Word of the Week: jwd

Jun 28, 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.

 

jwd

lonely house jwd © picture alliance / Arco Images GmbH Enlarge image lonely house jwd (© picture alliance / Arco Images GmbH )

“jwd” – is that even a word??  How do you pronounce it?  Easy: you say “jott-we-de” (another way to write this oddity) and an English phonetic spelling is “yot-vay-day”.

What does “jwd” mean? Do you live in the distant outskirts of a city, in the countryside, or even in the middle of nowhere? Then Berliners might say you that live “j.w.d.,” which is short for “janz weit draußen” – “really far out”, or “in the boondocks” as Americans might say.  Spelling of this acronym can vary. You can see “jwd,” “j.w.d.,” or even “jott-we-de,” which is the three letters spelled in German.  Any way you write it,  “jwd” is so commonly used in Berlin and across Germany that some Germans may no longer know exactly what it stands for.

Berliners invented “jwd” a little more than a century ago in order to mockingly refer to the outer parts of their sprawling city.  “Dit is ja jwd!” (“This is really far out!”) is what you may hear someone say about outer suburbia Berlin-Karow, Berlin-Wannsee or Berlin-Friedrichshagen. Often a statement like that will spur a debate because “jwd” can imply that a location is not only hard to reach, but also somewhat disconnected from the vibrant life of the inner city. However many Berliners will vigorously defend their neighborhood, which is often a small city by itself. The city-state of Berlin covers such a large area (892 square kilometers or 244 square miles, which is five times as large as the District of Columbia or about as large as the land part of New York City) that many neighborhoods will seem somewhat far away from where your “Kiez” (where you live) in the German capital. 

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If you speak German I’m sure you’ve noticed the spelling seems a little off.  The “j” in “janz” indicates that “jwd” is Berlinerisch, i.e. Berlin dialect.  In Standard German, you say (and spell) “ganz” instead of “janz”.  Berliners love to replace a “g” by a “j” and say “jut” instead of “gut” or “Justav” instead of “Gustav”.  Because of its origin, “jwd” is heard more frequently in the eastern part of Germany.  If you use it and people look puzzled, try “in der Pampa” or “in der Walachei” instead.  Pampa,” adopted from the Indian Quechua language, where it means the “plains” or “prairie”, originally refers to specific lowlands in South America (“the Pampas” in English). Similarly, “Walachei” (“Wallachia”) is a historical region in Romania.  Despite their particular meanings, however, both terms are also used more generally to describe out-of-the-way regions that lack urban infrastructure such as restaurants, hospitals, and highspeed internet.

There is a nice longer saying stressing the loneliness of these places. “Wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute Nacht sagen.” – “Where fox and hare say good night to each other,” nearly undisturbed by human beings.

Compared to the vast stretches of sparsely populated land in the United States, few regions in Germany really are remote.  The above terms are thus often used humorously to imply that a location is the very opposite of lively and hip.  From the perspective of certain Berliners, all the rest of Germany is somewhat “jwd” ...  This sentence got both my office neighbors – one from Bavaria, the other from Baden-Württemberg – totally up in arms. They proceeded to point out recent articles how many rabbits, foxes, and even boars live openly in the wild within the city borders of Berlin, obviously “jwd”.

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