In reading an excerpt from Gottfried Duden's Bericht über eine Reise nach den westlichen Staaten Nordamerikas, I came across the following sentence:

"Wollte man das Bild weiter ausschmücken, so bedürfte es nur einer Erinnerung an die reichen Waldungen, an den Ueberfluß von Steinkohlen, Salz, Eisen, Blei, Kupfer, Salpeter und andern Mineralien, an den regen Sinn fast aller Bewohner für eine heitere Geschäftigkeit und Benutzung der Vortheile ihrer Lage, und die daraus bereits hervorgegangene blühende Dampfschiffahrt; endlich an den Segensatz sämmtlicher europäischen Vorurtheile hinsichtlich des Ranges der Gewerbe und der körperlichen Thätigkeit."

The part of that sentence to focus on is:

"[...] an den regen Sinn fast aller Bewohner für eine heitere Geschäftigkeit und Benutzung der Vortheile ihrer Lage [...]"

The English translation of this sentence goes something like this:

If one wanted to paint the picture more colorfully, it would suffice to call to mind the rich forests, the abundance of bituminous coal, salt, iron, lead, copper, saltpeter, and other minerals; the active interest of almost all inhabitants in cheerful industry, the utilization of the advantages of their location, and the thriving steamboat services that have already resulted from it; finally, the contrast to all European prejudice with regard to the rank in society of the tradesman and the respect in which physical activity is held.

while the specific translation of the part of the sentence I am wondering about is:

[...] the active interest of almost all inhabitants in cheerful industry, the utilization of the advantages of their location [...]

What I want to know is, how did the German word Sinn change in meaning from interest as it is here translated, to meaning or sense as it is in this online dictionary:

I apologize for the long question, but can someone please tell me why, or if this translation is incorrect? As you can probably tell by the spelling, this German text is very old (1829). So it is quite possible the word could have changed meanings.

Update: I looked again at the dictionary, and saw that there is a sense in which Sinn is translated: "appreciation (for sth.)." So I suppose the two meanings were not as far off from each other as I had first thought.


3 Answers 3


No, there is no change in meaning: this translation is simply inaccurate. You still say today (even if a little outfashioned):

mir steht der Sinn nach Würstchen

In the sense of

I think about sausages and really want to have some: I desire sausages...

Or even:

I am interested in sausages...

And thinking about something can also mean making sense of something...

So the right translation would rather be:

... almost all inhabitants were really into cheerful industry, the utilization of the advantages of their location...

They loved that things: these things made sense to them...

No change in meaning, just a non-literal translation and a meaning that still exists nowadays.

  • 1
    Sehr weit verbreitet ist "Geschäftssinn", was ich auch nicht schlicht mit "Interesse" übersetzen würde. Vielleicht "awareness". Oder "etw. im Sinn haben" - "sth. on my/your/his/her mind". Apr 23, 2020 at 14:34

As far as I'm concerned there is a subtle difference between

"Ihm steht der Sinn nach Musik" and "Er hat einen Sinn für Musik".

The former means "desire", the latter means rather "to be interested in".

Maybe it is clearer with a little more context.

"Lass uns ins Konzert gehen, mir steht heute der Sinn nach Musik." "Let's go to a concert, I'm in the mood for music tonight."

"Warum geht Dein Freund nie ins Museum?" "Ach, der hat einfach keinen Sinn für Kunst"

"Why does your friend never go to the museum" "Well, he's just got no appreciation of art"

As for the text, I do not know whether this difference has existed in that form at that time. But as the thriving steamboat services are mentioned as as result of the inhabitant's actions, the term "Sinn für" is most likely to be understood in the sense of "to strive for".


I think "Einen Sinn haben für" indicates more of a talent than merely an interest.

  • Welcome to German.SE. Do you think you could extend your conclusion with a bit more elaboration? Like why you think so and maybe what arguments you have to not think otherwise. Apr 24, 2020 at 19:18
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    I think if native speakers share their knowledge, the elaboration or citing references is not so important as on ordinary SE sites. Answers to "How does it sound"-like questions are not very well provable, but exactly this is why they exist praxis nowhere on the net - except in the mind of the native speakers.
    – peterh
    Apr 25, 2020 at 10:48
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    The simple reason is is as a native speaker I’d never use it in the sense of “interest” but only in the sense of “he’s got a knack for something” Apr 26, 2020 at 4:38
  • 2
    Usually also implies some degree of intuitive understanding combined with a kind of appreciation.
    – Hulk
    Apr 27, 2020 at 11:39

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