Shaping the world – politically

In 1811, the last volume of Joachim Campe’s dictionary of the German language was published. In the foreword to his book, Campe somewhat proudly proclaims that his dictionary included more than double the number of entries than its predecessor, the Adelung dictionary, namely 141.277 “words and articles” (Campe, Joachim Heinrich Ed.1811: Wörterbuch der Deutschen Sprache. 5. und letzter Teil. U bis Z, Braunschweig: Vorrede).

Opening the fifth and last volume of Campe’s dictionary on page 668, readers get a taste of how Campe arrived at this record sum of words. There we are confronted with 16 columns and over 200 entries which all relate to the word Welt – ‚world‘ and its compounds although I have to admit that I am not quite sure how many of these compounds were really part of the German language at the time and how many Campe made up himself.

Be it as it may, browsing through those 16 columns, readers come across all sorts of words which show to the creativity of the semantic field of the word ‘world‘ in the German language at the beginning of the 19th century. Let me give you some examples: Weltall – nowadays the word only refers to ‘outer space’ but according to Campe it means everything, all that is entailed in the world; for example: Weltbuch – a book containing all facts and details of life; for example: Weltling – an individual who is well accustomed to things ‘worldly’ and who is unlikely to be a Weltverbesserer – someone who is looking to correct the faults and errors of others.

We may also find words with a clearly political flavour, for example: Weltbürger – a cosmopolitan, a citizen who believes that he belongs to the whole of the world and not just to an individual state; or: Weltregirung – being the world government, although Campe refers to the governing will of God rather than to an actual earthly political power; for example: Welthandel – world trade, a trade that includes all parts and countries of the known world; or: Weltherrschaft – the rule of the world, with the Roman Empire being the eminent historical example.

I could continue this list for another hour at least. Campe’s dictionary is a valuable resource regarding non-political as well as political vocabulary. It is also interesting to note which words Campe’s exhaustive list does not include: for example Weltpolitik – world politics.

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