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LEARNING GERMAN

German word of the day: Der Teufelskreis

Looking for the German version of ‘Catch-22’? This powerful compound word sums up a situation in which you feel stuck whichever way you turn. 

German word of the day: Der Teufelskreis
Symbol photo shows members of the Cirk La Putyka ensemble in Prague dressed as angels, devils and Father Christmas for a performance in December 2020. Photo: DPA

Der Teufelskreis literally means devil’s circle and describes a seemingly hopeless situation that is created by a chain of unpleasant, mutually dependent events. 

We have a version of this in English, a vicious circle, but the Germans go one step further with the expression. Getting locked in an inescapable cycle can be immensely frustrating, so the Germans suggest the devil must have some influence in this chain reaction.

The German word, like the English, has its origins in the latin circulus vitiosus. Though vitiosus is usually translated to vicious, it can also mean wicked or malicious, so the Germans choose to translate it to devil, the embodiment of evil. 

Unfortunately, a Teufelskreis can be quite common. Most of us are familiar with being so worried about a work presentation or school exam that we spend more of our time being anxious than actually preparing for it. 

The below tweet reads: “Motivation to learn for the Abitur (up), anxiety because I haven’t learned anything for the Abitur (down). It’s just a vicious circle.”

You may also encounter a common Teufelskreis when learning a new language. If you find you are nervous to make mistakes and don’t push yourself to speak the language with locals, you will not improve as quickly and so are more likely to make basic mistakes, building upon the initial anxiety. This is a Teufelskreis; a sequence of events that worsens your initial situation. 

READ ALSO: How to overcome five of the biggest stumbling blocks when learning German

Der Teufelskreis is a fairly everyday term and often appears in popular culture. In 2008, the German rapper and hip hop artist Alligatoah released his hit track Teufelskreis, which explores the vicious circle of violence. 

The word Teufel, meaning devil or demon, actually crops up in German colloquialisms more than you might expect. Examples include der Teufelsgeiger, meaning a passionate virtuoso violinist, and die Teufelskunst, or black magic. 

Examples:

Es handelt sich um einen Teufelskreis.

It is a vicious circle.

Er konnte aus dem Teufelskreis von Hass ausbrechen.

He was able to escape the vicious circle of hate.

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German word of the day: Sicher

This seemingly simple German word is an essential addition to your vocabulary, whether you're struggling in a language class or discussing extremist politics.

German word of the day: Sicher

Why do I need to know sicher?

This helpful German word is used in a huge range of everyday contexts, from expressing your certainty to discussing your safety. 

What does it mean?

Sicher (pronounced like this) has a variety of meanings: understanding which one applies involves becoming sensitive to the context.

You’ve probably heard the word used to mean “sure” or “certain”. If you ask someone for directions on the street and they tell you, “Ich bin mir nicht sicher”, you may need to ask someone else, as this person isn’t sure. On the other hand, if someone gives you directions but you’re convinced they’re leading you in the wrong direction, you may want to double check by asking, “Bist du dir sicher?”, meaning, “Are you sure?”.

In a similar vein, you can add sicher to any statement you make to emphasise your certainty and reinforce your point. For example, if a friend is worrying about their performance in an exam, you could tell them: “Du hast die Prüfung sicher bestanden”, which would roughly translate as: “I’m sure you’ve passed the exam”. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day – Also

Of course, if you’ve made a good investment recently, you can also look forward to “sichere Gewinne”, or assured profits, sometime in the near future. 

Just like in English, sicher can normally be used interchangeably with “sicherlich”, which translates as “surely” and also expresses a feeling of certainty. 

Another common translation of the word sicher is “safe” or “secure”, which can relate either to literal safety, or a feeling of comfort and security. For instance, “Ich fühle mich sicher zuhause” would express a feeling of safety and security (Sicherheit) in your own home, while “Er fährt sicher” would mean: “He drives safely”.  

You may have also heard the phrase, “gesichert rechtsextrem” when it comes to discussions of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and other extreme forces in German politics.

If this sounds legalistic, it’s because it is: “gesichtert rechtsextreme”, or confirmed far-right, is a term used by officials who have gathered enough evidence about a party or its members to brand it an extremist organisation and track its activity in the name of national security. 

READ ALSO: Germany labels far-right AfD’s youth wing ‘extremist’

How do I know which meaning of sicher applies?

Though you’ll often need to rely on context in order to understand how the word sicher is being used, there are some easy ways to tell. 

When you hear it used as a reflexive adverb along with the dative, i.e. “Ich bin mir sicher” it always means: “I’m sure”, whereas “Ich fühle mich sicher” (with accusative) would describe feeling safe or secure.

If there’s no reflexive pronoun (i.e. mir oder mich) the meaning ist more ambiguous. For example, saying: “Meine Tasche ist sicher im Büro” could mean both “My bag is safe in the office” and “I’m sure my bag is in the office.” In most of these cases, though, you’ll have a bit more context to go on, so you can normally work out what someone is trying to tell you. 

Use it like this:

Sind sie sicher an ihrem Ziel gekommen?

Have they arrived safely at their destination? 

Du wirst den Job bekommen – da bin ich mir sicher!

You’ll get the job – I’m sure of it!

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