The Germans Have a Word for It: Reißverschlusssystem

A Blog About Language
Nov. 21 2013 12:08 PM

The Germans Have a Word for It: Reißverschlusssystem

160780519
Sitting in traffic on 14th Street in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Earlier this year, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute released its "Urban Mobility Report, 2012," or, more apt in the case of Washington, D.C., its immobility report. Those of us living in or outside the District—rated the most traffic-congested metro area in America with a population of 3 million or more—are delayed an average of 67 hours annually in our cars. Which translates to 32 gallons of gas, or $110, burned out of our wallets and into the atmosphere.

Tim Lomax, a civil engineer and urban planner who co-authored the study, told the Washington Post that D.C. had the highest Planning Time Index. In other words, for a trip in this city that would normally take about 20 minutes in light traffic, one should allot nearly 2 hours in the middle of rush hour to ensure an on-time arrival. "That's the combined effect of weather and bad crashes and special events and construction, and in y'alls cases, presidential motorcades," he said. "It's everything rolled together." Not to mention the damn circles!

Advertisement

The Post's John Kelly later wondered whether at least some of the congestion could be attributed to our seeming inability in this town to compromise:

If you drive, merging will eventually become an issue. There are places where two lanes become one, places where parked vehicles suddenly eliminate the right lane, places where roadwork or fender benders steal a lane, places where highway offramps merge into surface roads (or vice versa), places where HOV lanes dump us into regular lanes, intersections where neighborhood streets T-end into commuter routes . . .
In each of these situations, we find ourselves either the merger or the mergee: either the driver who wants to be let in or the driver who does the letting in. Or, as often happens, doesn't.

Desperate for relief, I propose we Washingtonians look to language for one possible solution. Under the theory that naming a behavior is crucial to popularizing it, perhaps all we need is a single word for the orderly turn-taking that allows two lanes of traffic to efficiently blend into one. The Germans call it Reißverschlusssystem, which translates literally as the "zipper system" and even appears on street signs. A zipper is the ultimate accommodator, after all, each side alternating with an obliging "after you." But as good a metaphor as it is, I'm not sure it works well in English. So what does? Your ideas below.

Mike Vuolo is a radio and podcast producer and the host of Lexicon Valley.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Feds Have Declared War on Encryption—and the New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You

It spreads slowly.

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Activists Are Trying to Save an Iranian Woman Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?