This is another article written by one of the members of the HotForWords site. Want to contribute?
When I tell my students in Germany and Austria that Ã¼ber is used like an adjective in English, something is Ã¼bercool, they always gap in amazement. How did the meaning of ‘Ã¼ber’ get twisted around from being a preposition in German to an adjective in English?
From an innocent philosophers musings of a high state of being to humanity to Superman being an evil genius, the journey of ‘Ã¼ber’ from German to English is full sinister twists and backstabbing,:
The German ‘Ã¼ber’ stems from both Latin super and Greek á½‘Ï€ÎÏ (hyper).
In German ‘Ã¼ber’, both by itself and as a prefix, means to be ‘over/above’ or ‘to go over’ something, i.e. es steht Ã¼ber der Tur – it’s above the door, ‘sie springen Ã¼ber die Mauer’- ‘they are jumping over the wall’.
In English ‘uber’ becomes an adjective, indicating that the person or thing being described is on the top of their respective field, i.e. Heidi Klum is an Ubermodel. The closest corresponding term in German would be ‘ober’ – ‘upper’, ‘superior’, as in ‘Oberschenkell’ – ‘thigh’ or ‘Oberweite’ – ‘Bust’, ‘Oberst’ – ‘Colonel’.
So, how did ‘uber’ go from being a preposition in German to an adjective in English?
Ãœber first came to English through the works of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in his discussions of the ‘Ãœbermensch’, to refer to a higher-state of being to which humans could aspire. George Bernard Shaw made the term popular through the title of his 1903 play Man and Superman.
After Hitler and the Nazi’s twisted to meaning of Nietzsche’s phrase to mean a race of super beings, Jerry Siegel, a Jewish-American comic book writer, used the term for his 1933 series ‘The Reign of Superman’, where superman was an evil genius. There is even a Saturday Night Live scetch from the 70s, hypothesizing what would have happened if Superman, now called Ãœberman, had landed in Nazi Germany instead of the US. Only later through Joseph Schuster would Superman become the hero we know today.
‘Uber’ became part of surfer and punk slang “in the early 80′s by hardcore American punk band, the Dead Kennedys when using the term in the anti-Californian government song “California Uber Alles”, itself a take on the German (National Anthem) of ‘Deustchland Ãœber Alles’ (only the third stanza being the official German National Anthem today” (urbandictionary.com). The original meaning of the Deutschlandlied, as the song was originally called, was again twisted by the Nazis to mean German superiority over the world instead of call for unifying the German speaking lands as was originally meant to be, when the lyrics were written by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben in 1841.
Gradually ‘uber’ worked its way into common usage, mostly through the internet.
So, only after a long, hard struggle did, ‘uber’, gain a respected, albeit strange, place in the English vernacular.
Wikipedia.com Ãœber, California Uber Alles, Deutschlandlied