[lit-ideas] Re: Quick German Question (Vermutlich und Wahrscheinlich)

  • From: "Richard Henninge" <Henninge@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 18 Dec 2004 17:20:06 +0100

Robert Paul
Gesendet: Samstag, 18. Dezember 2004 06:03
An: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Betreff: [lit-ideas] Re: Quick German Question (Vermutlich und

But I still don't get the
I've been ringing Mainz, but there's no answer.

R. Paul
My secretary woke me up this morning to tell me that a flurry of mails
were demanding my attention Stateside, Provinceside, whatever.

Here's the dope on vermutlich and wahrscheinlich:

        1) wahrscheinlich is wahrscheinlicher als vermutlich
        2) vermutlich is a tad weniger wahrscheinlich als wahrscheinlich

The examples in the Wahrig (a German dictionary) for "vermutlich" are:

        Er kommt vermutlich nicht mehr: He's probably not coming. I
daresay he won't be coming. Presumably, he's not going to come.

        Vermutlich ist er es gewesen: He was probably the one. Then it
was probably him.

The examples for "wahrscheinlich" are:

        Er ist wahrschienlich schon fort: He's probably already gone.
He's probably already left.
        Der wahrscheinliche T=E4ter: the person who probably committed the
crime (this is another clue: the prosecution would say "der
wahrscheinliche T=E4ter," but the defense would insist on "vermutlich" =
an even less certain identification, the suspected criminal, not the
probable criminal)
        Das ist m=F6glich aber nicht wahrscheinlich: That's possible but
not likely.
        Es ist sehr wahrscheinlich, dass...: It is very likely that...;
the chances are good that...

The Wahrig gives a clue by noting that "wahrscheinlich" is a loan
translation of the Latin *verisimilis*, the French *vraisemblable*, to
mean something that is "wahr + =E4hnlich scheinend" (true + similarly
appearing). In the definitions of both words the expression "es ist
anzunehmen, dass...," or "it is to be assumed that...."

Another clue, added to this, is Robert's Leo tip on the British
"daresay" for vermutlich, but not for wahrscheinlich. The Brit is more
skeptical of probabilities, or at least is more inclined to temper the
overly quick assumption based on appearances with a pinch of the salt of
doubt. That's what makes his humour so dry.

Two Brits looking out over the Channel three years after Erin first
asked for help on two German words: "I daresay we shan't be hearing from
Mainz on vermutlich and wahrscheinlich...."

Richard Henninge
University of Mainz


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