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Word of the Week

Word of the Week: Totschlagargument

If you want to end a discussion, you'd better have a killer argument, according to this German word.

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Picture a German and, let's say, an Englishman, having a discussion in a bar. Maybe they're debating which nation is better at soccer, music, or brewing beer. The German will have many arguments, but he is at a disadvantage because the Englishman will always have a trump card ready and waiting to help him win the discussion.

The thing is, Germany has a long history - most of it good, like the nation's great poets and thinkers, including Goethe and Schiller. But there are, of course, the bad memories of Germany's roles in the First and, especially, Second World War.

And that's where the Englishman's trump card comes into play.

It's what Germans call a Totschlagargument, literally a killer or knockout argument. It's a spurious point, usually unrelated to the actual content of the discussion that will shame your counterpart into dropping the argument, thereby ending - or killing - the discussion.

The memory and guilt of the Holocaust sticks with Germans, so if you really want a German to admit defeat through silence - play the history card and use the Totschlagargument. Any mention of Germany's dark past will end the conversation for most Germans, even if the original discussion had nothing to do with history. But you should also know that such a discussion killer won't necessarily go over well. Your German partner will no doubt recognize your point as being unconnected to any form or logic or actual reason and question your rhetorical abilities.

If you don't want your German friends to have the Totschlagargument that you don't speak their language, learn this week's word.

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