Untranslatable German Words: Magdeburgisieren Posted by Sten on Nov 10, 2016 in Culture, History, Language
In our segment of untranslatable words in German, we discuss words that have no English equivalent. Today, I will have a look at a rather grim one, but that is definitely untranslatable. Today, I will discuss the verb magdeburgisieren.
What does magdeburgisieren mean?
During the Dreißigjährigen Krieg (Thirty Years’ War) from 1618-1648, an absolute low occurred in 1631. In May of that year, the Truppen (troops) of the Kaiser (emperor) stormed the city of Magdeburg (close to Leipzig and Berlin), because the city had refused to pay a tribute and did not capitulate. It was a thriving city with 35,000 Einwohner (inhabitants). Due to their disobedience, the inhabitants were declared vogelfrei (outlawed). Thus, it did not matter what would happen to them – indiscriminately, inhabitants were robbed, raped and murdered. The city was set on fire, which cost even more lives. In the end, 20,000 inhabitants had died. The city was a mess, and many people moved away, because they could not live there anymore. It became a ghost town, with only 450 inhabitants in 1639. It took until the 19th century for the city to recover and grow again.
Because of the awful terror and cruelty of the sack of the city, which is also called the Magdeburger Hochzeit (Magdeburg Marriage), a verb emerged: magdeburgisieren. It means: to utterly destroy, annihilate something.
What is the literal translation of magdeburgisieren?
The literal translation of magdeburgisieren would be to magdeburgize, which doesn’t really help much.
How would you use the word magdeburgisieren in a sentence?
Because magdeburgisieren is a word that refers to a specific event and is definitely not easier than just using an equivalent such as zerstören, it is not used much.
However, if you want to emphasize the extreme degree of destruction, you can use the word. However, because it is not widespread at all and also its meaning is not that well-known, you are best advised to only use it in written language. Also, because the name of the city of Magdeburg is in there, it could lead to confusion.
How would you use it? Some examples:
Im zweiten Weltkrieg wurde die polnische Hauptstadt Warschau magdeburgisiert. (In the Second World War, the Polish capital Warsaw was magdeburgized.)
Nach dem Sturm war die Straße magdeburgisiert: man konnte sie gar nicht mehr erkennen. (After the storm, the street was magdeburgized: you could not recognize it anymore.)
What’s the nearest English equivalent to magdeburgisieren?
The closest equivalent that I am aware of would be to annihilate.
Is there a word in your language equivalent to magdeburgisieren? What are your thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments below!