Word of the Week: einbestellen

Apr 12, 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 plainly perplex native English speakers.



Foreign Office Berlin Foreign Office Berlin (© Federal Foreign Office)

What did the German press release say when Foreign Minister Westerwelle had the North Korean Ambassador summoned? “Nordkoreanischer Botschafter einbestellt.” 

The verb "einbestellen" ("to call in/to summon") is the technical term in the language of diplomacy if an ambassador is summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, usually to receive a note of protest about some wrongdoing that the host country officially wants to complain about. The verb consists of the prefix "ein-" (meaning "in") and the verb "bestellen" (“to command/to order”) and literally means "to order sb in", to make the person come. 

In today's German, the simple verb "bestellen" is mostly used for shopping, when you actually order sth, e.g. by mail or internet. Contrary to its English counterpart, the simple verb "bestellen" would not be used for a person. There are, however, other uses, sounding somewhat formal or outdated: "jemandem etwas bestellen" can mean "to convey a message to sb", and "jemanden zu einem Amt bestellen" is "to appoint sb to an office".

In order to be precise, diplomats like their technical terms like any other expert. Say the word "Agrément", and they know immediately that this is the approval (or agrément) of the receiving country that a certain diplomat (most often used for the ambassador) may be sent to be posted there. For a consul, the receiving country issues an "Exequatur" (Latin for "he may practice"), a patent about his or her rights and privileges of office, agreeing that this person may execute consular functions and assist nationals. Here you see two main sources of diplomatic language: French and Latin, for many centuries the languages of international relations in this part of the world. "Abberufen" means to call a diplomat or consul back by the sending country – the normal way of leaving at the end of one's assignment -, whereas "ausweisen" happens when the person is being sent home by the host country, sometimes for wrongdoings or simply as a retaliatory act – reasons are not given; another way of expressing this is: "zur Persona non grata erklären," and we are back to Latin, "to declare as a person who is not welcome." 

How do diplomatic missions and a foreign ministry officially communicate? They do this by sending a "Verbalnote" (a literal translation of the French "note verbale", and likewise in English "verbal note"), a letter written in the third person, bearing the letterhead of the institution, with the seal attached (instead of a signature), which has a very formalized and stylized introduction and greeting – diplomats wouldn't want to be misunderstood in this.

Naturally, there are times when it is more diplomatic and the only way to reach a compromise by being not so precise. One way of doing this is to express an issue in words such that both sides may find their respective positions reflected by interpreting the text in a slightly different way: This is a "Formelkompromiss" - you have found a "formula/compromise/formulaic compromise" that contains both readings. Owing to this specific ability of diplomats, the term "diplomatisch sein" ("to be diplomatic") – to phrase a problem in such a way that a conflict is avoided, resolved, contained, or at least delayed - exists both in German and English.

http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de - Nordkoreanischer Botschafter einbestellt

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