German Word of the Week: Machtwort

Here’s a headline from the German daily Die Welt: “Impeachment? Democrat Pelosi speaks a Machtwort“.ApplicationFrameHost_ujsNtxY00A

I provided no translation because there isn’t one. A Machtwort — literally “power-word” is a word that only someone in power can speak. It’s something like a command or order, usually with a specific purpose: to shut down debate among underlings once and for all.

This word needs to be transferred into English. However, it’s a bit too hard to pronounce (“mocht-vort”). Thus, as Ohrwurm became earworm, we’re going to need to finesse Machtwort a little bit.

First we ditch the voiceless velar fricative in the “ch”. This sound — something like a cat hissing, transposed down an octave or two — is notoriously difficult sound for non-German speakers to make. So we’re going to just turn it into “mocked”.

Why keep Macht instead of just going with the English “power-word”? Because we want it to sound at least a little German. After all, the Machtwort is concept built on authority imposing order through intimidation, and what could be more German than that?* Plus, Macht is such a common German word that many English speakers will have at least some familiarity with some form of it, from the notorious “Arbeit Macht Frei” to the Yiddish term macher, for “big shot”.

We’re just going to turn Wort into “word”, though. No need to overdo things. So I propose that people start using “Machtword” in English:

“The chatting students were silenced by the teacher’s Machtword.”

“Listen, your ideas have been stimulating, but time’s pressing and we need to move on. Machtword!”

When people ask you what you just said, tell them it’s the hippest new concept from Germany. Maybe add a slight trace of a condescending sneer that they don’t already know about it.

* Yes, that was a cheap shot, but you smiled.

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