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Why do you say “to step down” (as in resign) in Englisch but in German you “zurücktreten” (i.e. “to step back”)?

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    Who can say why? But good to know. – Xanne May 6 at 9:21
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    In my experience people only "step down" from positions of power, that is, from jobs that place them above other people. I don't think the term is applicable to all resignations. – nnnnnn May 6 at 9:22
  • The 'high = prestigious/powerful/successful' metaphor as opposed to the 'in the lead = prestigious/powerful/successful' metaphor. But why Anglophones pick the first is a very complex study, and why German speakers pick the second is off-topic here. – Edwin Ashworth May 6 at 11:05
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    But very complex studies are on topic. – Conrado May 6 at 13:30
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    @Conrado I'm anticipating repeats of my giving the two metaphors involved, and answers to the question (which asks 'Why?') to be something along the usual lines of 'prepositions / particles deriving from them are highly polysemous'. Essentially, 'That's English.' – Edwin Ashworth May 6 at 13:59
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  • 'Why' questions seem to come with the presupposition that some authority designed the language in all its details like an engineer, attempting to keep consistent both with itself and against all other varieties. By looking at numerous languages it is easy to see that that is not always the case. Many times there are options and the options are chosen in free variation.
  • Prepositions are pretty slippery. They purport to have literal real world direction in mind but the metaphors can easily change from one to the other.
  • The Germanic 'phrasal verbs' (trennbare oder untrennbare), verbs with prepositions that are not the head of a prepositional phrase, are all over the place. In English 'get on', German 'steig auf', EN 'call off' GE 'sag ab', EN 'watch out' GE 'pass auf'. Lots of variation.
  • 'stepping down' evokes the idea of resigning from a position that is higher than the rest and resigning moves one back to a lower position. 'zurucktreten' evokes the idea of that position being in front of everyone else and resigning moves one back to being with the rest. Both metaphors work perfectly well.
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    Yes. And if you look at synonyms for "step down"/"retire" it's equally confusing: "resign" and "retire" both use prefix re in the sense "back". Other synonyms use down as mentioned; out: "bow out", "bail out", "get out"; de =off, from: "demit"; off: "sign off"; even up: "give up", "hang up" (as in robes or phone handset). thesaurus.com/browse/resign – Stuart F May 6 at 14:18
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    Démissioner is common in French. It’s not common in English, although I did see it once in John Updike’s novel, In the Beauty of the Lilies. – Global Charm May 8 at 21:05

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