that depends on your definition of "taboo".

The words you cite in your question are still used in German, but when the context is too reminiscent of Nazi times, it feels uncomfortable and is avoided.

So, for example, you can use "entartet" when talking about degenerate curves and you can use "Lebensraum" when talking about animals, you can use "Führer" when talking about a travel guide or about a driving license.

It is less politically correct to use "entartet" for art, to use "Lebensraum" for peoples and to use "Führer" for a political leader.

Of course, the strong association with these words is frequently used for verbal attack. For example, there was recent case where a court decided that (obviously ironically) saying "Jawohl, mein Führer." to your boss is not grounds for firing without prior warning.

I retract the part about "Endlösung". It is true that the word can be used in contexts that already have negative associations, but it is really very rarely used and carries the Nazi association in a way that Lebensraum for biotope does not.

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I hate PC, but I avoid those words (in the wrong context) still. I'd avoid "entartet" completely, actually... you can perfectly well use "degeneriert" for degenerate curves or anything else that's degenerated or -ting. And true about Endlösung, it has pretty much only one association these days. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jun 5 '11 at 14:25

The usage of "Lebensraum" is widespread in Germany and usually not connected to the Nazi period of German history, although it is mainly used for an animal's territory.

"Endlösung" on the other hand are absolutely connected to the Nazi period and should be avoided when talking about a final solution in German.

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at least as the "Lebensraum" is not in the east –  mbx Jun 10 '11 at 22:34

I'm 26 years old and I'd say

No

It's no taboo and also mostly used in animal context.

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yeah Lebensraum used as living area or breeding area of a species is a common word. Some people also describe their living area as Lebensraum, although this is a rare usage. –  Samuel Herzog Jun 4 '11 at 19:37

I'm almost 60 and for me Lebensraum in current contexts is just the German word for biotope.

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I was born (not too long) after World War II and here's what I think:

Used in an animal context, the word is fine.

But it could be dangerous in any context involving "people," particularly defined as "Volk." The implication might be that more "living space" for some people means less for others, the idea that brought about the war.

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It would be helpful to know where you live in order to have a better background for your statements. (Are your statements based on your feeling for the German language or on professional knowledge?) –  Hendrik Vogt Jun 11 '11 at 8:12
    
@hendrik Vogt: I am an American who moves in German-American "circles," and am basing my reply on "experience." Thanks for writing. –  Tom Au Jun 11 '11 at 14:23

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