Supergeil…. the evolution of Germany’s favourite slang word

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EDEKA, Germany’s largest supermarket corporation, has long been known for its conservative ethos. Their ads have never really rocked the boat and have never been anything approaching cutting edge.

As such their current campaign showing a Teutonic Barry White singing the praises of a range of their goods in a somewhat funky style involving the expression “supergeil” has come as a surprise.

See, “geil” is one Germany’s most favourite slang words. Anyone who has ever spent some time there and listened closely would have come across it at some stage. Though for obvious reasons it is not a term you’re going to come across in your regular run-of-the-mill text book.

Most Germans are generally not even aware that going back in time, the term used to initially describe a very bloomy fauna, plants that grew extensively.

That meaning, however, has now been completely eroded and most German native speakers would tell you that in its modern usage it first of all meant, ahem, “horny”.

Boah, gestern abend war ich so was von geil!

From then on the word started describing someone of either sex who is “hot”.

Die Melanie/Der Thomas ist ziemlich geil.

Until it then became a catch all phrase for everything that is “fabulous” or “awesome”.

Wie geil ist das denn? (How cool is that?)

Kickboxing ist echt geil.

Or simply: Geeeeiillllllll!!!!!

It was the 1980s where the word started becoming more and more popular. So much so that a duo of English DJs based in Germany even wrote a song about the word that stayed in the charts for a few weeks.

Note how they even reference variations such as “affengeil” which is similar to Edeka’s “supergeil”. Or if you even want to go a step further: “superoberaffengeil”.

EDEKA’s usage of this word is by far not the first time it was used in popular ad campaigns. In actual fact the German electronic discounter Saturn had a very famous decade-long campaign with the slogan:

Geiz ist geil! (Being stingy is awesome.)

With that slogan, Saturn managed to combine one of Germany’s most eminent conservative social virtues with one of Germany’s hippest fun words

Mind you, given the longevity of the term, it is hardly cutting edge anymore. Deutschland’s yoof has long adapted a range of other terms that may at least for a while remain obscure to most of us adults. After all “Babo” was named the youth word of 2013. (And yes, my sister had no idea what it meant but my nephew did.)

Still though, we all still think that the J. Geils Band had one of the funniest band names of all times.

Please let me introduce… Peppa Wutz

peppaFollowing up on my recent post on learning German with the help of movies and in particularly silent movies, here’s a little addendum:

One really helpful way to improve your listening and general language skills is to watch children’s shows.

Their language is generally relatively simple, yet includes a large number of important phrases, and the pronunciation of the speakers concise.

And a lot of them are easily available on YouTube. In order to find those just e.g. search for “Peppa Wutz”, the German name for Peppa Pig, and spend the next few hours going from one recommendation to the next.

Shhh…. – Learning German the Silent Movie way

frauimmondposterOne of the most entertaining ways to immerse yourself in a new language is through its movies. You can kick back and get entertained while at the same time brushing up on your language skills.

Regardless of your current language skills, you are bound to pick up something new. Even absolute beginners can benefit.

Years ago when I watched LOLA RENNT which features a very important bag stashed full of money, my girlfriend who doesn’t speak much German and wasn’t even watching the film but just heard bits and pieces in the background, came over and asked me what the word “Tasche” means. Obviously the term was used so regularly that it stuck in her mind and she is still able to remember that word whenever she travels to Germany.

Though there are lots of opportunities these days to watch foreign language films via Netflix & Co., only a properly mastered DVD may offer you the flexibility you need to pick subtitles of your choice so that depending on the level you’re at you could do one of the following:

  • Watch the film in German with English subtitles
  • Watch the film in German with German subtitles
  • Watch the film in German without any subtitles

You could even do all three, i.e. start watching it with English subtitles, then – as you are already familiar with it – watch it again with the German subs and finally without any subs at all. It will become increasingly more difficult to understand it but as you are already familiar with the plot and dialogue you’re going to recognise and understand more and more of the actual text.

