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Here is an edited quotation from Ulrich Chaussy's Das Oktoberfest-Attentat:

Verfolgt man die Herkunft der Mixtur weiter, entpuppt sich der Rufmord an Lewin als ein Spiel zwischen Nürnberg, Tel Aviv, Paris, das - man staune - am Ende wieder am Startpunkt anlangt.

Why does the author use the subjunctive in the interjection? Could he just say "man staunt"? What would be the difference in meaning. Is this very subtle use of language or just an academic quirk?

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    Welcome to German SE! I edited your post because there's no book titled Das Oktoberfest Attentat (as it was cited in the question originally). That phrase features a Deppenleerzeichen (fool's blank) and would be incorrect from an orthographical point of view. The title changed from Oktoberfest. Ein Attentat (1st ed.) over Oktoberfest. Das Attentat (2nd ed.) to Das Oktoberfest-Attentat und der Doppelmord von Erlangen. – amadeusamadeus Mar 1 at 13:06
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Man staunt (Indikativ)

means that the author is informing the reader that people (or he himself) are astonished, while

man staune (Konjunktiv I)

is an invitation or request to the reader to be astonished or to marvel.

A similar, quite popular, use of Konjunktiv as a request is:

Man möge mir die Frage verzeihen ...

or

Man verzeihe mir die Frage ...

A classic blessing from the Old Testament introduced by Martin Luther to protestant liturgy also is a nice example, adressing an appeal to god. The form used today is:

Der Herr segne und behüte dich, er lasse sein Angesicht leuchten über dir und sei dir gnädig. Der Herr hebe sein Angesicht über dich und gebe dir Frieden.

Note how this is addressed to the person being blessed (dich/dir), but wishes that a third person, god, would do something.

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  • Is "man staune" equivalent with "man soll gestaunt sein"? – Nicholas McAulay Mar 1 at 15:10
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    That doesn't work for two reasons: staunen is intransitive, so a passive of it is unacceptable; and the passive inverts the meaning (man soll verziehen sein = "one has to be forgiven"). The closest would be man soll staunen, but that's rather unidiomatic in this position. It has a completely differnent ring than the Konjunktiv. – phipsgabler Mar 2 at 8:13
  • @NicholasMcAulay You meant erstaunt instead of gestaunt, right? Man soll erstaunt sein is a grammatical sentence, but it's more like a third-party summary of someone saying man staune, while man staune is the prompt itself. Example conversation: A: "Man staune." -- B (to C): "What did A say?" -- C (to B): "Man soll erstaunt sein, according to A." Man staune is also replacable by man sei erstaunt. – amadeusamadeus Mar 2 at 13:46
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That's no subjunctive, but rather an archaic remnant of an imperative in 3rd person. (This mode is actually called "Jussiv")

This was used roughly in the middle ages by upper-class persons to express contemptousness to the adressed person.

The King would have addressed the servant with

Er schenke mir noch Wein nach

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    I understand that this is a matter of perspective, but I would rather say that we use Konjunktiv as a substitute for an imperative for persons other than the second. And we still do that, I'd argue, when we use third person plural as a polite address. – Carsten S Mar 1 at 12:45
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    @CarstenS Yep, clearly a matter of perspective - I think, however, it's easier to understand for a non-native speaker to consider it a sort of imperative instead of Konjunktiv, which is usualy assumed to have entirely different purposes. Agree, however, that the verb form is aligned with the Konjunktiv. – tofro Mar 1 at 12:49
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    Es handelt sich um einen Konjunktiv I. Das Deutsche kennt keine eigene Verbform "Jussiv". – David Vogt Mar 1 at 12:58
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    (Present) subjunctive ist der englische Ausdruck für Konjunktiv I. – David Vogt Mar 1 at 13:02
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    This still exists (as an archaic form) in English too: "long live the king", "so be it", "hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done" and so on. – DonHolgo Mar 1 at 13:04

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