German Word of the Week: Jubelperser

On June 2, 1967, the Shah of Iran and his wife Farah paid a state visit to Berlin, West Germany. Wherever he went, there were demonstrations by Berliners against the hospitality being shown to the dashing autocrat. To shield him from these demonstrators, the Iranian regime arranged for a group of about 150 Iranians to accompany the Shah and cheer him on.

Since the people were Persian, and since they cheered and celebrated (jubeln in German) the Shah, they were called the Jubelperser (g) "Cheering-Persians". It's pronounced roughly YOU-bull-pair-zer. But these Jubelperser had a sinister side as well -- some of them were members of the SAVAK secret police.

As the protests came to a head during the Shah's visit to the Berlin opera house, the Jubelperser took a break from cheering, whipped out clubs, sticks, and batons, and began beating nearby demonstrators. German police, who despised the student demonstrators, stood by and watched without doing a thing except possibly smirking.

Later that day, when the Berlin police violently dispersed the demonstrators, policeman Karl-Heinz Kurras (g) for reasons that remain unclear to this day, pulled out his gun and shot student demonstrator Benno Ohnesorg (g) to death. Kurras was never convicted of a crime for the shooting. In 2009 it was revealed that he had been an unofficial collaborator with the Stasi. The death of Ohnesorg on June 2, 1967 greatly accelerated the radicalization of parts of the German student movement -- in fact, one terrorist group that operated during the 1970s was called the "June 2nd Movement".

Jubelperser has entered the German vocabulary to describe paid professional fans, or generally any crowd which displays unnatural or exaggerated enthusiasm. There doesn't have to be something a bit menacing about their display, but if there is, the term fits even better. Example of use in a sentence: "When a flightsuit-clad Angela Merkel ran awkwardly onstage to the sound of 'Rock You Like a Hurricane', the audience, mainly members of the Youth Wing of the Christian Democrat Party, dutifully cheered like Jubelperser."

German Word of the Week: The Trinkhalle / Büdchen Divide

Trinkhalle Färberstrasse

A few weeks ago, I rode my bike from Düsseldorf to Solingen-Ohligs, about 22 km. After a long, hot ride, I wanted a nice fresh ice-cold beer. Actually, 5.  So I asked a random passer-by where the next Trinkhalle was. Literally, 'Drink-Hall'. This is the somewhat odd word we use in Düsseldorf for a small shop where you can buy a cold, refreshing beverage. Specifically, a beer. There are rumors of people buying water or cola in Trinkhalle, but I've never seen it.

The above photos is of a Trinkhalle near where I live. It's right next to a technical training school, so of course it's been tagged. Now technically, since this is a tiny detached building, you could call this one, even in Düsseldorf, a Büdchen, a small shop. It makes a big difference whether the building is detached (which means it could be a Büdchen) or one of the shops on the street. Classically, a regular shop next to others is a real Trinkhalle. Like this one:

Tinrkhalle Behrensstrasse Exterior

So I ask a stout, tanned, sixtysomething resident of Ohligs where the next Trinkhalle is. He looks at me with a smile, saying 'Trinkhalle'? over and over. Obviously savoring the absurdity of calling a beer store a 'drink-hall'. My friend steps in and corrects me, saying: 'He wants to find a Büdchen'. Old Mr. Ohligs then pretends that he has just understood me, and tells us where to find one. 

Screw GPS. The way you know you've put in a good workout in Germany is if you reach an area where the slang is different.

German Word of the Week: Engländer

The blog pommesbuddha teaches me something I did not know:

And even our toolboxes are full of our favourite islanders: the colloquial word for an adjustable wrench in German is Engländer.

An adjustable wrench (Verstellschlüssel) is called an Englishman (or person, if you prefer). According to Wikipedia (g), this is either because the first such wrench was patented in England, or because when German workmen encountered English nuts and bolts measured in inches, the adjustable wrench was the fastest and cheapest way to handle them.

German Word of the Week: Schmähgier

I've been reading (well, listening to) Martin Gregor-Dellin's magnificent biography of Richard Wagner and came across a word which may well have been invented by Wagner himself. During his early years of pretty much unrelieved poverty, Wagner wrote feuilletons and music criticism to earn money while he desperately tried to get his early operas and overtures played. And they're still worth reading. This was before Wagner developed the pompous, semi-messianic tone that marks his later writing, including his autobiography. Gregor-Dellin cites some elegant turns of phrase to prove his point.

