German Word of the Week: Zukunftsmusik

Thanks for the comments about the Element of Crime post.  Erdmöbel: "earth-furniture?"  Since I am also a big fan of Prefab Sprout, I will be going straight to the store to buy some Erdmöbel.

But now, to the GWOW.  I was spending a normal Saturday morning pursuing one of my favorite hobbies: watching documentaries about advanced weapons systems. 

A U.S. Marine engineer described the possibility of encasing torpedos and perhaps entire submarines in a giant air bubble.  This would allow them to slide through the sea-depths as fast as air bubbles themselves; that is, with practically no resistance at all.  One day, we might see submarines that move almost as quickly as airplanes.  However, the German voice-over cautioned, this idea remains pure Zukunftsmusik (futuremusic). 

dict.leo.org, as helpful as it is stodgy and unimaginative, defines Zukunftsmusik as "dreams of the future."  (Titanic magazine regularly features surreal and dystopian paintings by the artist Nic Schulz entitled Zukunftsmusic, with a "c" at the end.  Creeping Anglicization of the German language, or irony?).

OK, nice, now we understand the basic idea.  But there is a much better English term for this notion, I think.  In fact, there are two.  "Pie-in-the-sky" (adj) and "pipe dream" (noun).  Both of these terms describe a worthwhile, idealistic — but ultimately unrealizable — vision.  The ideas discussed in this essay, perhaps, strike me as being in that genre.  But perhaps Zukunftsmusik really means something that is realizable; that will arrive in a few decades, if we only work at it.  A new idea or invention that so close we can almost perceive it — like far-off music…

8 thoughts on “German Word of the Week: Zukunftsmusik

  1. “Zukunftsmusik”, I think, refers to something which is imagined as positive but of almost no practical significance at the time being, since it is too early to decide whether it is realizable or not.
    Btw, concerning Kant’s 1795 essay on Perpetual Peace, which is discussed in the paper you have linked to, here is how it begins: “Perpetual Peace. Whether this satirical writing on a Dutch landlord’s sign, on which a graveyard was painted …”

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  2. I have a suggestion for the next “German word of the week”: How about “Quälgeist”? I think ist’s a very funny word.

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  3. I like the idea of a German word of the month. But perhaps I hate it too. There is an increasing number of German words in English dictionaries, such as Zeitgeist, Angst, etc. Take Angst. Once English had imported it, the meaning was changed ever so slightly. So what do I do, if I have to translate the English angst back into German? Let alone angsty, which I think also exists…?
    Now to ‘Zukunftsmusik’. As zrz implied it is indeed used for things that one hopes will exist in the future. The question of feasibility is left out of the picture. Whereas the ‘pipe dream’ is highly understated as to that.
    As a rule I think that English has much better words for everything (and a couple of fancy synonyms to spare), but in this case it’s a cultural thing. ‘Pipe dream’ is an expression for speakers trained not to take themselves too seriously. ‘Zukunftsmusik’ has evolved for use in a most serious environment.
    Then again, perhaps all this is mere pipe musicke.

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  4. Well, the number of English words in German dictionaries is increasing even faster, whereas I think that German has much better words for almost everything. But it is a consolation that it is similar in English. Well, gradually and very slowly, the world is growing together. That’s not so bad.
    By the way, there is a German word for ‘pipe dream’, too, namely ‘Luftschloß’: a castle in the air.

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  5. “Zukunftsmusik” actually does not mean “pipe dream”. While “zukunftsmusik” means that it is currently of no consequence, the unfeasability of “pipe dream” or “pie-in-the-sky” do not figure into it. It’s not unfeasable, just a long way off.

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