Na und?

Na seems to be a very important word in the German language. No one told me this on any of the courses I've been doing, but having observed Germans at close hand for the last year and a half, I can safely say Na is very important among members of the species.

When two Germans meet, for example, they will often simply greet each other with the word Na.
"Na?"
"Na."
The intonation can vary, as you may have noticed from the above.

A dinner party I was at recently was a veritable Na-fest as I greeted guests wĥo got there before me, shaking hands and hugging with dwindling levels of enthusiasm as I made my way around the table.
"Na?"
"Na."
"Na?"
"Na!"
"Na?"
"Na!!"

By the time you finish greeting everybody, you just don't want to talk to them any more. Consequently, I may have stumbled on the real reasons Germans are always on time: They don't want to be caught up in a never-ending cycle of Nas. Far better not to be the last to arrive - you can space out the Nas and conserve some energy for eating, drinking and talking, surely the main point of any dinner party.

I'm not really sure what Na means, but I presume it's a leftover from some sort of Hanseatic chant or spell uttered to dispel evil spirits from the room.

Na is not just for greetings however. This is where the addition of the word Ja comes in. Na ja has a variety of uses. It's used quite often to cover up awkward silences in a conversation. "Na ja," you would say when someone tells you something and you don't know what else to say. It's particularly useful for bad news.
"Mein Hund war Heute getötet." (My dog was killed today.)
"Na ja..."

It's also particularly useful for ending conversations, particularly phone conversations. When you hear "Na ja" you know the other person wants to get off the phone; they have something better to do. This is an ideal time to introduce a completely new topic, preferably an inane one. When you hear "Na ja" again, introduce another topic, preferably even more boring than the one before. That drives them mad altogether.
My golden rule is not to let the other person off the phone until I've heard at least five Na jas. Then I'll politely excuse myself by telling them I don't really have time to be yakking on the phone, and that I actually should get going with all the things I have to do. You never hear Na ja after that.

Comments

  1. das etymologische wörterbuch der uni oldenburg besagt zum 'na' folgendes:
    neuhochdeutsch 'na' - interjektion bei fragen, zu- und ausrufen, um einen zweifel, eine erwartung, aufforderung, abweisung u.ä. auszudrücken oder einzuleiten
    quelle: http://www.bkge.uni-oldenburg.de/download/woerterbuch-teschenerdialekt/woerterbuch-n.pdf

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  2. Danke schön Hédi! Gut zu wissen dass es nichts mit Hexerei und Zauberei zu tun hat!

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  3. I find 'na' to be very efficient and one of my favorite words -- it can be used to greet or return a greeting and avoids the whole awkwardness of asking "Wie geht's dir?" and then having to wait around for an actual answer (this being Germany and not the US, after all).

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