Germany picks two ‘nonsense words’ of 2020 – on Covid and migration


BERLIN – Every year, linguists pick the worst offender of mumbo-jumbo in the German language – and with a wealth of phrases linked to coronavirus, the pandemic was broadly expected to be behind the 2020 pick.

But this was only partly true when the announcement was made on Tuesday (12).

The jury for the “non-word of the year” picked not one but two terms: “Corona-Diktatur” (coronavirus dictatorship) and the typically lengthy German compound noun “Rueckfuehrungspatenschaften,” or “return sponsorship,” a term used in the European Commission’s proposed new pact on migration.

The first of the two was coined by critics of anti-coronavirus restrictions in order to discredit the government’s response to the pandemic, according to a statement.

However, the fact that this phrase has been used at democratic protests throughout the pandemic reveals that it is contradictory in nature, the experts said, adding that claims of a “coronavirus dictatorship” in Germany undermine the reality of authoritarianism in other countries.

While the pandemic has left an unprecedented mark on the German language, the jury explained that it chose two “non-words” in a bid to show that “inhumane and inappropriate” terms had emerged also in other areas.

“Return sponsorship” is a proposed system by which EU member states would show their “solidarity” by returning irregular migrants with no right to stay in the bloc on behalf of an EU neighbour.

The German jury viewed this as “cynical and euphemistic,” since it pairs the idea of deportation with the generally positive idea of sponsorship.

Germany’s “non-word of the year” dates back to 1991.

Last year, the winner was the compound noun for “climate hysteria.”



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