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Is there a list of German words or expressions which should not be used because of Nazi connotations? I'd be particularly interested in less obvious ones like "jedem das seine" (to each his own), which for all I know is legal in Germany and perfectly fine to use in (translation in) other languages.

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    Well I don't think it does make much sense to compile such a list as this would depend on the one you are talking too. E.g. for me as a left-wing German I don't feel offended by your example at all. In special as it comes from Suum cuique with a much deeper meaning. – frlan Nov 27 '16 at 20:41
  • Yes, I am not offended either, but at least it is not to be used in pc-speak as far as I understand. – user1583209 Nov 27 '16 at 20:51
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    Currently there is no political correctness as we know it from US in german speaking area. For luck. Unfortunately there are movements trying to create some I'm-offended-by-everything-somebody-is-saying-feeling. As long as you avoid real Nazi-word-creations it should be fine. – frlan Nov 27 '16 at 21:31
  • "jedem das seine" - that expression is not normally associated with Nazis and indeed commonly used in everyday speech. I have often been told that when, for instance, expressing somewhat off-average preferences such as rather going to a museum or a historical site than joining the rest of the group for partying. With "jeder muss sein Ding machen", there is even a colloquial "youth slang"-like variant of the figure of speech. – O. R. Mapper Nov 28 '16 at 11:47
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    Ther are very few expressions that are a complete no-go regardless of context like Untermensch and Endlösung (and some others I wouldn't even quote here). And there is a really large grey area where acceptance would largely depend on context and opinion ("Jedem das seine" feels completely acceptable IMHO, for example. I don't feel like banning half of the language just because some Nazi-Führer happened to use those words somewhere). I don't think you can make up such a list. – tofro Nov 28 '16 at 12:13
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This list could be endless. The Nazis did not coin too many common expressions but loved to twist the meaning of existing ones.

Jedem das Seine is a good example. The rooting latin (actually after a greek principle) is suum cuique, which describes distributive justice, equity between persons. The Nazis put the German version of that motto on the gate of the Buchenwald concentration camp, twisting its meaning accurately, as they meant that's what is due to the captives inside.

So, what to do? It's practially impossible to avoid «Nazi terms» as soon you try to express a common idea with a buzzword. You are stumping through an old old minefield hoping nothing explodes nearby.

Avoid buzzwords. Chances are quite high the Nazis used the word for its good buzz before you. That's the reason we love English buzzwords that much. No chance to trigger a Nazi mine.

Full circle, why suum cuique is a good example? Because the Feldjäger (German military police) still use the Latin version of the motto.


About the legal situation:

That's in § 86 StGB »Distribution of propaganda materials of unconstituional organisations«

and § 86a StGB »Use of signs of unconstituional organisations«.

In short: It's not illegal to use an expression which was twisted by the Nazis. That would be an endless list. It is however illegal to use an official slogan or catchphrase used by the Nazis (or any other unconstitutional organisation) as a distinguishing mark.

The latter interpretation of § 86a StGB was heavily disputed. Though the Bundesgerichtshof (the highest German appellation court) already ruled in 1972 that paragraph needed the promotional constraint, too, it is not literally included and so, people who distributed »swastika prohibited« signs have been convicted by lower courts.

In another Bundesgerichtshof judgement of 2007 the BGH stated again promotion is needed for § 86a StGB to come into effect, as it had to be undesired by the people who made that law to penalize educational advertising against unconstitutional organisations.

  • +1 𝑓𝑜𝑟 the Latin version still being of suitable use. – dakab Nov 28 '16 at 6:45
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This is probably not much of a legal problem, but depending on your target audience it can become one concerning (dare I day it?) political correctness. Obviously there can be no exhaustive list. For starters, all references to the Nazi party, its organisations, programs or ranks are taboo (except, obviously, in an historical context). That's not much of an issue, though, because us non-historians usually have little reason to talk about Blockwart, Konzentrationslager, Kraft durch Freude, Winterhilfswerk, Mutterkreuz, Sturmbannführer and the like (The jury's still out on whether Führer, used neutrally as "leader" or "guide", is OK. Avoid it to be on the safe side. Also, unlike in English, don't call anybody a nazi unless he is one, and I mean behaving like on in the political sense.)

