Word of the Week: 08/15

Jan 10, 2014

After buying a pair of plastic sunglasses for $5, you might describe them as "average," "cheap" or "nothing special." But the Germans have a particular colloquial term to describe such things: the term 08/15. This word (pronounced Nullachtfünfzehn) is typically used in conversation to describe something that is standard or mediocre -- like that functioning but unfashionable pair of shoes you bought or the cheap cell phone with no special features.

broken shoe Enlarge image (© dpa)

Such things are so 08/15!

But why use a number to describe things that are standard?

The use of the term dates back to World War I -- a time when the German Army used the Maschinengewehr ("machine gun") 08 (MG 08), which was named after its year of adoption, 1908. The more portable prototype was tested in 1915, thus generating the name MG 08/15. The modern use of the term 08/15 stems from the name of this machine gun, but there are several theories as to how exactly this came into common language.

The first theory suggests that soldiers of the German Army were equipped with this gun during their training sessions, which were supposedly long and boring. Over time, 08/15 was used to describe long and boring routines resembling the sessions that the soldiers endured.

World War I Enlarge image (© picture alliance / akg) Another theory claims that the quality of the machine guns was severely lacking, thus defining 08/15 as "nothing special" or "average".

The MG 08/15 was also the first standardized, factory-produced machine gun used across the German Reich, and a third theory suggests that the colloquial word 08/15 therefore became a synonym for something that is "standard".

The origin of the word may lie partially in all three of the explanations, since Germans today use 08/15 to describe objects, activities and places that are average, standard, cheap, worthless or boring. Today, the term is widely used in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. An uneventful soccer match, a sweater that everyone is wearing, a boring party, an administrative work routine or a slow computer could all be described as 08/15.

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

© Germany.info

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