December 17, 2005


the german language society has announced its word of the year 2005: bundeskanzlerin. (their choice is based on impact, as judged by members of the society, not on frequency.)

i think it's an excellent choice. first, unlike the runner-up "we are pope" (a brilliant headline on the front page of the german tabloid bild, published when joseph ratzinger, a german, was elected pope) it is really a word; second, unlike "tsunami" (no. 3 on the list and probably on every word-of-the-year list across the world), it's a word that is distincly german; and third, it is a word that we are going to hear a lot over the next couple of years. bundeskanzlerin is the feminine form of bundeskanzler ("federal chancellor"), and it marks a historic event: on november 22, 2005, angela merkel became the first female chancellor of the federal republic of germany.

the german language society points out that the fact that germany now has a bundeskanzlerin creates some questions for other noun compounds. for example, the building that hosts the chancellor's office is known as the bundeskanzleramt (see left). should it now be known as the bundeskanzlerinamt? i think this is merely a theoretical question. the name for the office of germany's political leader is still bundeskanzler, and male forms are considered to be inclusive. it's only in the case of a female individual that the gender-marked form will be used. i suppose we will have to wait very long until we find out what the female form of pope would be.

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