What happens to the politics of word choice when two dozen languages are spoken in a union?
Below are excerpts from “How do you say ‘austerity’ in German? You don’t” in France24:
In Germany, the crisis rocking the country’s EU partners has produced the ugly term “austerität”, but few use it, least of all Chancellor Angela Merkel. She has made no secret of her distaste for the word, prefering to speak of “sparpolitik” – which translates as “the politics of saving money”, or of spending it “sparingly” – and “sparsamkeit” (frugality). Both terms have positive meanings and refer to very reasonable policies. Conversely, anyone opposing “sparpolitik”, like Greece’s government, is necessarily unreasonable.
“Schuld”, the German word for debt, also means “guilt”. It has a moral quality that doesn’t translate into other European languages. For Keynesian economists, spending one’s way out of crisis, at the risk of temporarily increasing the debt load, is eminently sensible – particularly at a time of low interest rates, as is presently the case in Europe. But to many Germans it is sinful.