I have just learnt a new word, from a Swabian friend. She is a liberal, in the old sense — which is to say, stable, sane, empirical, Continental. Perhaps not a genius, but very smart. Impossible to provoke (I’ve tested this). A liberal from Europe does not allow herself to be confused with a socialist, a feminist, or other insane person. Regine (let us call her) is a reader of Die Zeit, which remains at least a half-sane paper. (How I wish we had something like it in English.) As a good liberal, she tirelessly instructs me, for my own good. She suggests that I become more moderate. (I hesitate to suggest that a German should become more reactionary.)

Well, Empörungsgesellschaft may not be a new word to Germans, but it was to me. Like many of their other concepts, it cannot be translated adequately. This is especially true of their innumerable compounds. The whole is invariably greater than the parts. Empörung could be many kinds of disgust, or indignation; or resistance, or revolt. Gesellschaft could be many kinds of society, company, class. It might even suggest a form of dress. All these meanings are intended. We might wish to translate this term simply, as “outrage society,” and that would get us, superficially, near. But the pregnant ambiguities on either side of the fused appellations conduct a lot of electricity through the matrix, in the absence of a circuit-breaking hyphen.

We must thus incorporate Empörungsgesellschaft into English, whole, as we have done with Weltanschauung, Zeitgeist, Übermensch, Kulturkampf, Gemütlichkeit, Weltschmerz, Schadenfreude. To say nothing of, Vergangenheitsbewältigung.

From what I can make out, the new E-word assumes the floundering of the Fourth Estate (or “legacy” journalism) before the invasive “fifth force” of social media. Crazy bloggers, twitterers, facebooklings, and so forth, are able to impinge upon the public consciousness in new and historically unprecedented ways. “Facts” are concocted to order, and subsequent “fact-checks” are concocted, too; opponents thus label each other constantly as liars. Discussion of every topic is politicized, in the lynch-mob spirit of shrieking moral outrage. The old-fashioned newsman’s criterion of “relevance” is replaced by cross-links to imaginary events and conspiracy theories. Attention is suddenly focused on the most unlikely details. The Internet itself is configured to encourage bizarre confirmation subcultures; users can funnel a round-the-clock supply of whatever “information” might please them. This provides them with a Wundpflaster against their aching kognitive Dissonanz. All public policy must be determined not only in live time, but in the full knowledge that at any moment, anyone can become the object of a Scheiße-Sturms (“shit-storm”).

Well, there is more to it than that; I have merely picked out the bullet points. But I think those Germans are onto something.

Empörungsgesellschaft. … You read it here first.