Word of the Week: Hoffnungsträger

Mar 8, 2013

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.


Jugendliche in Deutschland Enlarge image (© picture-alliance/MAXPPP)

A "Hoffnungsträger" is a person on whom you pin your hope, literally as if you took your hope (= "Hoffnung") and gave it to this person to carry (= "tragen"). Bright young people are Hoffnungsträger, or promising prospects, such as the students in the Think Transatlantic National Finals. Sometimes it can also denote an object or matter that is a ray of hope to many, like renewable energy can be a Hoffnungsträger for energy independence.

This metaphor shows nicely that in the German expression you put your hope and faith into somebody or something as a targeted projection, whereas English tends to treat this person as origin, the source or beacon of hope.

"Hoffnung" is the noun derived from the verb "hoffen" = "to hope", one of those many words where the common origins of English and German are obvious. A "Träger" is a "carrier", derived from the verb "tragen" = "to carry".  If you want the object to carry airplanes, you get a "Flugzeugträger" = "aircraft carrier" with the early 20th century neology "Flugzeug", literally a "trinket to fly", or airplane.

Hope plays a central role in our lives. On the bright side we have "hoffnungsfroh" and "hoffnungsvoll" – being optimistic and full of hope – when you see at least a "Hoffnungsschimmer" (a glimmer of hope), but this may turn into "hoffungslos" (hopeless) and its gloomy noun "Hoffnungslosigkeit" (hopelessness), if all goes bad.  But when you think that a situation is "ausweglos" (without a way out), there will be another Hoffnungsträger to lead the way to the "Licht am Ende des Tunnels" (light at the end of the tunnel, you guessed that fully right).

American Students Argue Transatlantic Relations at Think Transatlantic National Finals in Washington

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