Word of the Week: Qual der Wahl

Feb 1, 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.

Qual der Wahl

"Wer die Wahl hat, hat die Qual" Enlarge image "Wer die Wahl hat, hat die Qual" (© picture-alliance/dpa)

If you have many options on the table and are finding it hard to make up your mind about something, you may be suffering from "die Qual der Wahl" (the agony of choice).

The expression, which Germans love to use because it rhymes nicely, literally describes "the agony of choice" one is confronted with when there are, simply put, a lot of potential options available that seem equally appealing. The noun "Qual" means pain or agony, and the noun "Wahl" means election or choice. Put them together with the feminine article "die" (the), and you have the idiom "die Qual der Wahl."

Hence you could say that "Wer die Wahl hat, hat die Qual," which literally translates as "Whoever has (the) choice, has (the) torment," but effectively means "The bigger the choice, the harder it is to choose."

On its own, however, "Qual" is a far more unpleasant word, as it relates to "Quälerei" (atrocity, torture, agony, torment) and the verb "quälen" (to torment, tease, pester, punish, torture). "Qualen erleiden," for instance, means "to suffer agonies." Or the sentence "Die letzten Monate waren für mich eine einzige (Qual)" translates into "The last few months have been sheer agony for me."

So in its original context the noun "Qual" is not a really upbeat word, but when combined with "Wahl" in the expression "die Qual der Wahl," it is placed in a much more light-hearted context.

© Germany.info

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