Public viewing kein Schein-Anglizismus

Now the World Cup has started, there are lots of opportunities to see it on big screens in public. For instance, one could see it at the Spar-Da-Bank-Arena (I love the names of German banks) in Tucherstraße in Fürth.

And just as frequent is the use of the new German term public viewing.

And almost as frequent as that is the chorus of voices crying out that public viewing means seeing the body of a famous person before it is interred/cremated/whatever. For instance, there was a Michael Jackson public viewing, and it wasn’t a rock concert.

Anatol Stefanowitsch has complained about this before, and now repeats his view. (I do wish it was still called Bremer Sprachblog – Wissenslogs is such a collective name).

Nun greifen dankenswerterweise andere meinen Beitrag auf. Stefan Wallasch zitiert ihn auf und zeigt außerdem, wie man sich, wenn man mir nicht glauben will, mit einer schnellen Google-Suche selbst davon überzeugen kann, dass öffentliche Aufbahrungen von Leichen für die Verwendung des Wortes public viewing keine herausragende Rolle spielt.

Volker Weber took this up and joined the throngs of Germans claiming that this is a pseudo-anglicism, by conducting a small poll among commenters.

And (German) Wikipedia has an entry to this effect – one of its sources is a BBC page, but if you look at that page it says ‘sent in by Matt’, so it isn’t even a BBC journalist (not that that would be worth much).

So we have here an English term that is strongly believed by Germans to be Denglisch, a pseudo-English word. I suppose we are stuck with that.

Some sense comes from the football translator Stuart Dykes, according to whom the term was introduced by FIFA for the 2006 World Cup, which happened to be in Germany. He thinks that before 2006, public screening would have been the term. The German Wikipedia article mentions this too:

Public Viewing in größerem Umfang gibt es seit der Fußball-Weltmeisterschaft 2006, bei der auch dieser Begriff im deutschen Sprachgebrauch etabliert wurde. Im englischen Sprachraum bezeichnet der Begriff im Allgemeinen die öffentliche Präsentation einer Sache[3][4] (to view bedeutet etwas anschauen, besichtigen, inspizieren; public bedeutet öffentlich) bzw. einen Tag der offenen Tür sowie die öffentliche Aufbahrung eines Toten.[5] Seit der Fußball-Weltmeisterschaft 2006 wird die Formulierung jedoch gelegentlich auch im Englischen von internationalen Verbänden und Medien in Bezug auf die Übertragung von Sportveranstaltungen auf Großbildwänden verwendet.[6][7]

(Public viewing has been popular since the 2006 World Cup, which was when the term entered German usage. In English, the term usually means the public presentation of a thing … an open day, or the public viewing of a corpse. However, since the 2006 World Cup, the term is sometimes used in English by international associations and media meaning showing sports events on big screens).

My conclusion is, like Stefanowitsch’s, that this is a combination of an adjective and a noun that has various possible meanings, that viewing a body is only one of them (possibly the best-known usage in the USA) and that this new use, if it is new, is perfectly legitimate. (The German term Body Bag for a handbag that fits close to the body – rather than the US term of a bag used for transporting the body of a soldier back home – is less flexible).

What I wonder is how common public viewing of a body is in the USA. I started researching it. It is definitely on US sites that it refers to funeral parlours. I don’t know how often this term is used, though. A monarch or head of state would be referred to as ‘lying in state’. And a private person would presumably not have ‘public’ viewing – or would they?

Brief researches on UK funeral directors’ sites revealed ‘viewing the body’. I got distracted on the website of Eric F. Box Funeral Directors Ltd (nomen est omen?), ‘Celebrating lives with meaningful funerals’. There is a great deal of interesting information there:

Promession is an ecological burial, which is a new alternative to traditional burial or cremation. The process involves the body being frozen in liquid nitrogen, which is then turned into powder through the use of ultrasonic vibrations. The body is buried in a biodegradable box in a shallow grave to allow for a quicker decomposition than traditional burials.

‘Cremation products’ include cremation jewellery, firework displays, memorial space flights, ashes into vinyl, huggable urns and eternal reefs. But I digress.

