The surviving Latin copycats

September 04, 2022

A striped cat curled up in a ceramic plate on a sunny day in Matera, Italy.

Überleben, to survive, was one of the first German words that stuck with me. Thanks to its leben, to live, it was easy to associate it with survival. Little did I realise, however, that überleben literally means survive.

English got its survive from the French survivre which in turn comes from the Latin supervivere. Supervivere is made of super, over/above, and vivere, to live. What other word is made of a prefix meaning over/above and a verb meaning to live? überleben!

Überleben is a borrowing and literal translation of the Latin supervivere. In linguistics, these words are known as calques.

Latin super vivere supervivere
French sur vivre survivre
English sur vive survive
German über leben überleben

Examples of Latin calques in German

Überleben is far from being the only word that German has calqued from Latin. Here are a few other examples:

ausdrücken - to express

German ausdrücken aus drücken
Latin expressare ex pressare
out press, push

Mitleid - compassion

German Mitleid mit Leid
Latin compassio com passio
with, together suffering

Fortschritt - progress

German Fortschritt fort Schritt
Latin progressus pro gradus
forward step

teilnehmen - to participate, to partake

German teilnehmen Teil nehmen
Latin participare pars capere
part, piece to take

unmittelbar - immediate

German unmittelbar un mittel + (bar)
Latin immediatus in mediatus
not in the middle

unterschreiben - to sign

German unterschreiben unter schreiben
Latin subscribere sub scribere
below, underneath write

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