These are all specialized terms, coined by the nazis, and there is little need to use them in everyday speech. It gets more difficult with a few other terms or sayings. While it's easy to see why Arbeit macht frei and Meine Ehre heißt Treue are right out, I for one don't consider Jedem das seine offensive, but there are those who do. The same is true for both durch den Rost fallen and (doing something) bis zur Vergasung: while these expressions are actually older than the Third Reich, they are considered offensive by many.

Even if something is very hard, you probably shouldn't call it hart wie Kruppstahl, and even though you don't like a particular painting or sculpture, please refrain from calling it entartete Kunst. Let me close with a few more traps for the unwary: the term Endlösung, while seemingly innocuous, should definitely by avoided, as should be -- and that's a new one -- all references to the number 88. While you may safely ignore all similar codes and plead ignorance there, 88 is the one you should know about. (But then Ariel, a brand of washing powder, had to learn this the hard way, too.)

  • One more: Sonderbehandlung was used as an euphemism for institutionalized murder. It's till OK to use, I think, just know about it. – Ingmar Nov 28 '16 at 6:04
  • 88 is hardly a new one. It's been around for at least a decade, rather two or three (i.e. since the eighties). Anyway, condemning mere numbers without certain context is generally stupid (13/4/7/18/28/74/84/444/19/8/1488/4/20 is just one of countless numerologies). – dakab Nov 28 '16 at 6:55
  • Well, "new". It's more recent than nazism itself, anyway. As to the other numbers, I agree. If I haven't said as much, I certainly meant it that way. – Ingmar Nov 28 '16 at 10:36
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    "all references to the number 88" - context is king. When used in a way that is somehow related to Chinese culture or language (e.g. Chinese restaurants, German-Chinese couples, Chinese festivals in a German-speaking place, Chinese people living in Germany, etc.), any combinations with the number 8 are lucky numbers, and moreover, 88 in particular is also a shorthand for saying good bye. – O. R. Mapper Nov 28 '16 at 11:53
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    To the best of my knowledge, Blockwart is not purely nazi but also DDR-socialist. Other than that +1. – Jan Nov 28 '16 at 23:27
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It may not only be a single word or expression but also the context it was used to make it not welcome in Germany. Therefore a list is only half of the story.

Nevertheless some dictionaries will tell you on your research that you have found a word that was used or was exclusively used in Nazi Germany.


To give you an example, entries in the Duden will give you

Volksschädling, der
Gebrauch: nationalsozialistisch abwertend

  • for a word that was used by Nazis only. The DWDS will tell you there it was used nazistisch.

Zins­knecht­schaft, die
BEDEUTUNGSÜBERSICHT
1. (im Mittelalter) Abhängigkeit des Zinsbauern vom Grundherrn
2. (nationalsozialistisch) Abhängigkeit von privaten Geldverleihern

  • for words that also have a Nazi meaning in addition to another meaning. It is context that matters here.

Other words that today do not have a Nazi connotation (e.g. Autobahn) will not have such usage or meaning references even if the word was invented or frequently used in the time then.

We can use the Duden search function to generate a list of words by searching for "nationalsozialistisch".

Sadly I have not found any online resource to ease recognizing Nazi idiomatic expressions.

