The Creative Exploration of Language


I recently came across an interesting usage of the German word Sache, which I had always understood to simply mean “thing,” as in an object.  Given that German has a direct cognate with “thing” in the form of Ding, it should have occurred to me that Sache might have different connotations.

This became clear to me when I stumbled on the video for the song “Meine Sache” by the German punk band The Broilers.  The word Sache appears in the chorus:

Meine Sache, mein Problem,

Ich werd’ nicht untergehen,

Statt der weißen Fahne, werdet ihr,

Meinen Mittelfinger sehen!

Which I would translate as:

My thing, my problem,

I will not go down,

Instead of a white flag,

You will see my middle finger!

So, in this context, Sache refers to something figurative, something that weighs down the narrator of the song.  It wouldn’t be inappropriate to translate the word as “burden,” “issue” or “baggage” or, in a different context, as “responsibility,” “affair” or “business.”  The essential connotation appears to be something habitual that is carried.

This brought me to the word sack, which led me down an interesting path of word associations.  Sack also exists in German with a roughly equivalent meaning.  For example, one way to say backpack in German is Rucksack (literally, “backsack”), which was borrowed into English.

Thinking of the word sack immediately brought to mind the word bag, which occupies very similar semantic territory.  As it turns out, bag comes from the Old Norse word baggi, meaning “to pack” or “to bundle” and does not exist in German.

Though it has been 20 years since I’ve seen the film, thinking of the word bag pulled the famous line from Austin Powers from my subconscious: “This sort of thing ain’t my bag, baby!”  Here we see again that figurative connotation of something that one carries with them, in the sense of a general behavior, i.e., their bag.

I wondered if Sache was used in this same sense in German and, to some extent, the answer appears to be yes.   I love finding these little correspondences between languages, as it shows that while the different words used to express an idea might diverge over time based on a combination of history and chance, often the underlying meaning remains the same.




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