German Word of the Week: Gebetsmühlenartig

There’s an active debate on the meaning of this word here on the online dictionary (partially in English).  Literally translated, it means "prayer-wheel-like," (i.e., like a Tibetan prayer wheel) a bit more colloquial would be "like a mantra." 

It’s the way you describe the empty, obligatory phrases that litter political discussion — cliches that nobody explains or explores, but are repeated as a source of comfort and to indicate that the speaker is a responsible type.  A German example would be: "We need urgent action to combat unemployment!" or "We must keep in mind our nation’s problematic history…"

My candidates for English equivalents: "Children are our future."  "This problem can only be solved by bipartisan cooperation," and, in certain circles: "Come back with a search warrant."

I’m off to Luebeck, Germany for a meeting of the German University Association.  No, really!  I’ll be back on Wednesday, loyal reader(s).

2 thoughts on “German Word of the Week: Gebetsmühlenartig

  1. >>So it’s the German equivalent of ‘motherhood and apple pie statements.'<<

    I'd say that it has even less of a positive connotation. "Motherhood" and "apple pie" are positive images, even if the expression "motherhood and apple pie statements" is used sarcastically.

    I think one could (also) render it with "reciting a litany" or "droning on about something":

    "He was reciting a litany of complaints."

    "…and then he launched into a lengthy enumeration of his achievements."

    "He droned on about his hometown's historic monuments."

    "Mantra-like" is perhaps the most-literal translation I can think of.


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