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A typical situation when having guests at home or the office, is - since you know they will have to drive - after asking about their desire for non-alcoholic beverages getting the following reply:

Ja gerne, stilles Wasser bitte.

Now the host has a problem. According to Wikipedia on mineral water in Germany:

Stilles Mineralwasser ist ein natürliches Mineralwasser, das von Natur aus keine/wenig Kohlensäure enthält oder dem die Kohlensäure vollständig oder teilweise entzogen wurde.

Well, this problem may be quickly solved - but it lead me to some reflections on the topic asking myself why in Germany, where pretty much every food and beverage declaration is well specified this point is referred to the manufactures of the mineral waters, who in turn use it ambiguously.

Calling the Duden for help on the word still doesn't help either:

  1. So, dass kein oder kaum ein Geräusch, Laut zu hören ist
  2. a. ruhig, frei von Lärm [und störender Betriebsamkeit] b. ruhig, leise

So, stilles Wasser can mean no bubbles or not-so-many-as-usual bubbles. Thus, some manufactures use the terms Medium (often green or green-labled bottles) and Pur (often red-labled bottles). But you also find the terms naturelle, Naturell, wenig Kohlensäure, sanft, Mild, ...

Does anyone know something about the root of this confusion? Is there any "right way" to declare the degree of carbonation?

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Stille Wasser sind tief - Ah, ne... falsches Thema. –  Em1 Feb 8 '12 at 14:58
    
Die Frage handelt nicht von deutscher Sprache, sondern von Gesetzen, Verordnungen und Konventionen. In jeder Sprache gibt es mehrere Möglichkeiten einen Sachverhalt auszudrücken - im Deutschen ist es nicht anders. Wenn es nicht geregelt ist, dann sagt der eine eben die Schokolade sei zartbitter, der nächste nennt sie herb, und der Dritte dunkel, der vierte eine Herrenschokolade. –  user unknown Feb 9 '12 at 1:03
    
I think "Stilles Wasser" means that the amount of carbon dioxide is so small that it won't create any bubbles at normal drinking temperatures. –  starblue Feb 9 '12 at 7:45
    
@userunknown: Und die verschiedenen Möglichkeiten der Ausdrucksweise gehören also nicht zu der Sprache und ihren Feinheiten? Interessante Ansicht. –  John Smithers Feb 9 '12 at 20:56
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Die Frage ist doch, warum es in Deutschland mehrere Wörter für die gleiche Produkteigenschaft gibt, und wieso es den Herstellern überlassen ist, welches sie wählen, statt einer Verordnung - oder nicht? –  user unknown Feb 10 '12 at 0:10

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Why does everyone think everything is well specified in Germany? Maybe everything is specified, but well ...

Back on-topic: On mineralwasser.com you can find the following overview:

Mineralwässer gibt es mit verschiedenen Kohlensäuregehalten: klassischer Sprudel meist mit der Bezeichnung „classic“ (mehr als 5,5 Gramm CO2 pro Liter), kohlensäurereduziertes Mineral- wasser bzw. „stilles“ Mineralwasser (4-5,5 Gramm CO2 pro Liter) und kohlen- säurefreies Mineralwasser häufg mit der Bezeichnung „naturell“ (weniger als 1 Gramm CO2 pro Liter).

According to this table "stilles Mineralwasser" has below 5.5 gram CO2 per liter.

The origin of "still" means, that it has no CO2 at all (no bubbling and no burping sound ;), but as always, the industry/marketing reinterpreted the term to their own means. So if you order/ask for a stilles Wasser, you ask for mineral water with little or no carbon dioxide. You will not get it more precise than that, because no one will measure how much CO2 is really in the bottle.

But the industry has an answer to the problem: "naturell" (see above). So first "still" meant "no CO2", then they redefined it and then someone really clever thought "they want no carbon dioxide, so they get no! (Or at least below 1 gram)" Welcome to the world of marketing.

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"Why does everyone think..." Yes. Why, oh why? –  musiKk Feb 8 '12 at 16:05

When I was a kid everything used to be simple. There (at least regionally in the south) was only sparkling water and ordinary table water:

Sprudel: heavily sparkling carbonated water
Wasser: ordinary non-fizzy table water

The only distinction we made for non-fizzy water was sometimes mentioning the source "Hahnenwasser" (i.e. tap water).

Only later the term "Mineralwasser" for drinks came into fashion. This term was from where I lived until then reserved for water from a natural source of minerals (aka "Heilwasser"). There are spas where people can take a bath in naturally mineralized and sometimes even carbonized water.

Today however the term "Mineralwasser" is widely used for all kinds of water that you can drink. By German law there are clear definitions from what source water is allowed to be called Natürliches Mineralwasser, Quellwasser, or Tafelwasser but these definitions don't include the grade of carbonization. Also by this definition bottled water when named "Tafelwasser" is more or less identical to tap water. And, in some regions we may even have "Quellwasser" coming out of the taps.

For people's tastes several sub-levels of carbonization exist, but these are more or less defined by the phantasy of the water bottling industry. The most commonly understood may be:

  • Mineralwasser klassisch/classic: heavy carbonated water (Sprudel).
  • Mineralwasser medium: carbonated at an intermediate level.
  • Mineralwasser still: poorly or non-carbonated.

If you went to a restaurant and ordered a "stilles Wasser" you do however expect it to be not carbonated at all.

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