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In German there is a nice expression "Bedenkenträgerei" which is used for what people do who rather express their worries about something being difficult, than open-mindedly contributing to finding a solution. These people try to clad themselves in seriousness, which however is based on fear and lack of imagination.

I try to find a good expression for this type of behaviour in English.

The relevant dictionaries do not help. In one dictionary I found "worrier" for "Bedenkenträger", that's for the person who acts like that. However, "Bedenkenträgerei", as a noun for this type of behaviour, has a quite more ironic or scoffing tone to it. My feeling is that "worrier" is not really scoffing.

So, what ways do you see to express something like that? May be a word, may be sentence - something that would be just spot on in English?

I thought of worriership. But does this sound well?

Here is the context: I was reading an article in The Guardian on a physical experiment with strong light being cast on water vapour to directly extract hydrogen from it. The comments area underneath was dominated by people who communicated truisms like that it is difficult to store hydrogen, and that liquid hydrogen has less energy per kilogram than, say, ordinary hydrocarbon fuel today. Bla-bla. I found this an idiotic 'Bedenkenträgerei', as, yes, these facts are well-known but are not relevant here, and I wanted to blame the contributors for... right... Bedenkenträgerei.

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    "Fussbudget" is colloquial but might apply. From M-W: "Definition of fussbudget : one who fusses or is fussy especially about trifles." MacMillan says, "someone who worries a lot about unimportant things." – Mark Hubbard Mar 23 '17 at 15:51
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    "Bedenkträgerei" is far from being commonly used, though. It seems to be a more recent trend (2010 and onward). – Polygnome Mar 23 '17 at 19:12
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    Side note: Bedenkenträgerei literally means "Concern trafficking". Love those German compound nouns! – Dancrumb Mar 23 '17 at 20:12
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    There's "Debbie Downer", but it probably only works in America. – hatchet Mar 23 '17 at 22:15
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    Phil, this forum is for discussing linguistic issues, not engineering or politics. The question was how a concept such as 'Bedenkenträgerei' could be expressed in idiomatic English, not whether or not the experiment mentioned in the article makes sense. I used it as an example for what in my opinion is 'Bedenkenträgerei'. It is clear that naysayers, sticks in the mud, worry warts, negative Nancies and party poopers would stick to their attitude. – Christian Geiselmann Mar 24 '17 at 10:44

13 Answers 13

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You could accuse those contributors of being naysayers (Merriam-Webster):

: one who denies, refuses, opposes, or is skeptical or cynical about something ▪ There are always naysayers who say it can't be done.

The part relevant to your intended use is ‘skeptical or cynical about something.’

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    Oh, yes, right, that sounds like something I was looking for. - By the way, it reminds me of the nimbies, doesn't it? A nimby: a 'not in my backyard' person, so e.g. being happy with a nuclear power plant being built, as long as it is not in his proximity... – Christian Geiselmann Mar 23 '17 at 16:02
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    @Christian, yes that could remind one of the nimbies. They're quite different species though. Nimbies are concerned with themselves; your sort of naysayer will express pessimism about anything anywhere in the world. – Jacinto Mar 23 '17 at 19:54
  • I would add that a naysayer may admit that a thing is possible to do, but they may object that it will cost too much or they may offer some other trumped-up reason why it should not be done. – David K Mar 24 '17 at 12:28
  • Handwringing maybe. – Casey Mar 24 '17 at 14:09
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    I'll add that "doomsayers" is a similar phrase, but has an added level of shrillness, since they not only dismiss ideas, but state they will lead to disaster. @Casey "Handwringing" usually implies indecision, whereas "naysayers" are quite sure that everything's a bad idea. – SeldomNeedy Mar 24 '17 at 19:31
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I've always heard worrywart used for this.

: a person who is inclined to worry unduly

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    Good one! But imagine a German trying to pronounce this. Ugh. (This was my contribution to today's worry warting.) – Christian Geiselmann Mar 23 '17 at 16:44
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    I'll note that this phrase implies a genuine fear of misfortune, and is often used endearingly to describe overprotective parents etc., just as often as it is used dismissively. If people are being negative because they wish to sound smart or simply dislike change, this phrase does not apply. – SeldomNeedy Mar 23 '17 at 20:30
  • Oh. This opens a new question: what would be a German word for worry wart, then. As for the fear of misfortune, it would simply be Pessimist, but that's not spicy enough. I was considering Angsthase but that's rather being afraid of the unknown, not of misfortune. And for overprotective parents we use Helikopter-Eltern. But worry warts... hm... – Christian Geiselmann Mar 23 '17 at 21:01
  • @ChristianGeiselmann I looked at a few definitions which seem close, differing mostly by whether the worry is directed inward or not. Grübler and Sorgenleise seemed closest (inward worry) whereas Umstandskrämer seemed closer to "fusspot" (outward worry, pickiness). – SeldomNeedy Mar 24 '17 at 8:17
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    @Davo "worrywart" is one word from the link you used. At the very least, I think it should be hyphenated, as opposed to two separate words. – NoseKnowsAll Mar 24 '17 at 17:05
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There's a boatload of ways to refer to this in a (slightly-)derisive way in English, depending on people's motivations and what aspects of a proposal are being used as reasons to dismiss the idea.

