Genau

A reader draws our attention to the German word genau. Apparently people (mainly English-speakers?) are moaning about its overuse.

Genau literally means something along the lines of “Precisely” or “Exactly”. And as in English, you can use those kinds of words to confirm what someone is saying to you.

“So you’ll be looking to switch paper-towel supplier?”
“Precisely.”

But in German colloquial use, it seems to have taken on a more casual meaning. The reader who  originally contacted me suggests that it’s used to mean something along the lines of “Yeah” or “OK” or  “Right”.

When used in this sense, the word is doing a different kind of job.That’s why it’s being overused. Repeating “genau” is phatic communication: it’s a way of saying “Yes, I’m still listening,” or “Yes, I still understand you,” or “Yes, I’m still invested in being part of this social or work group.”

(Disclaimer: I’m not German and I don’t speak any German, so my take on this could be complete rubbish. As opposed to my take on everything else in life, which is stone-cold accurate at all times.)

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