Storm over stress

I meant to include this bit in my last post but forgot. Since I don’t run ads here, you know I’m not trolling for page views.

During my interview on Mac Power Users, I mentioned that my nom de net came from the German word for stress. Since then, a few actual German speakers (which I am not) have alerted me on Twitter that I’m full of it. They’ve been very nice about it, but insistent. “Urge” seems to be the favored translation of “Drang.”

Such is my arrogance, though, that I refused to concede the point fully. There has to be a (possibly old-fashioned) technical meaning that’s close to stress, I claimed—perhaps “force” or “pressure.” My basis for making this argument is the title of a well-known early 20th century German text on stress analysis, Drang und Zwang.1

Drang und Zwang

Drang und Zwang was written by the father/son team of August and Ludwig Föppl. August was an eminent professor of mechanics at the University of Technology, Munich, a post he’d taken over from Johann Bauschinger (of the Bauschinger effect). He’d been a student of Otto Mohr’s (of Mohr’s circle) and was the thesis advisor of Ludwig Prandtl (who was the first to describe boundary layers and was, in turn, the thesis advisor of Theodore von Kármán). What I’m getting at here is that August Föppl was a pretty big deal in engineering mechanics, and he certainly didn’t write a book about urges.

The most authoritative translation of “Drang und Zwang” I’ve been able to find is from Karl-Eugen Kurrer’s The History of the Theory of Structures. He translates it as “Pressure and Restraint.” So instead of Dr. Stress, I’m Dr. Pressure. I can live with that. At least the units are the same.

One of my Twitter correspondents told me of a current, non-engineering use of Drang that absolutely delighted me:

@drdrang @evanbrewer Dunno. Everyday meaning really is ‘urge’, ‘push towards’, there’s even a medical term for the urge to p.. with Drang:-)
  — M__lt (@m__lt) Mon Jul 23 2012 2:11 PM CDT

That my chosen pseudonym is part of a medical term describing the urge to shit may be the best thing I’ve ever learned. Here’s the full phrase:

@drdrang @m__lt Urge to shit = der Drang zu scheißen, just in case you need to work that in somewhere.
  — evanbrewer (@evanbrewer) Mon Jul 23 2012 2:25 PM CDT

Who says the internet is a waste of time?


  1. There’s also Sturm und Drang, which I’ve always seen translated as storm and stress. 


7 Responses to “Storm over stress”

  1. Joshua says:

    There’s also an Urban Dictionary entry.

  2. Dorit says:

    Language and science / engineering - two worlds …

    Definitely Drang is rather old fashioned nowadays, but I think the title of the publication makes use of another connotation of Drang: at least I associate something “from the inside to the outside” with Drang, where Zwang is “from the outside” (onto something) - the opposite direction.

    E. g. Zwang is used if you force a person to do something, to stay in a place etc. and Drang is used if you feel the urge (there it is again …) to say something, to go or rush forward (which is it’s meaning in Sturm und Drang) etc.

  3. Claude says:

    Hello. Drang in German means pressure (engineering), but also stress, impulsion, or impulse. My dad was german… There are also many way to speak German and it can be confused.

  4. Jim Munro says:

    Did the complaints each start with “So… Urm…”?

  5. Thomas says:

    Well, one factor should be alternatives such as Druck, drücken ‘pressure, press’ and Spannung ‘strain, stress etc.’

    If you want to get knee-deep into (traditional) German or want to get some fancy motto, the Grimms’ Deutsches Wörterbuch is still the standard. As usual, there are quite some meanings no longer in active duty :) http://woerterbuchnetz.de/DWB/?sigle=DWB&mode=Vernetzung&lemid=GD04150 They mention English throng btw. Never heard that word.

    As usual, prefixes and particles change a lot (and there’s umlaut and ablaut around). Andrang, bedrängen_ (~ rush) etc. are clearly external, _eindringen is roughly to penetrate (in various senses), verdrängen is pushing sth. outside, displacing (of competitors, as well as by floating ships)

    Anyway, it could be viel viel schlimmer – hard to ignore the miraculous „Kung Fu Flu“!

  6. Arthur says:

    As you probably know, Germans like to be correct. That’s why I’d like to add my two cents:

    Never in my entire life have I heard a person talking about an “urge to shit” using the word “Drang”. In fact, googling for “Drang zu scheißen” leads to less than 200 results the first of which is this (non-German) page.

    The first tweet is correct, though. “Harndrang” is a medical term for the urge to pee (comparison: 600,000 google results).

  7. Dr. Drang says:

    Well, Arthur, you’ve ruined my day. “Urge to piss” isn’t nearly as cool as “urge to shit.” Damn you and your Teutonic precision!