Obviously, I think, we're talking about the general concept of pessimism, and general resistance to change (which may or may not be intentional).

Words to describe people:

You might try negative Nancy, which refers to a person who almost always finds a way to be pessimistic, no matter what's happening.

A similar phrase is party-pooper, who — similarly — will always find a reason to disengage or naysay when others are having fun or otherwise getting excited about something.

If someone is generally resistant to any form of change simply because it's different from the status quo, they are a stick in the mud or (especially if they're older:) a fogey.

Words to describe tendencies:

Especially if people are (partly) motivated by a desire to appear intelligent or feel that they have some kind of intellectual high ground, you could call this pedantry (or simply tell someone they're "being pedantic"). Pedantry is the general tendency of individuals making a big deal out of small issues because some consider their own ideas/objections to be the most important and won't stop nitpicking.

Similarly, there's bikeshedding, which describes how a group of people sometimes ignores important things since it's easier to argue over small, mostly-irrelevant points than to address the entire big-picture issue. People with little domain-knowledge often fall into this because they wish to contribute feedback, but they don't have the breadth of knowledge to look at things from a high level and balance various tradeoffs. Any experts present can be derailed or drowned out due to this.

Arguments which are highly deceptive or distorting can be described as sophistry. Sohpistic arguments often focus on truisms, little technicalities, or philosophical ideas while sidestepping the main subject.

Finally, an argument that simply finds a single (usually weak) reason for/against something, then stops short of examining the full consequences of a given action or stance is called a cop-out.


Though they apply somewhat less here since the article has a scientific focus, I'll also note that there are a few more words which are used in context of institutional/social/governmental policies such as "reactionary", "ideologue", and "regressive". These are used very frequently in politics to describe people or policies which are unrealistic or 'stuck in the past.'

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    I'll note that "bikeshedding" and sometimes "pedantry" can occur even if everyone is truly interested in trying to collectively solve a problem or have a productive discussion, whereas "sohpistry" and "cop-outs" come up much more frequently when people have ulterior motives (e.g. to torpedo an idea and leave the meeting early, to feel superior to everyone else, etc.) – SeldomNeedy Mar 23 '17 at 20:41
  • Each of your examples seems to hit the nail on the head, to me. I could call those naysayers negative Nancies, party poopers, and stuck in the mud people, and accuse those worry warts of pedantry and bikeshedding. - I am considering publishing a rant like that in The Guardian's commment zone. :-) – Christian Geiselmann Mar 23 '17 at 20:49
  • @ChristianGeiselmann The plural of "stick in the mud" is "sticks in the mud" :). The context you provided in your question was very helpful. I love words that describe how people or groups tend to think or behave, like the various German phrases for certain mindsets: Schwachsinn, Wahnsinn, Blödsinn, Stumpfsinn, Unsinn etc., so I was happy to answer here. – SeldomNeedy Mar 23 '17 at 20:57
  • Oh my goodness. :-) I thought it was "someone who got stuck in the mud, so now he is sticking in the mud"; didn't suppose that he is simply a stick in the mud. - Thank for clarifying this! My mistake is built for eternity, as comments cannot be edited in hindsight... – Christian Geiselmann Mar 24 '17 at 0:57
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    "Debbie Downer" is what I hear instead of "Negative Nancy". I think it rolls off the tongue much more easily. – JimmyJames Mar 24 '17 at 18:51
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I've always tended to use 'armchair critic' or a variation of it (armchair analyst, armchair philosopher, etc...). It isn't really a literal translation of 'Bedenkenträger', but I think it conveys a very similar meaning.

Also, I've seen this used (and I personally use it) usually as a form of self-deprecation.

