Tag Archives: Geierfaszination

Geierfaszination

Here’s another word we all need, especially right now. Celeste Ng (@pronounced_ing) asked Twitter,

What is the German word for “feeling physically nauseous from anxiety at the news but also morbidly unable to look away and stop scrolling”

She got a number of responses, of course. I’ve decided, however, that the mot juiced is Geierfaszination – “vulture fascination,” i.e., inability to look away when you see a vulture eating something (e.g., your cat).

Don’t bother looking it up; it’s not in any dictionary. I’m not even going to call it a “new old word”—I’m owning this puppy up front. (And any German speakers out there who find it ill formed are welcome to issue a correction.) If you want to say it out loud, it’s said like “guy-er-fass-i-na-tsyon” or however close to that you’re up to.

The word is made of two plain parts. Geier means ‘vulture’ (it traces back through German roots relating to ‘greed’ and ‘desire’ to a root that mainly gave rise to words meaning ‘gladly, willingly, eagerly’ in various Germanic languages, such as German gern and Swedish gärna). Faszination is plainly the German cognate of English fascination, from Latin fascinare ‘bewitch’, which traces to fascinum, which meant ‘evil spell, witchcraft’ but also meant ‘penis’ and, binding the two senses together (and – according to some people – the origin of both), ‘a phallus-shaped amulet worn around the neck as a preventive against witchcraft’ (to quote Wiktionary).

Which means that the roots of this word for ‘vulture-fascination’ could also have developed to mean ‘eagerly wear a magic dildo around my neck’. And, frankly, if you saw someone walking down the street proudly wearing a magic dildo around their neck, you might well feel queasy and worried but have a hard time looking away.