In the following video (https://youtu.be/tNZXy6hfvhM?t=1062), the speaker feels the need to add after the adjective of Latin origin she first uses its equivalent based on purely German elements :

  • Es gibt ja jetzt schon irreversible Schäden, also unumkehrbare Schäden…

Is she afraid irreversibel won't be as widely understood as unumkehrbar? Is it a case of irreversibel being restricted to scientific discourse? Given a choice is the Verdeutschung (if that's the right word) preferable? Are there general trends that can be identified in this area?

  • 1
    It's not unusual (and never was) that speakers explain scientific terms with some more broadly understandable for native speakers in the audience. Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 14:07
  • Irre means "crazy"; maybe there was a need to disambiguate for some mor so than with other Latin baggage.
    – vectory
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 18:00
  • Bleibende Schäden would be less ... I don't know, just less.
    – vectory
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 18:01

2 Answers 2


The words irreversibel and unumkehrbar seem to be used with about the same frequency. Duden, under Häufigkeit (irreversibel unumkehrbar), lists both as belonging in the group of the 104 to 105 most frequent words. A quick search in the Deutsches Referenzkorpus confirms this, with 8407 : 8721 hits.

Now even though the numbers may hide the fact that these words are used with different frequencies in different types of texts, they make me fairly confident in asserting that irreversibel is not babble as Janka suggests, but a pretty unremarkable word and definitely not limited to scientific discourse.

Per se, none of these words are preferable over the other. Sprachpurismus is a thing of the past, although contemporary Sprachkritik may still criticise the unnecessary use of words of foreign origin when an acceptable native word is available, as is the case here.

Janka's post is a strong testament to the negative reaction you may garner if you go against that injunction. So one could add to your quite reasonable suggestion that the speaker in your video adds unumkehrbar in order to translate irreversibel for those that don't know the word the following: that she is aware of the injunction and is, in a manner, correcting herself in order to follow it.

To turn this back to the beginning: Despite the still-present injunction against the unnecessary use of loan words, irreversibel is used as frequently as unumkehrbar, which could be taken to mean that most people do not care either way.


This post is already long enough as it is, but I wanted to introduce two further examples (or classes of examples).

  1. ganzheitlich and holistisch are one frequency level apart. Very likely, this means that holistisch is used in more specific contexts (it may be technical language) or only by the more educated (or those wishing to appear so).

  2. einen Anreiz schaffen and inzentivieren. The latter is so rare as to not be listed in dictionaries. It might be a technical term in the narrowest sense, i.e. a term that is only known by specialists in a certain subject. It is felt to be a lazy and unnecessary loan from English, perpetrated by people who encounter incentivise in English texts and cannot be bothered to translate the term.

Of course, with time, inzentivieren may move up to the status of holistisch and on to that of irreversibel.

  • 2
    Those frequency dictionaries have the disadvantage they only cover written texts, most of which written by people with higher education. This makes them completely useless for this kind of problem.
    – Janka
    Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 16:19
  • @Janka Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. The bias introduced by being limited to written texts is not so big as to render all results derived from analysing those texts invalid.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 16:39
  • @David "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater." Are you sure that this is a common English phrase? ;-) Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 18:23
  • @DavidVogt Very insightful answer, thank you!
    – grandtout
    Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 11:11
  • The common youtube audience has very little overlap with the smaller Die Zeit reader. Your argument is based on a faulty comparison.
    – vectory
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 18:04

It's not Verdeutschung, unumkehrbar is the correct term.

Irreversibel is science babble or worse, regular babble. You cannot expect German speakers with less than college education will understand it. And even most people who know what it means won't use it outside of a scientific context either.

Non-professional speakers with a higher education often forget they are talking to people out of their bubble.

Advertising often uses Latin terms as Sensitiv or Cerealien to sound "professional". It sounds completely aloof in reality. Those people also live in a bubble.

  • Das mit der angeblichen "Verdeutschunng" sehe ich ganz genauso. Sensitiv und Cerealien sind typischer Werbesprech der "wissenschaftlich" daherkommen möchte. Alles Quatsch. Danke für diese Antwort! Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 14:50
  • Wenn z.B. ein Physiker von einem irreversiblen Prozess spricht, dann benutzt er absichtlich das Wort irreversibel, damit jeder weiß, dass es um Entropie geht. Sonst benutzt er selbstverständlich das Wort unumkehrbar. Dann kommen die Baumschüler und denken, dass die Physiker toll geschwollen reden können und die äffen das dann bei jeder Gelegenheit nach.
    – Janka
    Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 16:01
  • 1
    I would have given +1, but I do not understand or second the claim "it is the correct term", irreversibel would also be totally correct. It is not a semantic, but a stylistic difference. So I do not understand how you come to imply that irreversibel would not be correct.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 19:26
  • The asker made the claim the Latin term was preferable and the other a Verdeutschung. It's not that way. There are Verdeutschungen of many Latin, French and English terms but this isn't one.
    – Janka
    Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 19:30
  • If you go back that far you can argue almost any common word but those with undoubtly German stems only is taken from Latin, as this was the language of the scholars until the 18th century.
    – Janka
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 0:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.