Wort halten – keeping your word – is understood literally by the Germans. It means holding firmly to an agreement, whether verbal or written. Commitments made out of kindness are considered empty and are unsettling for Germans – they promise what might not be delivered.
Words are so concrete for Germans that they can be broken – to break your word. Those who do not keep their word commit Wortbruch – literally word break. Agreements in the German context are like stairs. Keeping your word allows you to move up quickly and securely. Weddings are often referred to as giving each other the Jawort, literally the yes-word.
Wortbruch – no laughing matter. In December 2012 the German archeologist Hermann Parzinger accused the Turkish government of breaking their word for not adhering to an agreement made in the 1800s. For Germans, agreements don’t lose their validity over time.
The German Federation of Trade Unions accuses German companies time and again of breaking their word by not creating the amount of apprenticeships they promised. Wortbruch is the accusation. “Those who don’t keep their word, have lost our trust and support.”
Every political party in Germany, large and small, claims in their campaigns Wort gehalten, word kept. Germany’s largest companies are proud to keep their word without even haven given it. German products are known for their quality, for delivering what they promise.
Verlass or Verlässlichkeit – two other terms for keeping your word – mean dependability, reliability. Verlässlichkeit is the foundation for any business relationship. In Friedrich Schiller‘s work Die Bürgschaft (The Bond or The Pledge) Damian keeps his word by returning to the tyrant in order to give his life by hanging for his friend.