Etymology Usage

The echt article

Q: I see the new vogue word in NY literary circles is “echt.” Caught it the other day in the NYT.

A: The adjective “echt” (it means authentic, genuine, or typical) may be in vogue now among the literati, but it’s not especially new. English-speaking literary types have been using it since around World War I.

In the last year, the adjective “echt” has made quite a few appearances in the pages of the New York Times.

In December, an installation at Art Basel Miami Beach was said to attract “a breezy mash-up of Hollywood royalty and echt nobility.” And a piece in the Book Review in November described an episode in the life of Kurt Vonnegut as “echt Vonnegut.”

In June, a DVD review referred to “that echt ’70s subject, the Woman in Search of Her Identity.” And a travel piece last March about Trieste used the term “echt-Austrian architecture.”

A dining-out review last January referred to a restaurant as an “echt East Village establishment.” And in December 2010, an article about the sale of the clothing company Lilly Pulitzer described it as “perhaps one of the echt totems of prephood.”

As we mentioned, “echt” has been in use in English since the war to end war, so there’s no longer any need to italicize it now, as the Times Book Review did last month.

The Oxford English Dictionary says English adopted the word from German, but Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) traces it to both the German echt and the Yiddish ekht.

The OED’s earliest citation is from an article by George Bernard Shaw that appeared in 1916 in the journal The New Age: “Many Englishmen who know Germany, and whose social opinions are echt Junker opinions, hail this war as a means of forcing England to adopt the Prussian system.”

The word has appeared in literary or consciously fashionable writing ever since.

In 1917, for example, Ezra Pound used it in a letter to James Joyce: “The opening is echt Joice.” (In his comments on Ulysses, Pound improvised further on Joyce’s name: “All I can say is Echt Dzoice, or Echt Joice, or however else you like it.”)

Whenever it’s used, “echt” seems to call attention to itself, as in these later citations from the OED:

The British composer Constant Lambert went on an “echt” spree in his book Music Ho! (1934): “England has never produced an artist so ‘echt-English’ as Mussorgsky is ‘echt-Russian,’ or Renoir ‘echt-French.’ ”

And here’s a flirtatious usage from Nicolas Freeling’s crime novel Love in Amsterdam (1962): “ ‘Are you married? … I see your ring, but is that camouflage or echt?’ ”

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