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I see that some people in German-speaking chats have relationship status (Beziehungsstatus) vergeben.

What does it mean? Does it mean that a person is forgiven?
If so, what does it mean anyway?

  • "Die/Den anzumachen, ist vergebens" – tofro Jun 21 '18 at 10:02
  • @tofro, I don't understand what was your comment for. Could you explain? – LRDPRDX Jun 23 '18 at 23:02
  • That was a colloquial word play on "vergebens" == in vain and "anmachen" == to turn sb. on – tofro Jun 24 '18 at 9:18
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Vergeben in relationship status means that those people currently are in a relation already.

Similar to the English, taken.

It has nothing to do with the English forgiving, but simply means these are already committed into an existing relationship.

In German vergeben is used for several things depending on context, like

  • Der Platz ist bereits vergeben

    That seat is already occupied (taken)

  • Wir vergeben ihm, da er es nicht besser wusste

    We forgive him, since he didn't knew better

  • 6
    Old English forgiefan has also the meaning to give in marriage. See .e.g english.stackexchange.com/questions/343990/… – aventurin Jun 17 '18 at 21:57
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    A good rule of thumb in German: the ver- prefix can frequently be taken to mean "to do to the greatest extent possible -- until it can no longer be done". In this manner, vergeben could be interpreted as "to be given completely". It's not a far stretch to see how that translates to "taken". – Tristan Jun 18 '18 at 15:09
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Geben translates to "give", but translating vergeben to "forgiven" is a false friend in this context (but possible in other contexts).

vergeben:
Bedeutungen

etw. (an jmdn.) weggeben, verteilen
umgangssprachlich: zwei Töchter der Familie waren schon vergeben (= verheiratet, verlobt)
–– colloquially: two daughters of the family were already taken (= married, engaged)

As a figure of speech it's still very similar to see this connection:
Have you seen a marriage ceremony? The father gives away the bride.

“given away” could be Past Participle give away verb
vergeben v
On the occasion of its anniversary, the company gave away gift vouchers.
–– Zum Anlass ihres Jubiläums vergab die Firma Geschenkgutscheine.
Linguee Dictionary: given away

So, depending on perspective vergeben could be read as "already taken" or "already given away".


The practical explanation above is rooted in the theoretical explanation provided by linguistics when looking into the etymologies:

Geben and give are as much cognates as vergeben and forgiven:

German cognate | Meaning of German cognate | English cognate | Proto-Germanic root
geben, gab, (ge)geben | to give | give, gave, given | *gebaną
WP: Loanwords from Old Norse

forgive (v.)

Old English forgiefan "give, grant, allow; remit (a debt), pardon (an offense)," also "give up" and "give in marriage" (past tense forgeaf, past participle forgifen); from for-, here probably "completely," + giefan "to give" (from PIE root *ghabh- "to give or receive").

The sense of "to give up desire or power to punish" (late Old English) is from use of such a compound as a Germanic loan-translation of Vulgar Latin *perdonare (Old Saxon fargeban, Dutch vergeven, German vergeben "to forgive," Gothic fragiban "to grant;" and see pardon (n.)). Related: Forgave; forgiven; forgiving.
Etymology of forgive

vergeben Vb. ‘weggeben, austeilen, verschenken, verzeihen’, meist reflexiv ‘seinem Ansehen schaden’, nur reflexiv ‘sich beim Austeilen (der Spielkarten) irren, falsch geben’, ahd. firgeban ‘vergeben, schenken, einräumen’ (8. Jh.), mhd. vergeben;
DWDS: geben/Etymologie

That means that both words share the exact same root but the English word forgiven has lost a part of the original meaning ("to give away"/"to be given away") while the German word vergeben retained that meaning and expanded it to encompass not only married people (specifically women) but now means any sex and gender committed in a relationship.

5

While πάντα ῥεῖ has already answered the question, let me explain why your assumption wasn't a bad one.

Does it mean that a person is forgiven?

In German-like languages, it could've been literally translated like that and still work. However, English is not a German-like language. In Dutch, however and for example, it would've worked. "Vergeben" would translate to "vergeven", which either means "forgiven" or "already occupied/taken/given away", but also "awarded", "handed out" or "assigned". It can be translated one-on-one regardless of context (although it looks archaic in some of those cases).

It's one of those words with multiple meanings which can translate directly to another language with the same meanings or a language where the meanings are split up. There's probably a term for it.

The vocabulary and grammatical similarity of German to English are simply too low to reliably make literal translations like that.

  • It wasn't my intent to come over as condescending. I initially phrased that differently but decided this was more clear. Thanks for enlightening me, I'll fix that part. – Mast Jun 17 '18 at 13:36
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    In German (and the answer was about a status in German), "vergeben" can very well mean "forgiven", so his assumption was not bad at all and why he could very well make such an assumption. He simply didn't know the other meaning, i.e. "taken". And "vergeven" is very very seldom used in Dutch when it is supposed to have the meaning of "weggegeven", or "verkeerd gegeven". – Rudy Velthuis Jun 17 '18 at 13:37
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    It is an interesting observation that you could further elaborate with some etymology. Both, to forgive, and vergeben share the same roots in that to give away a seat and to give away pardon are basically the same. Only the meaning to award, to give away is lost in English today (but not in Dutch or German). – Takkat Jun 17 '18 at 17:51
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    Indeed, while arguing that English is not German-like, what this post actually does is dig up the evidence to back up the historical fact that it actually is very German in origin. Many things like this that are assumed different are really just situations where one branch of the similarity has fallen out of everyday usage - but is still immediately understood when encountered in historical context. It's clear what "given" means as a relationship status, it's more the lack of awareness that "forgiven" as "pardon" is an abstraction from this root which is to blame for the confusion. – Chris Stratton Jun 17 '18 at 18:34
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    There is no such thing as "German-like language". English is Germanic language and this is as far as it gets. Some languages share some features with German and some do not; some share some other features. It's wrong to think that there are some mythical "German-like languages" out there. They are all proper languages on their own. Unless you want to define yourself what exactly "German-like languages" means and use that definition for the purpose of your answer. – Andrew Savinykh Jun 17 '18 at 19:39
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"Vergeben" literally means something like "given up."

In a "dating" context, the English expression is "taken." That is, when you have been "taken" by someone, you have"given up" yourself to someone to that person.

In the more usual context, if you have "given up" your grudge at someone's causing you offense, you have "forgiven" them.

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