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Anglicism of the year

January 27, 2015

Whether in the theater or the soccer stadium, or on Three Kings' Day, painting one's face black is a highly controversial practice. A Berlin jury has named it Germany's Anglicism of the year.

A Sternsinger with a darkened face on Three Kings Day, Copyright: Timm Schamberger/AFP/Getty Images
Image: Timm Schamberger/AFP/Getty Images

It could be seen at the World Cup last year when German soccer fans painted their faces black at the Germany-Ghana game.

It also turns up every January 6 in Germany, on Three Kings Day, when Catholic children across Germany dress up as the three Magi and go door to door singing songs and collecting money for charity. One of them traditionally darkens their face to represent Melchior. In neighboring Holland, Zwarte Piet, a figure typically portrayed by an actor wearing blackface make-up, turns up around Christmas time as the helper of Sinterklaas.

For years, blackfacing has also been practiced in stage productions, but the term has only recently been borrowed from the English language in Germany, which reinforces the racist connotations of the practice. That is what convinced the Berlin jury to select it as this year's Anglicism.

Runners-up, according to the jury, included "Big Data," "Selfie" (also a favorite in 2013), "Social Freezing" (storing women's egg cells for a later pregnancy), "Photobombing," and "Sexting."

The selection of the German "Anglicism of the year" began as an initiative of the Freie Universität in Berlin. English words that not only make their way into the German language but also represent a social phenomenon or discourse have been selected every year since 2010. Experts from the jury combine their votes with a poll to determine the winner.

kbm/eg (with dpa)