German disease

My husband and his colleagues often discuss how strange the German language is to them. They find it amusingly logical that gloves are called ‘hand shoes’, love the fact that the end of a working day is called ‘celebration night’ and wonder why women’s football teams are called Mannschaft (literally: ‘manship’ – the related matter of sexism in the German language will have to be discussed in a separate entry). Another one of those peculiar words is Krankenhaus.

‘Why would you want to go to a “sick house” to give birth?’ one colleague observed. True. For the same reason, the former Krankenschwester (‘nurse’; literally: ‘sick people’s sister’) is now officially called ‘Gesundheits- und Krankenpflegerin’ (‘health and sick people’s carer’), which is even more ludicrous as not only is it awkwardly long but it also unfittingly combines an abstract noun and a concrete noun. Our health insurance companies, however, are still called Krankenkassen (‘sick people’s funds’). Well, we Germans are known for our propensity to go see the doctor and for an obsession with our own ailments.

This talk about the health sector reminds me of a so-called ‘false friend’, a word that seems to be identical in two languages, but isn’t. The German Klinik (or Klinikum) has a distinctly different meaning from the English ‘clinic’. The German word usually refers to a specialised hospital or medical centre or is sometimes simply a synonym of Krankenhaus. The English word, on the other hand, denotes something usually of smaller scale and restricted to outpatient treatment. Depending on the context, it may be translated, among others, as Praxis, Ambulanz or even Sprechstunde, but rarely as Klinik.

Next time you go see your doctor, be a proper German and ask for your Krankenschein, will you? Meanwhile, the Pommes Buddha will be dealing with a different kind of incompatibility.

The Pommes Buddha says: When your Hexenschuss plagues you, sick people’s gymnastics is the way.

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