In 1840, Wagner met Heinrich Heine, the German poet who had been forced into Parisian exile for his political views. (Heine was Jewish, this was before Wagner's anti-Semitism became more pronounced.) Impressed by Heine's wit and strength of character, Wagner publicly defended him (g, pdf) against the withering attacks in the German press, which Wagner denounced as a product of Schmähgier.

This is brilliant German portmanteau word. Schmähen is a German verb meaning to viciously criticize or vilify. If you yell it it's a Schmähruf (vilify-call). If you criticize someone so harshly that it amounts to vilification, you may be legally liable in Germany for Schmähkritik (g).The German federal constitutional court has stated that although harsh criticism is protected by freedom of speech, criticism that is intended primarily to humiliate and insult and heap scorn on someone, without engaging in serious argumentation or debate, can be prosecuted under Germany's laws protecting personal honor. A lawyer who called his opponent (who apparently had a title of nobility) a 'chiseler' and 'Prince of Bullshit' (Flunkerfürst (g)) got dinged by a court in Hamburg for Schmähkritik.

Gier is greed or desire. Habgier is the greed to have (haben), i.e. avarice. Neugier is the greed for the new, or curiosity. You can have Gier for anything, there's even Mordgier, for those with an uncontrollable compulsion to kill. So Schmähgier is yet another short German word with tons of meaning packed in: the compulsive desire to vilify someone else.

I can't readily find this word anywhere before Wagner's use of it, so I would like to believe the master invented it himself. 

Who's Afraid of Big European Cocks? America, That's Who.


[Hans von Thann (g) ringin' the bell of the Zytgloggenturm in Bern, Switzerland, if ya know what I mean]

I don't mean to give offense, so let me be clear: the word cocks doesn't mean what you're thinking. I only meant to refer to penises. When the BBC wanted to strap big English cocks into big English codpieces on the front of actors playing 16th-century Englishmen, the pussies at American Public Broadcasting Service said: 'not in my America': 

The codpieces in the adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall are “definitely too small”, according to a Cambridge academic who has been researching the 16th-century accessory through the literature and paintings of its time.

Victoria Miller, who is due to give a paper on codpieces at a Cambridge University conference on 30 April, concurred with actor Mark Rylance, who plays Thomas Cromwell in the adaptation and who said late last year: “I think the codpieces are just too small. I think that was a directive from our American producers, PBS. They wanted smaller codpieces.”

...“They’re way too small to be accurate – they should be at least double the size. You can kind of see them there, but they aren’t really stuffed, and are easily missed – they’ve really toned them down for a mainstream audience. The codpiece was meant to draw the eye to the general region.”

[h/t JR] Said it before, say it again: national stereotypes don't materialize out of thin air. Here's a photo from the Biblical Creation Museum in Kentucky, where the biggest challenge was, as Faggoty-Ass Faggot put it, how to hide Adam's cock:


Saturday Night Live once aired a skit (can't find the video, or even an image, alas) featuring John Belushi sitting at a bar. The guy next to him goes to the bathroom and comes back out with a noticeably grosser crotch bulging from his tight late-70's jeans, and a girl immediately latches on to him. Belushi tries the same thing with a few handfuls of toilet paper, to no effect. Then Belushi returns to the bathroom and stuffs entire rolls of toilet paper down the front of his pants until there's a bulge the size of a small automobile. He then waddles gingerly back into the bar and is immediately surrounding by fawning honeys.

According to the linked piece on Hans von Thann, Swiss codpieces were usually stuffed for protection of the genitals and contained enough room to store things like coins and keys, since the pocket wasn't invented until 1754. The German Word of the Week, by the way, is the antiquated German term for codpiece, Schamkapsel, or 'shame-capsule'. This joins shamelips, shamehair, shameregion, etc.

German Word of the Week: Weichtierkundler

One of the many fascinating things about Hermann Löns, the German naturalist and folk poet (Heimatdichter) is that for a time he studied malacology, which is the study of molluscs. There's a Latinate German word for this as well (Malakologie), but screw that, the more German way of describing this line of study is Weichtierkundler. This is another example of the German animal names which the Internets have discovered: 

In this case, Weich = soft, Tier = animal, Kundler = expert (literally, 'knower'). Put them together, and you have a knower of soft animals. Appropriate, since Löns was a bit of a womanizer. Which, in German, is either Frauenheld (woman-hero) or Schürzenjäger (skirt-hunter).

