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In colloquial terms, bankruptcy refers to the inability to pay ( insolvency ) of a person or a company, especially in the fixed expressions "go bankrupt" (here as a noun ), "go bankrupt" and "be broke" (here adjectivally ), sometimes in a more general sense as much as "failure, defeat, failure".

From the bankruptcy derived is the vulture as a proverbial symbol for bankruptcy, and the mocking name bankrupt for a bankrupt businessman.


The word bankrupt is a borrowing from Yiddish ; Via Rotwelsche , the secret or special language of travelers , beggars and other marginalized social groups peppered with many Yiddish words , it reached Berlin towards the middle of the 19th century and from here quickly spread throughout the German-speaking area. It is based on Yiddish פּלטה ( plejte ), which actually means “escape”, and ultimately Hebrew פְּלֵטָה ( pəlēṭā ), “flight, escape, escape from an emergency”. The change in meaning is explained by the fact that the expression plejte makhen or plejte gejen in Yiddish did not initially designate insolvency per se , but rather the flight of a debtor who tries to evade his creditors (or guilty liability ); Also in Rotwelschen, blade meant to make (attested for the 18th century) as much as “to flee, to make the dust.” In Dutch , which also borrowed the word from Yiddish, this older meaning has been maintained; Bankrupt here mostly simply means “away, away”, especially in the expressions broke gaan and broke maken “to go away, run away, slip away”, while the literal meaning “bankrupt” is increasingly uncommon. In German, this original meaning may have been preserved in the expression “flöten geht” (“get lost, lost”), which has been attested since the 16th century and which, according to one hypothesis, is also supposed to be derived from Hebrew פְּלֵטָה.

The "bankrupt vulture" as a symbol of bankruptcy was already proverbial before 1900 and represents a corruption of the Yiddish plejte gejer , which literally simply means "bankrupt", so originally had nothing to do with vultures . The folk etymological reinterpretation is probably explained by the fact that vultures, as scavengers, have always had bad repute in popular culture and were considered dirty, but especially greedy; Even the German word "Geier" goes back to the same root word as "Greed" and "Avarice". Today, however, the bankrupt vulture is less often referred to as "bankrupt vulture", rather it says about him (or a company threatened by bankruptcy, etc.), that the "bankrupt vultures circle" above him like vultures over a dying animal. In the context of national debt , the federal eagle is often caricatured as a bankrupt vulture in Germany and Austria, and the imperial eagle is said to have been mockingly called that as early as the Third Reich. The bailiff's pledge seal, on which this emblem is emblazoned, is said to have been called the bankrupt vulture at times, but the more common for this is " cuckoo ."

In the late 20th century, the pseudo-French neologism "bankrupt" dates (based on " banker ", " reindeer ", etc.) as JOKES or malicious name of a bankrupt entrepreneur.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Bankruptcy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. bankruptcy. In: Digital dictionary of the German language .  (The etymology given there is identical to the text of the entry in Wolfgang Pfeifer : Etymological Dictionary of German. 2nd edition. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1993).
  2. Bankruptcy zijn (of gaan). In: FA Stoett: Nederlandsche spreekwoorden, spreekwijzen, uitdrukkingen en gezegden. 4th edition. WJ Thieme & Cie, Zutphen 1923-1925.
  3. broke (gone, ervandoor). In: Marlies Philippa et al .: Etymologically Woordenboek van het Nederlands. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam 2003-2009.
  4. go flute. In: Digital dictionary of the German language .  (The etymology given there is identical to the text of the entry in Wolfgang Pfeifer: Etymological Dictionary of German. 2nd edition. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1993).
  5. bankruptcy. In: Friedrich Kluge , Elmar Seebold : Etymological dictionary of the German language. 25th, updated and expanded edition. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2012.