Stellen Sie bitte die Einstellungseinstellung ein.

There’s a lot going on in the title here, but without some context, it’s not clear at all what.

Consider:

German English
einstellen to terminate
einstellen to hire
einstellen to adjust

And likewise:

German English
Einstellung cancellation, cessation, termination
Einstellung hiring, recruitment
Einstellung adjustment, attitude, setting

Conceivable translations:

  • Please cancel the attitude adjustment.
  • Please adjust the recruitment cancellation.
  • Please set the settings setting. 1
  • Please hire the cancellation attitude.

Okay, that last one is pretty much nonsense and the one before it seems überspitzt.

For all the purported logical, modular verbal Lego®-ness and derivability, there are several words in the typical German-language office that challenge the foreign pencil-pusher2. Likely everyone else around the water-cooler Teeküche will derive from context which meaning of einstellen is appropriate, and it’s clear that the example in the title is convoluted.

It may be important to note, however, that one meaning is “recruitment” (related to labor contracts) and the another is seemingly its direct opposite, “termination” (but not related to labor contracts — that would be kündigen, which is more like “to give notice”). Two contradictory concepts wrapped up in just one word like that is a deplorable state of affairs.

But we can’t sanction (them for) that, can we?

What other German words appear to speak with a split tongue?3

  1. Tip o’ the hat to the Andrew Couch for this one! []
  2. What’s the modern equivalent of that epithet? “Mouse-driver?” This has the particular charm of matching literally the German expression for “to mouse over” “mit der Maus rüberfahren.” []
  3. That’s the literal translation of the expression meaning to talk out of both sides of the mouth. []

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