Don’t Let It Confuse You! – Devise Posted by Sten on Feb 4, 2021 in Culture, History, Language, Traditions, vocabulary
In this series, we look at words that exist in both English and German, but really don’t mean what you might expect them to, so-called false friends. We also look at words that sound or look deceivingly similar. Today, we look at a rather rare one, but you may have come across it. A word with its own motto – Devise.
Expectation: Devise – developing something, a device?
So, what does Devise mean? What about this – Devise is a verb that means something in the sense of planning, devising, or developing. Yes?!
No. It’s not a verb.
Ok. Perhaps it is a noun. Maybe something along the lines of a device, the German word for device?1Some of you might think “but devise is an English noun, too!” True, but the meaning is pretty specific and obscure. Not super relevant for most readers, I think.
Again, no. That’s das Gerät or der Apparat.
So what is it?
Reality: What do you stand for?
Die Devise means “motto“. Yeah. Really quite different. But why?
Funnily enough, both the English to devise and the German die Devise have the same origin – the French devise and, further back, the Latin divisare, which in turn is a vulgar form of the Latin dividire – to divide.
But how did this result in the meaning of “motto” or Wahlspruch (slogan)?
As you can see in the Wappen above, the two words Viribus Unitis are divided – one word on the left side of the ribbon, the other on the right. This is the division that led to the word die Devise!
The English meaning, by the way, makes sense in terms of dividing resources – which means you have to plan, figure out a way to divide things well – so you devise a plan.
There is another meaning in German. Devisen, almost always in plural, can also refer to Zahlungsmittel in fremder Währung (payment method in foreign currency). Where this meaning comes from is not really clear, it may be from a Wechselvordruck (bill form of exchange) with a Devise on it. So we’re back at the motto!
Did you know about this difference? What did you think Devise means. What do you think makes sense for that word to mean? I wanna know. Let me know in the comments below!
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