Thank you, whoever requested this word, because I learned a new term because of you! A gretchenfrage is a blunt, direct question that cuts to the point, often in a theological sense. And its etymology is fascinating! It goes back to Goethe's quintessential play, Faust, where the eponymous antihero is asked by his lover, "what is your take on religion?". This was a relevant question for many reasons. First, as several know already, Faust had a bargain with the devil. Second, the lover's name was Gretchen, and the word for "question" in German is frage. So this tough, often religious question of gretchenfrage really means "Gretchen's question". Gretchen is a nickname for Margaret, which, through Latin and French, eventually traces to a Greek word meaning "pearl" (from Iranian). Frage is from Middle High German vragen, from Old High German frahen. This is from Proto-Germanic fregnana, and the definition finally changes as we go further back to Proto-Indo-European prek, which carried a double meaning of "to woo". So, in response to the gretchenfrage on gretchenfrage, it means "wooing pearls".
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.