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I was watching a video about various idioms that have 'machen' in them. This included the sentence 'Er macht blau', which would formally translate into English as something like 'To be absent from school/work for no good reason'.

I have two queries about this phrase:

  1. I have read different resources that write the infinitive of the phrase as 'blau machen' or the separable 'blaumachen'. Since this term appears to be colloquial, are both generally acceptable ways of writing the phrase, or is one more commonly used than the other?
  2. The English translation above is obviously a bit verbose, but that's mainly because basically all the informal terms for absenteeism in English differ from region to region. 'To play hookie' is most used in the U.S., 'to skive' is mainly used in the U.K., and 'to chuck/pull a sickie' is an Australianism. I think 'to skip work/school' is the most widely-understood phrase for that situation, but I am not certain how commonly that is used.

    At any rate, in contrast to the English phrases is 'blau machen' a widely understood, informal phrase in German-speaking countries? I bring this up because the video had translated the phrase as 'to take French leave', which is a term I had never heard of, and the equivalent for the etymologically related term 'Blauer Montag' in English is 'Saint Monday', which I don't believe is especially well-known in English either. If 'blau machen' is not widely understood, then what kinds of terms are used for being absent from work/school in an informal context?

6

Yes, blaumachen is indeed widely used to describe skipping work/school. Here in Austria it is understood, but less commonly used.

There is also the verb schwänzen, which is synonymous to blaumachen in most situations but is more common when referring to unexcused absence from school, less common for staying absent from work.

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Regarding your first question on correct orthography, that’s a part of German Rechtschreibung that’s been muddled a lot during the 1996 through 2006 spelling reforms. A lot of people will tell you that it should be one word, blaumachen, because it’s (usually) not about making (i.e. coloring) something blue. Multi-part phrases which have gained a new, conventional meaning tend to be treated as true compounds, i.e. single words. This one is even opaque, because you cannot infer its etymology easily from its parts. Similar mechanisms are at work when it comes to uppercasing the initial letter of an adjective as in Schwarzes Brett (which doesn’t have to be black).

However, in actual sentences and utterances, blau and mach+ will often be separated, e.g. ich mache heute blau vs. ich mache (= male / zeichne / streiche / färbe) die Wand blau. This holds true for most verbs like that, so the point of concatenation is mostly moot.

  • Thank you for that explanation, it was really insightful. I keep forgetting that true compounds can be formed that way, even without common prepositional suffixes like aus-. – Lentlby Aug 19 '14 at 13:10
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"blaumachen" is one verb, it means "To be absent from school/work for no good/accepted reason". It is splited like "Ich mache blau", but careful, that can also mean

"etwas blau machen" is not only a single verb, you can translate it to "make something blue."

You have to look at the word in the coherence of the phrase, if there is a Akkusativobjekt (e.g. etwas) it is "blaumachen".

btw: machen is a word with a lot of meanings, and there is always a verb that is better.

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Blaumachen is widely used, a standard expression.

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