The Wedding Present

I’m approaching day 900 in my Duolingo adventure in German. (I have no practical reason for this study. It was a routine I could keep up during the COVID-19 lockdown.)

Latin is seductive—the consummate logic of its syntactical cases, the mercurial dance of the ablative absolute. It retains muscle in its ruins (Cicero) and tragic beauty in its posthumous throes (Virgil). The subtleties of the Greek middle voice, neither active nor passive, roam through The Iliad and The Odyssey. And Hebrew, an ancient yet living language newly revivified, has the elastic trinity of its three-letter root, which, when prefixes and suffixes are attached, can alter past and future, perspectives and relationships.


But what of German? Its compound words—noun hooked to noun, concept to concept—contain, romantically, unnamable emotions, wisps of unidentifiable yearning, literary implications, philosophical hints: FernwehWeltanschauungBildungsromanDoppelgängerWeltschmerz. Mark Twain satirized these multisyllabic paired ideas as “alphabetical processions … marching majestically across the page.” –Cynthia Ozick, The Atlantic

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