Picture by Lily Cathcart
Since bestmanning my dear friend’s for his marriage to his lovely German wife I have been learning German. In the first instance so I could deliver part of my speech in German and now for the love of it. German is a fantastic language, tenderly similar to English and Scots and also delightfully different. Recalling university Greek I am dimly aware of the pitfalls of ‘nominative, accusative, genitive, dative’ that lie in wait for me. But with my trusty owl friend Duo of DuoLingo (currently not wearing the optional champagne tracksuit) I am enjoying expanding my vocabulary.
I recently learned the words:
You don’t need to be a linguist to spot there’s a lot of ‘zeugs’ going on there. A driving zeug, fire (Feuer!) zeug, flight zeug, work zeug and a play zeug. These are: vehicle, lighter, aeroplane, tool, and toy. So what is zeug? Well zeug means… stuff or thing. A tool is literally a ‘work-thing’ and a toy is a ‘play-stuff’. How wack is that? Things are things that do things. It’s simple, it’s effective, easy to grasp and build on and build with.
You miss some of the variety of the more jagged polyglot English vocabulary for these words but then the creative possibilities to bolt together compound words in German is limitless. There’s something wonderfully Lego-like about German, a box of bright objects that you can pick up and click together in interesting ways and orders (thanks to those pesky cases). Creating new ad hoc words in German is an everyday part of life.
Another word I have learned recently is Maranatha, another compound but more complex as its complexity is compounded by the fact it is a Greek transliteration of an Aramaic phrase. It has swooshed from right to left and then back left to right across the page. It is found in the New Testament and in the Didache. In the original it is a two word formula that is either ‘maranâ thâ’ or ‘maran ‘athâ’. So Maranatha means either ‘Our Lord has come’ or a calling: ‘Our Lord, come!’
Or does it mean both?
Is it hope and healing? Satisfaction and unrest? Contentment and longing? Now and not yet? Our language often fails us but our hearts don’t. We immediately recognise that feeling don’t we? Of feeling a sense of belonging but also of restlessness. At peace and yet still working to realise that peace. That resonates with everyday life. We are part of an ongoing process of restoration and celebration: Maranatha.
How do we plug into this tension, this electricity, this renewable and renewing energy? Maranathazeug of course. The stuff of Maranatha. What is Maranathazeug?
A minibus full of scarves and hats on its way to Callais.
Words spoken softly in the middle of the night.
Reconciliation over a steaming mug of tea.
Holding someone’s hand and nothing more, just holding their hand.