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Über (German pronunciation: [ˈyːbɐ] ( listen), sometimes written uber //) in English language publications, is a German language word meaning "over", "above" or "across". It is an etymological twin with German ober, and is cognate (through Proto-Germanic) with English over, Dutch over and Icelandic yfir, among other Germanic languages. It is also distantly cognate to both Latin super and Greek ὑπέρ (hyper), through Proto-Indo-European. It is relatively well-known within Anglophone communities due to its occasional use as a hyphenated prefix in informal English, usually for emphasis. The German word is properly spelled with an umlaut, while the spelling of the English loanword varies.
In German, über is a preposition, as well as being used as a prefix. Both uses indicate a state or action involving increased elevation or quantity in the physical sense, or superiority or excess in the abstract.
- elevation: "überdacht" - roof-covered, roofed, [also: reconsidered, thought over] (überdacht (from Dach (roof)) means roof-covered, roofed while überdacht (from the strong verb denken-[dachte, gedacht] (think, thought, thought) means reconsidered, thought over)
- quantity: "über 100 Meter" - more than 100 meters, "Überschall" - supersonic
- superiority: "überlegen" - (adj) superior, elite, predominant. (verb) to consider
- excess: "übertreiben" - to exaggerate, "überfüllt" - overcrowded
As a preposition, über's meaning depends on its context. For example, über etwas sprechen – to speak about something, über die Brücke – across the bridge.
Über also translates to over, above, meta, but mainly in compound words. The actual translation depends on context. One example would be Nietzsche's term Übermensch, discussed below; another example is the Deutschlandlied, which begins with the well-known words "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles" meaning "Germany, Germany above everything" (this strophe is not sung anymore, because it is mistaken as meaning "Germany above the rest of the world"; its original meaning was the German nation above its constituent states [Prussia, Hanover, Württemberg etc.]).
The German word unter, meaning beneath or under, is antonymous to über. Unter can be found in words such as U-Bahn (Untergrundbahn – subway), U-Boot (Unterseeboot – submarine), as well as toponyms, such as Unter den Linden.
Grammatically, über belongs to that set of German prepositions that can govern either the accusative case or the dative case ("an, auf, hinter, in, neben, über, unter, vor, zwischen"). The choice is determined by whether the prepositional phrase indicates movement (accusative) or an unmoving state (dative).
The crossover of the term "über" from German into English goes back to the work of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In 1883, Nietzsche coined the term "Übermensch" to describe the higher state to which he felt men might aspire. The term was brought into English by George Bernard Shaw in the title to his 1903 play Man and Superman. During his rise to power, Adolf Hitler adopted Nietzsche's term, using it in his descriptions of an Aryan master race. It was in this context that American Jewish comic book creator Jerry Siegel encountered the term and conceived the 1933 story "The Reign of the Superman", in which the superman (not to be confused with his later superhero character) is "an evil mastermind with advanced mental powers". Shortly afterward, Siegel and artist Joseph Shuster recast Superman into the iconic American hero he subsequently became. It is through this association with the superhero that the term "über" carries much of its English sense implying irresistibility or invincibility.
Current popular culture
One of the first popular modern uses of the word as a synonym in English for super was a Saturday Night Live TV sketch in 1979. The sketch, What if?, pondered the notion of what if the comic book hero Superman had landed in Nazi Germany when he first came from Krypton. Rather than being called Superman, he took the name of Übermann. The term was also used in an episode of Friends (season 1, episode 5, "The One with the East German Laundry Detergent"), when Ross tries to impress Rachel by showing her that he uses a German laundry detergent called "Überweiss". In the 2002 animated movie Ice Age, Manfred the mammoth refers to Diego the sabre tooth cat as uber-tracker as they hunt the lone parent of the human baby that the trio has adopted. Quote: "Hey, über-tracker. Up front where I can see you."
In the 2002 movie The Time Machine, the chief of the Morlocks is called the Über-Morlock.
During the 2000s, über also became known as a synonym for super due to games and gamers using the word; for example, in the game SSX Tricky, a tricky move is also known as an über-trick. In the video game Team Fortress 2, a playable class called the Medic has a healing gun that can deploy an "Übercharge" on a teammate which renders both temporarily invulnerable. One of his domination phrases is "I am the Übermensch!". In Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 of PS1, the "Uber Score" is the most difficult score to achieve. In Toy Soldiers, one of the bosses is a giant tank called the "Uber Tank". In Dead Space 2, chapter 14-15 has an unkillable enemy known as the "Ubermorph". Uber is the name given to Pokémon of the highest tier in Pokémon. In Season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a deadlier and more powerful vampire is introduced, given the name "Übervamp" by the show's protagonist. The video game Witcher 2 offered an option called "ubersampling" which enabled superior (über) graphics quality at huge (again, über) performance cost.
Differences from the German
The normal transliteration of the "ü" ('u' with an umlaut) when used in writing systems without diacritics (such as airport arrival boards, older computer systems, etc.) is "ue", not just "u". Because of different usage, the English language version of the word is distinct from "über". It is not possible to translate every English "uber" back into "über": for example, "uber-left" could not be translated into "Überlinks": a Germanophone would say "linksaußen" ("outside left").
- "Define Uber". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 2015-01-23.
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- What If?, Saturday Night Live Transcripts, Retrieved 2007-11-16
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