Beware of Nazi Words

New 800-page dictionary highlights phrases Germans would do best to avoid.

ByABC News
February 1, 2008, 9:45 AM

Passau, GERMANY Feb. 1, 2008— -- Dozens of German words have for decades been taboo for native speakers because of the way those words were used by the Nazis.

Now, an 800-page dictionary has been published to serve as a guide to avoiding linguistic traps into which Germans can easily fall.

Terms such as "endloesung" (final solution) or "selektion" (selection) can quickly get the user into trouble, because the words acquired specific meanings and associations during the Third Reich.

"Endloesung" was the word used by the Nazi regime for its plan to exterminate the Jewish race, and it will forever be associated with Adolf Hitler's genocidal "Final Solution to the Jewish Question."

"Selektion" is a term to avoid because of its use by the Nazis to refer to the death camp practice of "selecting" those to be executed.

"Lager" (camp) refers to the concentration camps in which millions died and is especially hurtful to survivors of the Nazi past.

The "Woerterbuch der Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung" (Dictionary of Coming to Terms With the Past) examines around 1,000 words and phrases – everything from "Anschluss," used to refer to the "annexation" of Austria in 1938, to "Wehrmacht," the name of the Nazi-era armed forces. The guide aims to look at the meaning and usage of the terms as they have evolved from before World War II through the present.

"We don't mean to wipe out those words from the German language for good," explains Thorsten Eitz, a co-author of the dictionary, in an interview with "But we want to make people more sensitive to the power of those words and phrases and their associations to the Nazis. We're taking a close look at what roles such terms play in today's Germany."

Eitz, a German linguist at Duesseldorf's Heinrich Heine University, and his co-author, German studies professor Georg Stötzel, have been working on the dictionary for about four years. The authors put the book together with the goal of "filling a gap on the market," says Eitz.