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Ludwig Wittgenstein uses two words, 'unsinnig' and 'sinnlos', in his writing to indicate, seemingly, 'ridiculous nonsense' and 'empty and lacking sense', resp. In English, a fair transation would seem to be the difference between 'silly nonsense' and 'technically meaningless'. Now, the literal translation for 'illogical' seems to be 'unlogisch'.

For instance, Noam Chomsky's 'Colorless green ideas sleep furiously' is both 'unlogisch' since green can't be colorless, and the statement on its face isn't ridiculous in the same way 'up Jack red red Berlin dialtheia' is, which is clearly 'Unsinn'.

Given this understanding of 'unsinnig', 'sinnlos', and 'unlogisch', what sort of options does one have translating 'absurdity' into into German when describing language and language use? Is it confined to these three terms, or are there other non-idiomatic terms that might serve a purpose, and if so, what are typical that might come to mind of a native German speaker?

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  • Are there other non-idiomatic terms? You tell me Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 18:28
  • @infinitezero Thanks for the list from your preferred site. I'll examine the entries.
    – J D
    Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 18:45
  • dwds.de/wb/absurd#ot-1 I don't know if it is possible to link to specific synonym groups under the Thesaurus heading. The first and last group are applicable to language and its usage. The second-to-last seems mostly to collect derogatory terms.
    – ccprog
    Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 19:57
  • @ccprog Vielen Dank.
    – J D
    Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 22:05

2 Answers 2

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what sort of options does one have translating 'absurdity' into into German when describing language and language use?

That's an entirely pragmtic decision to make. If I were to insult a poorly written question, I would usually opt for Schwachsinn, which ultimately translates to whacky rather than swag. And all though Schwachsinniger has the same ableist connotation as retard might, it will be useful to note that idiot in the same sense goes further back and simply acquired the connotation by force of attraction.

A more literal translation of Schwachsinn, as it describes most of the German stack etymology discussion, which revolves around folk reinterpretation and an anal retentive insistence on the selective written record, would be "weak minded". This isn't entirely correct, however, as Schwachsinn seems to be the norm and not a mental impediment out of the norm.

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  • Thank you. This seems to be a term that emphasizes a pejorative in a way that 'Das ist Unsinn.' doesn't. It also apparently captures the idea of 'intellectually unsophisticated'.
    – J D
    Commented Mar 12, 2023 at 0:43
  • The common saying holds, der Ton macht die Musik. Unsinn might be a little more neutral, more often directed at children, but it can be used as a synonym to Schwachsinn because it's all in how you say it. So I wouldn't use either of these in writing because it is liable for overinterpretation when the intonation is missing.
    – vectory
    Commented Mar 12, 2023 at 7:23
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For starters

  • der Unsinn — things that contradict common sense
  • der Blödsinn — things that come to your mind in a weak moment
  • der Schwachsinn — things a dumb person comes up with
  • der Irrsinn, der Wahnsinn — things a lunatic person comes up with

and the adjectives are unsinnig etc. But the list of synonyms is huge.

About sinnlos, that's the opposite of sinnvoll and in general it means that something is not worth doing.

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