There are a few German words and phrases that have become part of the English language as loan words, for the simple reason that there hasn’t been a native English expression for the concept. „Zeitgeist“ is one example. So are „Wanderlust“ and „Gemütlichkeit“.
Today, I think I discovered another word that probably should become part of the English language. It is the German word „Aussteiger“. When I ask LEO (my usual source for quick and dirty translations of individual words and phrases), it gives the English word „dropout“ as translation. That’s … well … it covers part of the story, I guess, but I don’t find it satisfying. The Collins German dictionary (that’s the place where I go when I want to appear all intellectual and such) gives „person who opts out“ and „dropout“ again.
Let me explain to you why „dropout“ doesn’t work very well and why I think that the English speaking world really needs the term „Aussteiger“.
An „Aussteiger“ is someone who leaves his or her „normal“ way of life for something more exotic, more down-to-earth or just less hectic and absurd. That can be a manager who suddenly quits his job and buys a yacht to go bluewater sailing for the rest of his life, a middle-class family that decides to live in a cabin in the woods now, a back-to-the-lander or a taxi driver from Berlin who decides to open a kafenion on a small greek island instead. It is someone who trades a lifestyle that is regarded as respectable (even by Hobbit standards) for something that is viewed with a lot of suspicion (and in many cases, some envy). It is someone willing to take a risk to find a better, more satisfying, more peaceful or less damaging lifestyle somewhere else. In most (but not all) cases it is someone who, to put it in Guy Mc Pherson’s words, walks away from Empire.
Someone like that could be described as a dropout, of course. But here is why I don’t like that term and think that „Aussteiger“ is much better. When something drops, it is by definition in a downward motion. Dropping is like falling … once you drop, there is a good chance you will hit rock-bottom sooner or later. „Steigen“ on the other hand also means to rise or climb in German. An „Aussteiger“ is therefore actively pursuing a path that will bring him „up“ more likely than „down“ (even though it is possible to use the verb „steigen“ to decribe a downward motion as well, but even then it is a controlled, active motion).
While most Germans probably wouldn’t want to become an „Aussteiger“ themselves, or don’t think they could or wouldn’t dare to, „Aussteiger“ (the plural is the same as the singular, btw) are viewed with a grim respect and in many cases even admiration. Many people I know and talk to secretly dream of becoming an „Aussteiger“ themselves … one day … maybe after retirement.
Do you understand what I am trying to say here? „Dropping out“ is not sexy. „Aussteigen“ is. And we want people to become „Aussteiger“. Well, I do. I want so many people to leave the system that the system just doesn’t work anymore.
So, I am on a mission … I have this word and I want to nominate it as a candidate for the English language. How do I go about this? I could write a letter to the Oxford English Dictionary: „Dear Editor, please include the following word in your next edition …“, but I doubt it will work. So I can just encourage you to use „Aussteiger“ instead of „dropout“ whenever you refer to someone who trades a 9-5 and a suburban home for something more exciting and reasonable.
How is it pronounced? I suck at phonetic transcription and even if I knew how to spell it out in the correct little wiggly symbols, I doubt I would find them on my keyboard. So I will try to describe it. The stress is on the first syllable, which is pronounced like „house“ but without the „h“ sound in the beginning and with a sharp „s“ at the end (it is a German word after all, we Germans always do hard and sharp consonants at the end). Then it is followed by a „sh“ sound (like in „hush“) and by the word „tiger“. So it is /OUS-sh-tiger/ The „s-sh“ combination might be a bit of a tongue twister at first, but you will get there 😉
So, please, everybody: help me spread the word.