Day 1: New Year’s Day Diphthongs

Good afternoon! Guten Tag!  Happy New Year!

Datei:Frohes neues.jpg

(This picture is confusing and kinda scary, but it captures my hope for 2017. Source:

In 2016, I found out that my kidneys are failing. I need a kidney transplant and will potentially undergo the surgery this summer.

Yes, I am in dreaded End Stage Renal Failure. But I’m also a poet and a scholar of the German language. Join me as I count up to my transplant by exploring a German word a day that captures how I’m feeling.

Today’s word: diphthong. Not of German origin, but certainly of German sound! From Greek δίφθογγος or diphthongos, which means “two sounds” or “two tones.” Think Trombone slides. Think stubbing your toe, and yelping “OWW.” When two vowel sounds are grouped together, blended, and pronounced as one, it’s called a diphthong. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Examples in English: cowboy, out, gout, ouch!

Auf Deutsch, diphthongs abound. Common pairings include “au” and the musical “ie.” These diphtongs are always pronounced the same. The “au” diphthong is pronounced “ow” like English cow. “Au” sounds are rounded and open.

Examples: laut (loud),  lau (mild, balmy), braun (brown), die Schau (show, exhibition)

Meanwhile, the “ie” is lighter, more melodic. Pronounced like “ee,” don’t let Lieder und nieder fool you. That’s no straight ee, no cheek! Rather, there’s a very subtle trombone-slide into the “ee.” Listen.

Examples: nieder (low), die Lieder (songs)

More examples and detailed explanations of the common German diphthongs can be found at these blogs and websites:,

In closing, the diphthong captures my feelings about my journey toward transplant. As my kidney disease progresses, my emotions dip, yet my cacophony remains bright and strong. I invite you to follow my Diphthong Days for musings on language, the transplant process, and life as a twenty-something with kidney disease. But first, what are some of your favorite diphthongs?