Word of the Week: Kleinod

Nov 9, 2012

Every Friday, Germany.info and The Week in Germany highlight a different "Word of the Week" in the German language that may serve to surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers.


Glass stones at Egyptian bazaar Khan el Khalili in Cairo Enlarge image Glass stones at Egyptian bazaar Khan el Khalili in Cairo (© picture-alliance/chromorange)

A "Kleinod" is a jewel, or something of value, but it can also be used in a figurative sense to describe almost anything vested with deep personal meaning to someone.

In use since at least the 12th century, a "Kleinod" primarily meant a "Schmuckstück" (piece of jewelry). In this vein, it often referred to the trappings of royalty, such as a king's orb and sceptre, a queen's bejeweled headdress, or to the adornment on a knight's helmet. Yet it could also refer more broadly to a gift or payment, such as a bushel of wheat or basket of fresh eggs. Essentially it meant "something (small, but) valuable."

In a more figurative sense it has since come to mean an at first seemingly inconsequential object that is nevertheless of a deep significance perhaps not necessarily evident at first glance.

A place, such as vacation home, a lush city park, or a building where people may seek refuge for personal reflection or creative inspiration could, moreover, also be described as a "Kleinod."

In this vein, for instance, the website lokalkompass.de describes various properties as glittering "Kleinod" gems to conjure up reveries in potential clients' minds of their very own little slice of heaven on earth: "Freizeit-Kleinod in Insellage" (vacation Kleinod in island locale), "Grünes Kleinod im Verborgenen" (green Kleinod hideaway), "Innenstadt-Kleinod wird saniert" (downtown Kleinod to be renovated), or "Überhaupt die ganze Gegend, das ist wirklich ein Kleinod" (The whole area is really a Kleinod).

Yet in common parlance, "Kleinod" is not a "word on the street" in daily usage in modern Germany, and some younger Germans may not even be familiar with it.

Due to this dwindling usage, in 2007 "Kleinod" was crowned "the most beautiful endangered German word" by a jury of language experts as part of an independent contest initiated by the German writer and journalist Bodo Mrozek.

"Das Wort steht für ein auf den ersten Blick unscheinbares Ding, das jedoch einen hohen persönlichen Wert haben kann (The word stands for an at first glance unassuming object, that nevertheless can attain a high personal value)," Mrozek said at the time.

A word itself can, in fact, even be a "Kleinod" - a point which reportedly convinced the jury to select it as the most beautiful endangered word.

Ergebnisse des Wettbewerbs "Das bedrohte Wort" (Dezember 2006 bis 15. Mai 2007) - in German

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