“Stil” vs. style or of true and false friends

10 Apr


I received another request on Twitter. Thanks, Alex. Keep them coming.

Now, let’s get to it. Is there a difference between the English word ‚style‘ and the German “Stil”?
The dictionary says no. Why do we use both words in German? Well, that’s easy: Germans sometimes use style because we have a tendency to incorporate English words into our everyday conversations, thinking it will make us sound cool (sic).

Still, I find your question tricky. Is it really the same? I have to admit that it evokes slightly different connotations with me. The word “Stil” makes me think of my mother, an extraordinarily elegant women, intelligent, decisive, strong-willed yet soft-spoken and always mindful of etiquette. The word style makes me think of ray bans and pink polo shirts, the universal uniform of every German business student. Reading this, I feel like style makes me think of outward appearance, your clothes, the sound of your voice, the way you portray yourself, while “Stil” is more of a state of mind, a “Geisteshaltung” if you will. This state of mind of course also expresses itself through clothes, speech and potrayal but it goes deeper beneath the surface.

Now, keep in mind that this is purely my very personal interpretation. On paper one word is the exact translation of the other and in today’s Germany you can use both words interchangebly. The way we perceive language and how we feel about certain words is always informed by the context we grew up and live in. So maybe my differing interpretations here trace back to my mum. Maybe everybody else in Germany will tell you that the words are exactly the same.

When two words sound the same in two languages but mean different things, we call them false friends. My favorite example of this is “pathetisch” vs. pathetic. Style is not a false friend. However, I wouldn’t trust this friend with my deepest secrets. It is not evil per se but chances are that style will rat you out in exchange for an iPhone five. “Stil”, however, you can trust. “Stil” will carry you through trying times and make sure that your old pal dignity sticks around, no matter what.

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