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The word fret (Oxford English Dictionary) covers this pretty well:

: Be constantly or visibly anxious. ‘she fretted about the cost of groceries’

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    The word is not at all unique or limited to British English, and would be well-understood by speakers of any dialect. – Cody Gray Mar 24 '17 at 15:45
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    Fret is a great choice of word. In conventional usage, it's usually got a bit of a disapproving/dismissive tone built-in. e.g. "Grandpa's fretting about earthquakes again". – Stefan Mohr Mar 24 '17 at 19:04
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In your example from the Guardian article, these commenters sound more like the compulsively overcritical rather than the worried. They habitually regurgitate the same old complaints regarding any new possible endeavor.

There's always a reason not to do it; that doesn't mean you shouldn't.

By the way, google translate suggests "remembrance bearer" from the Dutch/German Bedenkenträger, which has a whiff of Ludditism about it.

  • This reminds me of the German Rechthaberei - an urge to comment on everything, preferably with an opposing attitude. Tried to find English expressions for saying this and found bossiness, dogmatism, cantankerousness and self-opinionatedness. Are these good words? – Christian Geiselmann Mar 24 '17 at 10:59
  • Dutch here but just wanted to say: German's got the best words! Rechthaberei... I just get it's meaning right away and I'm not even German speaking. In dutch we call it a 'betweter' .. someone that always knows better. – Stijn de Witt Mar 25 '17 at 20:30
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Whiner or complainer is what I would go with here, as in people who just whine instead of doing something, or complain when everyone is facing the same problems.

Also, a "worry-wort" is appropriately condescending.

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    This might in fact be the best answer, together with fretting. I think whiner more strongly conveys that this behavior is annoying to / interfering with the people having the plans. Someone who is whining wants things to (not) change to suit them. Someone who is fretting is worried but more willing to change himself. – Stijn de Witt Mar 25 '17 at 20:34
  • @StijndeWitt Thank you, I think 'fret' is the best answer here, but there is no noun associated with it. I think a lot of answers are really reaching, but I believe the question, as it is written, is what do we call these people in common vernacular, which isn't answered in many of the questions imho. – JFA Mar 27 '17 at 16:56
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I think the noun "cynics" and the adjective "cynical" are most appropriate as these are in common usage and one meaning is "doubtful as to whether something is worthwhile".

Next you have "skeptic" and "skeptical". These imply the person has doubts, but it is a less conflicing, less combative doubt compared with cynic, which implies there is some underhand hostility.

You have the adjective "fatalism", which is belief that the worst will happen. You can call somebody a "fatalist". This means they predict disaster.

There is also "catastrophising" but both of these are quote formal. They would only be used in the company of people skilled with language, and they are more predicting disaster rather than a low level of success.

Fretting is essentially worrying and does not necessarily imply they express their worries outwardly, while catastrophising is used to describe the outward expression of disaster scenarios.

While "pessimism" is not technically the correct term, this would also be used as it means the expression of negative expectation of success.

  • If I interpret the German word correctly, I think it's closer to whiner than to cynic or skeptic. – Stijn de Witt Mar 25 '17 at 20:31
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As a forum moderator, the term we use is concern trolling. People who participate in a thread by bringing up old tired tropes, begging the discussion to be brought onto that topic instead of the topic at hand. A lot of people who participate in comment sections are actively engaging in that behaviour because moderation is so poorly supported on those platforms.

Or if you would prefer a lighter barb instead of an accusation, use the ones discussed in other answers. They are also fine.

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Fidget which means "uneasiness or restlessness as shown by nervous movements" per MW. This is a close cousin of fret mentioned in another answer. Indeed, often someone would "fidget and fret."

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A wet blanket

a person who spoils other people's fun by failing to join in with or by disapproving of their activities.

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In the context of picking on minor problems rather than bolstering the idea I would use: Nit Picker (noun) or describe the behaviour as Nit Picking as in picking over minor details rather than concentrating on the bigger picture.

For someone who is opposed for the sake of being opposed and may concentrate on minor details we would talk of someone "playing devils advocate" while someone who is opposes all change would be a Luddite.

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One idiomatic expression that you might use to describe such ineffectual worriers is to say that they are cursing the darkness. The expression alludes to a well-known proverb, "It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." Here is a discussion of that proverb in Gregory Titelman, Random House Dictionary of American Popular Proverbs and Sayings, second edition (2000):

It is better to light one (little) candle than to curse the darkness. Taking dome positive action, however small, can help to dispel one's despair at the evils and injustice of this world. The proverb is probably of Chinese origin. The Christophers, an American religious organization, use it as their motto: "Better to light one candle than curse the darkness." Also the title of a popular inspirational song. Eulogizing Eleanor Roosevelt on November 7, 1962, Adlai Stevenson said, "She would rather light candles than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world."

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