The Last Harvest

by Zoe Pollock

Der Spiegel interviewed German author Günter Grass about his new book on the German history and language behind the Brothers Grimm, Grimms' Words. A Declaration of Love:

SPIEGEL: You describe the two brothers as "word sleuths," who are concerned about every single letter. You also write: "On the one hand, words make sense. On the other hand, they're well suited to creating nonsense. Words can be beneficial or hurtful." How have the various facets of words shaped your own life?

Grass: I have found that words that are loaded with pathos and create a seductive euphoria are apt to promote nonsense. Adolf Hitler's "Do you want total war?" is one such example. But the same thing applies to the sentence: "Our freedom is also being defended in the Hindu Kush." (Editor's note: The sentence was famously uttered by former German Defense Minister Peter Struck to justify Germany 's military mission in Afghanistan .) Such sentences carry a strong meaning, and they are able to exert this meaning because they are not sufficiently questioned. I have heard my fill of hurtful words. I think it's especially egregious when citizens like me, who point out abuses in their country, are referred to as "do-gooders." This is how a phrase that can be used to stop an argument dead becomes part of common usage.