Unword of the year 2021: Pushback – culture

A small flashback can hardly be pushed back now. The “Unword of the Year” announced by the jury – it is the “Pushback” for 2021 – follows the word of the year in a memorable way. And that, already selected by the Society for the German Language (GfdS) at the beginning of December, is: “Breakwater”.

While the breakwater, known from coastal protection, is supposed to put illegal viruses in their place in the figurative sense, the pushback, which has to be attributed to border protection in a euphemistic and concrete way, wants to reject migrants or refugees, even push them back – to push back. What international law according to a majority opinion contradicts, so it is rather semi-legal itself. And anyway ridicules any humanity: People who leave behind everything in dire need that does not fit in a plastic bag in order to free themselves from mortal danger or eternal anti-civilizational darkness are not sent back like an Amazon return full of socks that are not right for you fit.

The pushback, one should associate it with the pullback, in which migrants are prevented from migrating themselves as if they were dangerous disease vehicles that have escaped the biohazard laboratory, is once again a politically correct reference to the thin varnish of our civilization. In this respect: okay. The bad word of the year, after a dispute since 1994, it is no longer determined by the GfdS, but by the “language-critical action bad word of the year” in a participatory manner close to the people, is exactly in this language police sense, however, also a quite expected word.

Even the concept of the unword goes nowhere

Perhaps the best thing about it is the fact that after the “Corona dictatorship” in the previous year there is no pandemic to negotiate again. One can also, something good, the German language society the again tiring Anglicism after “Überfremdung” (1993) and – wonderfully fitting just one year later, linguistically clearly foreign – “peanuts” not even knock the too German ears. By the way, the youth word of the year 2021 is: “Cringe”. Your own anglicized descendants explain that this is something that, as a Germanic ancestor, you are very often: embarrassingly environmentally friendly.

The bad word of the year is not embarrassing, although a rather undesirable comic side effect is that pushbacks are understood much better by pushbackers in non-German language areas. English is a world language. And the whole world supposedly wants to go to Germany, which would be relatively crazy. If it were like that. Is there anything else? Again, the “bad word” didn’t make it to bad word of the year. Language sensitivity efforts can be appreciated, but language itself is a terrain of freedom. It does what it wants and also exists apart from what would be desirable – because it says much more about the factual being than about the ideal way it should be.

But if unreason shows the absence of reason and unbelief denotes non-belief, then the concept of unword is empty. Unwords do not exist as impossibilities even if what they describe is actually impossible. That’s the joke about a language that cannot be enclosed, which of course is anything but funny. One can now only hope that the bad word of pushback will ripen into a breakwater in a society that does everything it can to find itself less cramped or even just terribly embarrassed.

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