Is there a particular word here that's the "German loan word" or what's the intended meaning?

When you think about the textured histories of the teams and the faith and passion of the fans and the way these forces are entwined citywide, and when you think about the game itself, live-or-die, the third game in a three-game playoff, and you say the names Giants and Dodgers, and you calculate the way the players hate each other openly, and you recall the kind of year this has turned out to be, the pennant race that has brought the city to a strangulated rapture, an end-shudder requiring a German loan-word to put across the mingling of pleasure and dread and suspense, and when you think about the blood loyalty, this is what they're saying in the booth—the love-of-team that runs across the boroughs and through the snuggled suburbs and out into the apple counties and the raw north, then how do you explain twenty thousand empty seats?

This is from Don DeLillo's Underworld.

  • A Google search brings up a book that suggest "Götterdämmerung" (apparently because this is about a kind of rapture). books.google.de/… Commented May 16, 2021 at 14:58
  • 'requiring a German loan-word' (not 'the German loan-word').
    – usretc
    Commented May 16, 2021 at 18:15
  • @EikePierstorff yea tbh that's the only related German loan word I know of (from a biography on Hitler I read) so I just assumed it was "something like that".
    – David542
    Commented May 16, 2021 at 19:19
  • @usretc:...yes? If someone said they had to pick a word, you would then ask "What's the word you picked?" Not "What's a word you picked?" Commented May 17, 2021 at 2:44
  • I would not assume that DeLillo had a specific word in mind. It's rather like Lovecraft obliquely describing "unspeakable colors" and "eldritch horrors from outer space" without actually, you know, describing those colors and horrors. That way, every reader is free to supply their own imagination of what such colors or horrors might be... just like you can here here fill in your own preconception of what German loan-words would be appropriate. The remaining uncertainty leaves an additional frisson - in both cases. Commented May 17, 2021 at 6:15

2 Answers 2


I am not sure if there is a concrete loan word that applies here. I think DeLillo alludes to the fact that there is a certain group of German loan words (angst, unheimlich etc) that are used when dealing with certain complex or even existential issues. It seems necessary that the complexity of a "mingling of pleasure, dread and suspense" would require such a loan word if one were to compress these feelings into a single word.

  • 3
    Two more German loanwords in a similar direction are schadenfreude (pretty well-known, like angst) and weltschmerz (more obscure, like unheimlich). None of these precisely fits the quote’s context, but together, they build up the group of loanwords DeLillo is alluding to. Commented May 16, 2021 at 15:59
  • 6
    I think there is an additional element of how German is known for long compound words which can capture a set of ideas in a single word. So it's not just that German has words like Angst which refer to complex emotions, but also that German could conceivably fit pleasure, dread, suspense etc. into a single word.
    – dbmag9
    Commented May 16, 2021 at 18:17
  • 1
    "German loanword" implies that the word is adopted from German. The long compound words you are probably thinking are not very likely to get adopted into the English language.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented May 16, 2021 at 22:50
  • 2
    By the way, for non-native German speakers: be aware that "Angst" (in German) is a totally normal, everyday word and simply means "fear". The meaning attributed to it in the English loanword "angst" (i.e., "existential angst") is not what a German speaker would think about at all. So if a German is telling you that he has angst, no need to assume the worst, he may simply be afraid of spiders. ;)
    – AnoE
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 10:56
  • 1
    @dbmag9 Perhaps German (as a language and a national character) is also particularly good at combining opposites? E.g. schaurig-schön, Angstlust, Schadenfreude, Nervenkitzel (Angstlust being a candidate for the loan word). Commented May 17, 2021 at 11:43

I think it is not referring to a specific German loanword or even an existing loanword. It's rather the requirement of some German loanword that is not an existing loanword in the English language yet (or even in the German language).

The process of achieving this loanword would be then to first find/invent a German word that discribes the feeling of pleasure and dread and suspense and then make this a loanword to the English language.

This is out of the common conception that the German language is very deep and universal in having a word for even the weirdest combination of feelings, which the English language lacks.

The definition of require in the Merriam-Webster dictionary has the meaning of to demand as necessary or essential at 2a. If we then replace require with need in the original phrase requiring a German loan-word the meaning will be more clear. The English language would need a loanword from German that would describe this mixture of feelings.


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