Tunnel über der Spree

Über

Über or ueber comes from the German language. It is a cognate of both Latin super and Greek ὑπέρ (hyper), as well as English over.

The term in English

Origins

The crossover of the term "über" from German into English goes back to the work of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In 1883, Nietzsche coined the term "übermensch" to describe the higher state to which he felt men might aspire. The term was brought into English by George Bernard Shaw in the title to his 1903 play Man and Superman. During his rise to power, Adolf Hitler bastardized Nietzsche's term, using it in his descriptions of an Arian master race. It was in this context that American Jewish comic book creator Jerry Siegel encountered the term and conceived the 1933 story "The Reign of Superman," in which "Superman" is "an evil mastermind with advanced mental powers. Throughout the following decade, Seigel recast Superman into the iconic American hero he subsequently became. It is through this association with Superman the hero that the term "über" carries much of its English sense implying irresistability or invincibility.

Current popular culture

Television

One of the first popular modern uses of the word as a synonym in English for super was a Saturday Night Live TV sketch in 1979. The sketch, What if?, pondered the notion of what if the comic book hero Superman had landed in Nazi Germany when he first came from Krypton. Rather than being called Superman, he took the name of Uberman.

Video games

During the 2000s, über also became known as a synonym for super due to gamers' excessively using the word incorrectly; e.g. in the game Team Fortress 2, the weapon über-charge literally means "super charged," generally with a slightly intensified meaning. Über is commonly written as uber in English, though with slightly different meaning. Also, In the game SSX Tricky, a tricky move is also known as an uber trick.

Differences from the German

Spelling

The normal transliteration of the "ü" ('u' with an umlaut) when used in writing systems without diacritics (such as airport arrival boards, older computer systems, etc.) is "ue", not just "u"; however, it could be argued that the English language use of the word uber is a new word distinct from ueber. This is because English is defined by common use of words, which dictionaries and academia record, not the reverse. The use of 'ü', 'u', and 'ue' in the word is an emerging trend in common usage in English with no clear consensus.

Usage

An expression like "über cool" sounds rather awkward in the ears of a German. They would rather use "obercool", where "ober" means "upper", "higher" or "superior". For example the German word for "first lieutenant" is "Oberleutnant" (as opposed to just "Leutnant" for "second lieutenant").

The term in German

In German, über is used as a prefix as well as a word in its own right. Both uses indicate a state or action involving increased elevation or quantity in the physical sense, or superiority or excess in the abstract.

elevation: "überdacht" - roof-covered, roofed, [also: reconsidered, thought over]
quantity: "über 100 Euro" - more than 100 euros
superiority: "überlegen" - (adj) superior, predominant. (verb) to consider
excess: "übertreiben" - to exaggerate

Über may be a preposition or an adverb depending on context. Eg. über etwas sprechen - to speak about something, über die Brücke - across the bridge.

Über also translates to over, above, meta and super, but mainly in compound words. The actual translation depends on context. (One example would be Nietzsche's term Übermensch, discussed above.) Another example is the Deutschlandlied, which begins with the well-known words "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles" meaning "Germany, Germany above everything" (It is a common misunderstanding that this is in reference to conquest or subjugation - in fact, the words were intended to call all the different Germanic states to unity, to place being German above their local disputes. Because of this mistranslation, the German national anthem now uses only the third verse.)

In German online slang über can also be used with the same meaning as the English usages of "uber" that are current in many of the younger generation's vocabularies. In this case, it is typically written without the umlaut—despite the ready availability and familiarity of the 'ü' character—-in part to distinguish it from its original meaning. Linguistically speaking, a language can borrow a loanword that it already loaned out, as long as the meaning has changed sufficiently. In most cases of this usage, it is borrowed directly as Denglisch, or as an English word/phrase that has been fitted ad hoc into the German language. In Hindi and other related languages of India, a word of the same origin, 'üper' means 'up' or 'upper'.

The German word unter, meaning beneath or under, is antonymous to über. Unter can be found in words such as Untermensch, U-Bahn (Untergrundbahn = subway), U-Boot (Unterseeboot = submarine), as well as toponyms, such as Unter den Linden.

See also

References

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