So far I haven’t told you anything that hasn’t been recommended elsewhere before

What is never really mentioned, however, is the idea to use silent movies (Stummfilme) as a learning tool.

True, there is only a hardcore set of movie fans left who still explore those films regularly, yet once you start to get into their archaic world and rhythm you will see that they provide wonderful imagery that is bound to live with you for quite some time.

And Germany during the Weimar Republic was the world’s leading producer of quality movies. Hollywood was just setting up shop at the time and one could argue that the large scale emigration of German and Austrian film makers to America following Hitler’s rise to power let to the proper resurgence of Hollywood. For starters: What would Hollywood have done without the likes of Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, Robert Siodmak & Co?

But let’s forget about the historical and artistic qualities of German silent movies and focus entirely on their linguistic benefits.

Given that the majority of these products are indeed silent, all you really need to understand are the German language intertitles. And these are strategically placed in a way so that you can even pause the film if you can’t read and understand them quickly enough without interfering too much with the flow of entertainment.

Pause a proper modern movie in between and you have bizarre random cut-offs of faces and interrupt the natural pattern of speech between characters. Pause a silent movie and you just pause it at a point where the film was actually designed to be read and where you won’t interfere with the natural acting flow.

Of course, whenever silent movies are still shown these days, they usually come with English language intertitles, so make sure to purchase DVDs that offer the original German intertitles as an option. Or you could simply purchase the DVD via Amazon’s German website, where they will generally sell the German versions of those flicks.

As silent movies by and large are out of copyright, they can also easily be tracked through YouTube or Archive.org but again a lot of those versions come with English language intertitles.

Below please find some examples of German silent movies with German intertitles to get you started.

Mind you, some of them feature a more old-style way of writing and some have additional Spanish or English subtitles but these should still give you something of a head start nonetheless. Please also note that some of those productions are sliced up into various parts that can all be found online as well.

 (Part 1/3)

 (Part1/10)

Mir geht’s gut

If only I had a Euro for every time I asked “Wie geht’s dir?” (or even “Wie geht’s, wie steht’s?”) and received one of the following replies: Ich bin gut. Ich gehe gut. Or even worse: Ich geht’s gut.

In German we generally don’t say “I’m fine, thanks” but “Me goes well”. Does it make sense? Probably not, so just accept it as it is and remember that the proper replies are in the Dativ e.g.

Es geht mir gut.
Mir geht’s gut.
Mir geht es gut.
Danke, mir geht’s super.
Meinem Bruder geht es gut.
Meiner Schwester geht es gar nicht gut.
Meinen Eltern geht es schlecht.

Looking for Freedom on the Road South

OK, time to switch off your taste buds, but recently I discussed with an Irish friend of mine who is fluent in German how helpful some of the 1970s German Schlager (pop songs) are when it comes to learning the lingo. They can be pretty annoying, but because they quickly burn their way into your memory will help to remember certain phrases much easier than if you just tried to remember the individual words and sentences. (Also check out Daliah Lavi’s OH WANN KOMMST DU? for learning the days of the week amongst other things.)

He mentioned Tony Marshall’s Auf der Straße nach Süden, a song I hadn’t listened to in ages, and then emphasised that this was quite clearly the model that David Hasselhoff’s Looking for Freedom was based on.

Of course, he was spot on. How could I never have noticed the fact that both songs sound virtually identical? Judge for yourself: Look at the first video from 1978. Marvel at the fact that singers as tone deaf as Tony Marshall became Schlager Stars. Then notice how badly the audience clap to the rhythm and tell yourself: “That explains a lot.” Do not, however, forget to also have one ironic eye scan the lyrics that are also printed on the YouTube page as they will help you e.g. with some of the prepositions (“Auf der Straße nach Süden/mit der Sonne als Ziel”) as well as with some general vocabulary.

Then listen to The Hoff’s video and salute the man who was single handedly responsible for bringing the Berlin wall down. (You did know it was him, didn’t you?)