  • Kannst Du ein Beispiel geben, wo ein Wörterbuch behauptet, dass ein Wort exclusiv im faschistischen Deutschland benutzt wurde? Woher wollen die Wörterbuchproduzenten das so genau wissen? Wäre ihr Abdruck des Wortes dann nicht paradox? – user unknown Nov 28 '16 at 5:17
  • Uff, „Zins­knecht­schaft“ hat NS-Konnotation… gut zu wissen, wird ja auch heuer schonmal verwendet. – dakab Nov 28 '16 at 6:47
  • Nice idea to ask Duden for the connotation. It does, however come back with such deep-brown expressions such as Redakteur and Goldfasan. I'll probably never use those words again... ;) – tofro Nov 28 '16 at 11:09
  • @tofro yeah interpretation of Duden searches need som own thinking to see that of course Redakteur is a non-Nazi expression but the synonym Schriflleiter listed there is Nazi-speak. I would not use Goldfasan on people only just because of the Nazi-usage but it is fine when we meant the birds (context!). I don't know of any other concise online list we could use instead. – Takkat Nov 28 '16 at 11:26
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If you read, for instance, the influential book “Aus dem Wörterbuch des Unmenschen” (¹1962, ³1968) by Dolf Sternberger, Gerhard Storz and Wilhelm E. Süskind, you’ll find many unexpected words and expressions discussed therein: Anliegen, Ausrichtung, Betreuung, charakterlich, durchführen, echt – einmalig, Einsatz, Frauenarbeit, Gestaltung, herausstellen, intellektuell, Kulturschaffende, Lager, leistungsmäßig, Mädel, Menschenbehandlung, organisieren, Problem, Propaganda, querschießen, Raum, Schulung, Sektor, tragbar, untragbar, Vertreter, wissen um …, Zeitgeschehen.

Some lexemes and phrases trigger a special kind of reaction: the suppressed höhö laugh. It occurs when a significant part of an audience isn’t sure whether it’s okay (i.e. politically correct or socially acceptable) to express amusement about some double entendre or pun in public or whether it actually was meant to be funny. This depends a lot on context, but can include any mention of

  • führen/Führer
  • Autobahn
  • Volk, Volksempfänger, Volkswagen, völkisch
  • Rasse
  • Heil (but not heilen/Heilung)
  • total(er Krieg)
  • (seit … Uhr) wird zurückgeschossen (or adapted verbs)
  • Endsieg/-lösung/End-SBST
  • Lösung der …-frage
  • Heimat
  • Lebensraum (im Osten), (Volk) ohne Raum
  • Lager
  • SBST₁ durch SBST₂ ← “Kraft durch Freude”
  • SBST macht ADJ ← “Arbeit macht frei”
  • Mein SBST ← “Mein Kampf”
  • Bund deutscher SBST ← Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM)
  • Wehrmacht (instead of Bundeswehr)
  • Blitzkrieg
  • UntermenschUnter-SBST, Über-SBST
  • Arier(nachweis), arisch
  • braun, weiß, schwarz
  • stramm(stehen)
  • rechts
  • jawohl

Any connection to raising one’s (right) arm, creating jobs by huge state-funded infrastructure projects, deadly gas and cremation, and of course all more or less derogatory terms for social or ethnic groups like Zigeuner, Krüppel, Weltjudentum or their stereotypical characteristics, e.g. Hakennase.

Phonetically and prosodically, even “rolling” r sounds, emphasizing oi diphthongs, speaking in a stakkato rhythm and several other clues will be remindful of Hitler’s or Göbbel’s voice. Similar typographic effects come from broken scripts (“blackletter”, Fraktur) and zigzag S-runes.

Combinations often avoided in abbreviations or codes include:

  • AH “Adolf Hitler”
  • HH “Heil Hitler”
  • HJ “Hitlerjugend”
  • KZ “Konzentrationslager”
  • NS “Nationalsozialismus”, NSDAP (e.g. hinted at in the brand name “Lonsdale”)
  • SA “Sturmabteilung”
  • SS “Schutzstaffel”
  • the number 88
  • any digit combination V# “Vergeltungswaffe”

Furthermore, of course, any kind of swastika and some symbolism with skulls, eagles or oak leaves is indicative – and the once fashionable small mustache as worn by Charlie Chaplin, especially if combined with hair parted to the side. Some calendar dates and their various numeric notations may also require special considerations, e.g. Hitler’s birthday on 20 April, Reichspogromnacht on 9/10 November, German surrender on 8/9 May, liberation of KZ Auschwitz on 27 January or start of WW2 on 1 September.

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