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Untranslatable German Words: 08/15 Posted by on Jul 11, 2019 in Culture, History, Language, vocabulary

Untranslatable words can also be a simple array of 4 numbers – 08/15 is a term that has entrenched itself in everyday German. Pun intended.

What does 08/15 mean?

Gravur (engraving) on the MG 08/15. It was also called known as the Spandau, because it was built in the city of Spandau. This particular model appears to be from 1918. (Image by Medvedev at Commons.wikimedia.org under license CC BY SA 3.0)

According to the Duden, 08/15 means “bar jeglicher Originalität, persönlichen Note; auf ein alltäglich gewordenes Muster festgelegt und deshalb Langeweile oder Überdruss erzeugend” (bare of any originality, personal character; set to a pattern that became an everyday thing and therefore creating boredom or weariness). So basically, calling an activity 08/15 is calling it nothing new, free of originality, perhaps even boring. Something just average – that’s 08/15. You say nullacht so zero eight and then simply fünfzehn – fifteen: nullachtfünfzehn.

And it all goes back to the World War I Maschinengewehr 08/15 (Machine Gun 08/15), or the MG 08/15 for short. How did this weapon lead to this term?

Well, you see…

The MG 08/15 required extensive training to be used properly. Soldaten (soldiers) trained with this weapon every single day. You can imagine, with its repetitive, deafening and maddening sound, that it quickly became a drag for the soldaten to deal with this heavy and cumbersome MG  every single day. And so, they started referring to other run-of-the-mill things as 08/15.

However, there is another theory – also based on the weapon, of course. The MG 08/15 was produced by different manufacturers, and in order to make sure that parts were interchangeable, uniform rules had to be put in place. The Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN) (German Institute for standardisation), which was founded in 1918, made the Kegelstift (taper pin) their first standardized norm – DIN 1. This Kegelstift was in each and every MG 08/15. And that’s where the association with mass-production and sameness comes from with the term 08/15.

This notion of 08/15 being run-of-the-mill and negative was strengthened with the best seller by Hans Hellmut Kirst in 1954 with the same name, 08/15. The book is about a soldier who is going through the soldier training of the 08/15, and it’s really no fun.

By the way: The name of the gun comes from when it was released. The MG 08/15 was based on the MG 08 from – you guessed it – 1908. In 1915, the MG 08 was developed further, culminating into the MG 08/15 – released for the first time in 1915. It was used mostly in World War I. It was used sometimes in World War II as well but there it was mostly replaced by the MG34 and MG42 (you know now in what year those came into circulation for the first time too!).

What would be a literal translation of 08/15?

Image by author

This one is not hard. Just nullachtfünfzehn – zero-eight-fifteen. That is the literal translation, and I really cannot make it more literal!

How would you use 08/15 in a sentence?

This is a bit more interesting. You can refer to something as being 08/15, so basically use it as an adjective.

Just be weary: 08/15 is most definitely abwertend (derogatory) and rather negative.

Some examples:

Ach, ich geh’ nicht zu ihrer 08/15-Geburtstagsfeier. Die wird doch super langweilig.

(Oh, I’m not going to her vanilla birthday party. It’s just gonna be super boring.)

Den 08/15-Typen? Den heuern wir doch nicht an! Der inspiriert doch keinen.

(That 08/15 dude? We’re definitely not hiring him! He won’t inspire anybody.)

By the way, you can also write nullachtfünfzehn, so for example:

Die ist ja nullachtfünfzehn gekleidet. Mit der willst du dich sehen lassen?

(Well, her clothing style is boring. And you want to be seen with her?)

What is the nearest English equivalent of 08/15?

The MG 08/15 (Image by Richard Huber at Commons.wikimedia.org under license CC BY SA 3.0)

There is no number to just refer to something boring in English (as far as I know). The closest to it, as far as I know is:

to be vanilla

run-of-the-mill

Or simply boring. Let me know if you have other suggestions!

Do you have such a term, just consisting of numbers, in your language? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, and I am half Dutch and half German. I was on exchange in the United States, and I really enjoyed that year! So in that sense, I kind of have three nationalities... I love all of them!


Comments:

  1. Charles Weager:

    In my efforts to learn French I have that book in French. I never found a translation into English.
    It fits in well with Asch’s military sense of humour. HH Kirst is one of my favourite authors.
    Enjoying your blogs…..
    Charles Weager

  2. Allan:

    Absolutely fascinating! this is completely new to me.

  3. Martin Bucknall:

    “Ten a penny”. Conveys the perjorative meaning of mass-produced in the sense of cheap or commonplace rather than all-identical. The other thing this reminds me of the song Little Boxes by Malvinz Reynolds – the houses are “all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same”, despite being differently coloured in a nevertheless manufactured and boring kind of way.