Easy German on YouTube

The fun videos on YouTube are teaching (or better: demonstrating) the use of practical German. They were created by Solarnet.tv and are meant to complement any regular German language course. They were filmed in Muenster and are bringing back memories from my own time in the university there. In case you’re wondering: Lesson 5 appears to have been deleted by YouTube.

Daliah Lavi – Oh wann kommst Du? (Learning German through music)

One way of learning to understand German (or any other language) is through the use of music.

The melody of any song will help you to memorise certain words and phrases nearly instinctively. Just make sure to follow those steps:

1. Listen to the song and try and understand the lyrics

2. Listen to the song again, but this time also read the lyrics. (You will notice that this time you are already starting to understand more than the first time.)

3. Slowly read the lyrics without listening to the song and translate the passages that you don’t understand.

4. Listen to the song again without the lyrics.

At this stage you should have a good understanding of what the song is about. From now on you can occasionally listen to the song again whenever you feel like it or even have it play in the background, so that certain words and phrases will sink into your consciousness. Learning German through songs is a fun way to quickly gain a good active knowledge of the language.

Have a look at the YouTube video below. Yes, it is not the most sophisticated song ever written and feel free to have a snigger at some of the 1970s décor, but once you have followed this exercise I bet you will have at least mastered the days of week. You will also have mastered one simple question (Wann kommst Du?) as well as some of the most common second person singular forms (Du kommst, Du willst, Du kannst, Du glaubst) and got a feel for the usage of “wenn…. dann…”.

Incidentally, you will also have noticed how many of the lyrics are part of the most commonly used words of the German language.

Not bad for just one simple little song, eh?

Daliah Lavi – Oh, wann kommst Du (Lyrics)

Montag, Dienstag, Mittwoch, Donnerstag,
Freitag, Samstag, Sonntag jeder Tag
vergeht ohne Ziel

Für mich sieht der Sonntag wie Montag aus
der Alltag ist überall zu Haus
jeden Tag das selbe Spiel

Vielleicht gibt es irgendwo einen Sinn
und irgendwer weiß den Weg dorthin
wo Liebe wohnt

Weil Montag, Dienstag, Mittwoch, Donnerstag,
Freitag, Samstag, Sonntag weil kein Tag
ohne Liebe sich lohnt

OOh, oh oh oh oh oh wann kommst du (uhhh)
OOh, oh oh oh oh oh wann kommst du (uhhh)

Wenn du gehn willst, lass ich dich gehen
woran du glaubst, werd ich verstehn
du kannst fragen, was du nie fragst
alles sagen, was du nie sagst
du kannst träumen, wovon du gern träumst
und versäumen, was du gern versäumst
wenn du treu sein willst, dann sei doch treu
wenn du frei sein willst, dann bist du frei

OOh, oh oh oh oh oh wann kommst du (kommst du)
da dei da dei da dei da dam da di da da dei da dam da di di di dum la da di da da dadadam
da dei da dei da dam da dei da di da dei da dam da di di di dam la da di da da dadadam

Vielleicht gibt es irgendwo einen Sinn
und irgendwer weiß den Weg dorthin
wo Liebe wohnt

Weil Montag, Dienstag, Mittwoch, Donnerstag,
Freitag, Samstag, Sonntag weil kein Tag
ohne Liebe sich lohnt

OOh, oh oh oh oh oh wann kommst du (uhhh)
OOh, oh oh oh oh oh wann kommst du (uhhh)

Wenn du gehn willst, lass ich dich gehen
woran du glaubst, werd ich verstehn
du kannst fragen, was du nie fragst
alles sagen, was du nie sagst
du kannst träumen, wovon du gern träumst
und versäumen, was du gern versäumst
wenn du treu sein willst, dann sei doch treu
wenn du frei sein willst, dann bist du frei

OOh, oh oh oh oh oh wann kommst du (kommst du)
OOh, oh oh oh oh oh wann kommst du (kommst du)
OOh, oh oh oh oh oh wann kommst