13

I recently heard the word "asozial" is an insult in Germany. As far as I know, in other cultures it is not perceived as an insult in general. How bad is it in meaning in German culture?

6
  • 3
    Example of a "false friend" - something that looks similar to a word in another language, but totally different meaning. Sensibel ≠ sensible. Pathetisch ≠ pathetic. And many others.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 17 at 7:35
  • 2
    @gnasher729: prägnant ≠ pregnant, ich will ≠ I will, bekommen ≠ become Aug 17 at 11:46
  • 3
    Note that being "asozial" was a crime in national socialism (and I think under socialist rule in the GDR), specifically the crime of rubbing national socialists somehow the wrong way. This was enough to get you murdered in a concentration camp. I know that some people use the word very casually (in the sense that they mean exactly the same thing as the Nazis, but would not go out of their way to have them murdered themselves), but I still would suggest you avoid the word.
    – user2508
    Aug 18 at 8:19
  • 1
    @HubertSchölnast a German teacher I had at high school loved to tell the apocryphal story of a German tourist requesting to "become a shrimp" in a restaurant abroad... Aug 18 at 11:12
  • 1
    preservative ≠ Präservativ :-) Aug 18 at 13:05
4

One thing to note is that the word antisozial may exist but is not very common; asozial covers its meanings as well. German equivalents to English asocial would be ungesellig, einzelgängerisch or eigenbrötlerisch.

With respect to use and history of the word the Wikipedia article is quite elaborate and, as far as I can tell, accurate.

The word asozial has been used under the Nazis and in the GDR to discriminate against and to justify persecution of certain groups of people who were non-conformant. The violated norms could be cultural (hippies, Sinti and Romanies), social (homeless), economic (no steady employment) or psychological (mentally ill). Often several of these deviations from the norm occur together: Most homeless will be unemployed, and mental illnesses among them are common. In most cases there are visual clues like shabby or non-standard clothes and lacking or non-standard haircuts which make a visual categorization easy.

In the way my grandmother and mother used the word, the reverberations of the Nazi use were clearly palpable; asozial was used as a term of abuse against people who were perceived as inferior or debased. A neighborhood with subsidized housing was where the Asozialen lived.

The subtext stemming from the Nazi worldview that was never consciously reflected — or maybe agreed with — was that being asozial was an intrinsic condition that was of course also passed on to the offspring. It is obvious that such a concept leads to specific policies of which putting people in concentration camps is only the most consequent one.

To me the word asozial is quite toxic, in a line with the N-word or calling someone a spastic. I would strongly advise not to use it.

22

The German word »asozial« means in English

anti social = against the needs and rights of the society

People who behave asozial violate basic rights of other people.

  • A person who plays loud music in the middle of the night, so that other people can't sleep, acts asozial.
  • A person who smokes cigars when they are in a closed room with little children acts asozial.

But some people use this word also for people who in fact just need help. They call homeless people or long-term unemployed person asozial (»Assi« = short for »Asozialer«) just because they receive financial support from the welfare system, although most of them do not really behave asozial.

12
  • 10
    asozial is often used like antisozial. when used in regard to homeless people, it retains it's original meaning: not part of normal society.
    – Benjamin
    Aug 17 at 7:50
  • 2
    Worth noting: that's not what the actual English word "antisocial" typically means (though I do see it listed in the dictionary). In typical parlance, someone is "antisocial" if they don't want to be social, that is, to spend time with other people, especially if it defeats others' efforts to be social, such as by not participating in a group activity.
    – Peeja
    Aug 17 at 14:42
  • 4
    @nmd_07: This has nothing to do with "Germans collectively". Looking down on people who are (perceived to be) different has happened in all societies in all ages since the beginning of humankind, and is even observed in animals. Nothing to do with Germans, Germany, or the German language. Not everybody goes to the extremes that my country went to to eradicate people who are (perceived to be) different, but it is by no means unique to Germany. Aug 17 at 18:36
  • 3
    @nmd_07: IMHO drawing the line around "normal" gives a wrong impression of the meaning. There are plenty of types of people who are not a part of "normal" society, but by far not all of them are "asozial". Aug 17 at 20:18
  • 2
    I tent to object: "asozial" is strongly negative. It does not mean the person is "not nice", but it means the person lives against what is considered social standards, like lying around drunken every day, smelling strongly due to not washing, using very bad language, etc.
    – U. Windl
    Aug 18 at 7:19
13

The word is composed of two words: "sozial" has about the same meaning as "social" in English and comes from the latin "socius" (comrade, member). Words like "society" also come from "socius".

The prefix "a-" is greek and means "devoid of", "not concerned by", "not having...", etc.. This is a slight difference to "anti-" which means "contrary to". Someone "antisozial" is (actively) acting against societies norms - someone "asozial" is not concerned with societies norms at all.

In day-to-day German use of language the word "asozial" is usually meant as "not concerned with the well-being of ones surroundings", but - as @Hubert Schölnast" pointed out - often with the connotation of "not contributing to societies advancement" for whatever arbitrary reason. It also has the connotation of "inhumane", "inconsiderate", "ruthless", "reckless" or simply "unkind".

I hope this helps.

bakunin

3

In a common way most young people use it, it has a meaning of a person who does not have a job and gets financial support from the system like Hubert said. But that is not the only thing. In addition it describes people also as persons that don't really take care of themselves, don't clean their rooms at home and in general do not do very much all the whole day although they have the time for it. You can also use it with an image of a person who consumes a lot of beer and other liquor. I think it has a different meaning for each person who uses the word asozial, but this should cover the most common meanings.

1
  • 1
    So basically "asozial" means to be considered "not belonging to the society", but it's independent of racism.
    – U. Windl
    Aug 18 at 7:22
1

To add to the excellent answer by Hubert, asozial is generally quite derogatory and informal, and usually applied to young people; an English comparison that comes to mind is "Chav", or perhaps "Asbo".

0

If I had to translate the common meaning of "asozial/assi" as an insult directly, I think "trashy" is a really good fit.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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