German Word of the Week: Einsatzort


Being the Friend of Nature™ that I am, I'm gonna plant some bee-friendly plants on my balcony this weekend. To find out which ones to plant, I visited (bee-rescuer). One of the main pages is labeled Dein Einsatzort: Balkon! 

There are a couple of things to note here. First, the website uses the private/intimate form of address, something which is increasingly common in the German media and which often irritates extremely traditionalist Teutonophiles such as myself. Sure, bee-rescuer website, we may have some ideas in common, but that hardly gives you the right to address me informally.

Honor is saved by the use of the German word Einsatz. What is (an) Einsatz? Einsatz is a mission, a task, purposeful activity of some sort. Work. Diligent accomplishment. Soldiers go on Einsätze (missions). The sign above lets you know that this car is owned by a doctor who is currently doctoring someone up -- he is im Einsatz (literally 'in a mission'). Einsatz, being value-neutral, and also being German, has its dark side. The mobile SS death squads in the occupied East during World War II were called Einsatzgruppen, often lamely translated as 'special action groups'.

Now, many German words have other, completely unrelated meaning, so Einsatz (literally, 'in-portion' or 'in-set' or 'in-part') is also the incredibly useful, general term for something smaller that fits into something larger, as these images, found at the previous link will immediately convey to you:

Bildergebnis für mit einsatzBildergebnis für mit einsatzBildergebnis für mit einsatz

At first, the two meanings might seem unrelated, but upon further reflection, a metaphorical Einsatz refers to something someone or a group does to fulfill a larger mission.

Which brings us back to Einsatzort: Balkon! Your place of Einsatz, this website is telling you, is your balcony. By planting the right plants, you, ordinary German citizen, can help assure the survival of bees. And with that, I plan on beginning my Einsatz with a beer-fuelled visit to my local Gartencenter.

German Word of the Week: Stichwort

Stichwort -- literally, stab-word or sting-word, is common in German, but it's hard to define. Originally, it refers to the words on the top of the pages of dictionaries which show the reader about where they are in the alphabet. Now it's also used as to sum up the general theme of a conversation, as in: 'Dann haben sie haben sie eine halbe Stunde lang über die Gaza-Krise diskutiert -- Stichwort Menschenrechte' 'Then they discussed the Gaza crisis for half an hour -- the main topic being human rights.' It also is used for search term or rubric -- i.e. you might search a health website for articles related to the Stichwort asthma.

So far, so dull. But here's the sort-of-interesting part. When I was learning German, many German friends asked me what the English word for Stichwort was. They would point to the word at the top of a dictionary page and say 'That's a Stichwort. Surely there must be an English word for something that's so common.'

I had zilch. bupkis. NFC.

Before you laugh at my ignorance, do you know what the English word for a Stichwort in a dictionary is? No, you don't. It's not 'heading' or anything like that. It's a very specific word for just this concept, and I bet ya don't know it. Answer after the jump.

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German Word of the Week: Sturmholz

Uproot near S-Bahn

Pentecost (Pfingsten in German) celebrates the time when 'suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.' Appropriately, on Pentecost Monday, usually known as Whit Monday, a freak windstorm pummeled the westernmost state in Germany, Northern Rhine-Westphalia, leaving scenes of destruction like this. Six people died, traffic was disrupted for days, and something like 20,000 trees were uprooted, many others damaged. And we didn't even get a visitation by the Holy Spirit out of it.

Everywhere you go in Düsseldorf, there are still uprooted trees slowly dying, and tree branches scattered on the side of the road, where they were hastily cleared away to permit traffic to pass. And yet the city administration quickly issued a warning to all residents: the trees and branches blown over by the storm are the property of the city, and anyone appropriating them commits theft (g). This is in contrast to most of the neighboring towns, which encouraged citizens to clear away the wood.

This caused a controversy, which I plan to ignore. Instead, I want to focus on the word for the downed trees: Sturmholz. It couldn't be easier: Sturm (storm) + Holz (wood) = Stormwood. I've quizzed a few friends, and they report they'd never heard of the word before the storm, but instantly grasped what it referred to. The Lego Language provides yet another compact word for something that other, sloppier, lazier, smellier, louder, less efficient, more Southern European (g) languages would need an entire phrase to convey.


Johnny Stormwood, that is, lank-haired skateboard rebel and the embittered rival who brought down Slash Treadfree:


(From the twitter feed Unfinished Scripts)