This does prove that one of the things people get most angry about, at least on the internet, is language. And a common Google search seems to be “public viewing” Leichenschau – it gets 16,200 ghits. As has been pointed out to me – thanks, Willi! – Leichenschau is not the right term – it should be Aufbahrung.


Viewing: The action of beholding or observing; examination or inspection; spec. (a) (U.S.) The action of taking a last look at the body of a dead person before the funeral; a time during which visitors may so view a body; (b) the activity of watching television; an instance or period of this.

16 thoughts on “Public viewing kein Schein-Anglizismus

  1. Interesting point and it has been bugging me all evening, as these things do. “Darling, what *are* you thinking about?”, she said.

    I still prefer *public screening*

    I can imagine e.g. “The Hare & Hounds welcomes you to its World Cup evenings over the following weeks. Apart from the public screening of all events, there will be drinks on the house each time England wins”.

    Wishful thinking?

    One wonders how long it will be until this one is laid to rest? ;-)

  2. It definitely seems to be the case that public viewings of the dead bodies of politicians and celebrities are more common (or simply more commented upon?) in the US than in the UK.

    (Btw. “Wissenslogs” is just the name for the blogging platform, Stefanowitshc’s blog is called “Sprachlog”).

  3. Re: frequency of public viewing in the US. Not sure if you mean how common public viewing of a body is as a term or a phenomenon? I’ve been to my share of funerals in the US unfortunately but I think it’s definitely the exception. In fact the only “public viewing” I’ve been to in this sense was in Switzerland, for a dear old friend from a well-to-do Swiss family, who then by her own wishes ended up in a common grave. There were some conflicts of interest there you could say. I think Americans tend to be fairly practical in this respect – give us an urn and get it over with. But it depends. I once thought “Cremains of the Day” would be a great name for a book of poetry but that is a story for another time.

    I think you happen to read about public viewing a lot at US funeral home websites because they make a ton of money off of that kind of thing – the more elaborate, the more $$$. Sort of how the fanciest cars are featured at the Mercedes website.

    One final note on usage: in my experience simply “viewing” tends to be used instead of “public viewing”, at least in obituaries/funeral announcements, i.e. “Viewing 2-3 pm, memorial service 3-4 pm”.

    • Yes, I was wondering how common the phenomenon is in the USA, so thanks for the answer. I mean, the person would have to be famous for it to be public, wouldn’t they? Or does it also refer to viewing for family members and friends? ‘Viewing’ seems to be standard in the UK, at all events, but it all hinges on whether there is a distinction made between family and wider viewing. Your quote suggests it’s common for anyone who might attend the funeral to be informed of the possibility of viewing the body. That seems odd to me, but what do I know?

    • I would say ‘viewing’ alone is used ‘coz the general public aren’t going to be interested in my deceased granddad, for example.

      However, if it’s a person of public interest, e.g. Michael Jackson, then the general public ARE interested, and efforts are made to make a viewing possible for this general public – a ‘public viewing’.

      But while Anatol Stefanowitsch would be right in claiming that something doesn’t have to be a dead body to be viewed publicly, I do not believe that you can ‘view’ a football match.

      A viewing gives you the chance to *look at* something, to catch a glimpse of it, to see it with your own eyes.

      A match, or a movie, you *watch*. The whole length of it, usually. It’s a show, with a beginning and an end.

      So therefore the match, or the movie, or the TV show, is *screened’.

      Why is it so difficult to accept that a native speaker would *not* have called the public screening a public viewing if he’d been asked?

    • Ah, excellent, thanks – Stuart Dykes again. I’ll quote it here in case ProZ goes belly-up:
      ‘If it’s an official screening organised through FIFA you will have no choice but to call it a public viewing event or whatever, as it’s the only term they will accept. Otherwise you could refer to it as a public screening, for example.

      As Birgit has pointed out, the term has crept into the language and IMHO is already becoming standard usage.

      I should point out that I work for both FIFA and’

      Of course, it may indeed be someone’s funeral on Sunday.

  4. Thanks for this blog post, was googling as I’m not convinced I can use ‘public viewing’ to translate the German usage – in this instance it refers to screenings of the Live Earth concert.

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