German Word of the Week: Hä?

Ahh, German women. What can you say about them? On average, they tend to be clean, orderly, practical, tallish, amply-chested, of normal weight, with shoulder-length straight hair, and less heavily-tattooed than their sisters to the North, at least for now. They also really like to attach tiny stuffed animals to the zippers on their backpacks.

There, was that inoffensive enough? 

But enough of flimsy stereotypes and ignorant generalizations. One thing that German women, and only German women do, is say "hä?". The sound of this is about halfway between the English "heh" and "Hey!". It's an exclamation, said as a reaction to something the woman finds distasteful or implausible. It's universally accompanied by an unflattering grimace. Its meaning is basically: WTF?

But good writer not tell, he show.

So here's a hä? caught in the wild. This is 2 seconds from a recent commentary by German TV host Anja Reschke:

We'll ignore the substance, as we so often do on this blog. What's important is that Reschke has just summarized an argument she disagrees with, and inserted her very own hä? to show her disgust. Let's have a closer look at that expression:
Hae

The hä? is the German answer to American vocal fry -- a speech pattern that is almost exclusively female. I've only ever seen men do it when imitating women.

The hä? seems to be unique to Germany. In fact, it's one of the first thing people notice about German women, once they get to know them well enough to see them drop a hä? Once, at a party, I had the chance to watch a French man react to his first hä?, which was delivered with gusto by a sozzled German co-ed.

He instinctively backed up and dragged me with him, saying: "Oh my God, she's about to throw up!"


German Word and Rule of the Week: Knöllchen

A Düsseldorfer on Facebook recently found this underneath her windshield:

Knoellchen

It reads:

"You're parked illegally!

Ticket!

Joke we're just kids playing

we're sorry"

I found this pretty adorable. Almost makes me want to reproduce.

There are a few errors on the ticket, though. For one thing, there's no thorough explanation of your legal rights and the deadline for submitting an objection. For another, they describe the ticket as a 'Knolle'.

Knolle means bulge, lump, or more technically nodule. There is a slang expression for a traffic ticket here in the Rhineland, but that is Knöllchen, the diminutive form of lump. You get a 'little lump' on your windshield if you park illegally. Ain't that cool?

I'd be willing to bet the German kid who wrote this actually no-shit dreams of growing up to be a parking cop. Job security, civil servant status, reasonable hours, a tiny little bit of authority to exercise -- what's not to love?


German Word of the Week: Natursekt

Put the kiddies to bed, because this German Word of the Week gets a little blue. Or golden.

Recent events put Donald Trump's alleged partiality to a certain, er, erotic fetish in the spotlight. In English, this fetish is called "golden showers".

In German it's called Natursekt: "Nature's Champagne". Now, of course this isn't a perfect translation, since Sekt is better translated as prosecco or sparkling wine. It's the term used for any sparkling wine which doesn't come from Champagne, the French region which, of course, has a controlled legal monopoly stopping anyone from calling a sparkling wine Champagne unless it's made there by their methods.

And needless to say, Champagne isn't made from urine, unless humanity has been the victim of the greatest hoax the world has ever known (memo to self: write screenplay based on this premise).

But I still think, "Nature's Champagne" is really more true to the light-hearted perversion of the original. I anticipate millions of Germans will encounter the term Natursekt for the first time in the next few days, so keep an eye on this graph.

Of course, millions of Germans already know this term. One of the main reasons is that prostitution is legal in Germany, and working girls, and boys, openly publish their "set cards" on the Internet. Here's one (g) I found, "Carmen" from the Eroscenter Ludwigsburg, which I found completely at random from a website I have never visited before and will never visit again, presented here to you strictly in the name of Science. Carmen says that she is not willing to be the, er, recipient of Nature's Champagne, but is happy to provide that service to her guests.

And what is the proper pairing with Nature's Champagne? Why, Nature's Caviar (g), of course! No, I didn't just make that up. Those who are of a mind to consider Germans ultra-perverse will be unsurprised to learn that paraphilias having to do with human excreta are, in German, compared to mankind's most refined gastronomic delicacies.

After this post, I need a shower -- and not the golden kind (ba-da-BOOM!).


German Word of the Week: Schlammbeiser

Schlammbeisser 1

And now, to keep things classy, we move from public masturbation to feces. This is from a recent Atlas Obscura post:

Until 1913 the town Giessen, Germany had one special profession. It was the "Schlamp-Eiser," the men who walked the city and collected the feces of the citizens of town. 

Relatively early in the Middle Ages Giessen came up with a latrine innovation: They built small wooden boxes on the outside of the walls of the houses which included a pit latrine connected to a wooden pipe, which led feces down into a wooden bucket placed in the small spaces between the houses.

When the buckets were full, the feces had to be brought somewhere, but the spaces in between the houses were extremely narrow and it was hard to reach the buckets. Hence the Schlamp-Eiser was born. Using a long bent iron bar, men pulled out the filled buckets, collected the feces in a large cart, and transported the waste to the Rodtberg outside the town.

Word of the strange innovative waste system spread fast and spiteful onlookers started calling the citizens of Giessen "Schlammbeiser," which roughly translates to shit-eater.

...Normally the old-fashioned profession would be forgotten by now, if it wasn't for the obnoxious nickname the profession brought to the citizens of Giessen, which stuck up until today. For decades people were unhappy with the insulting term, but over more recent years citizens came to embrace the nickname, and today the Schlammbeiser name is used in cultural facilities, clubs and other places around the town. There is even a statue dedicated to the old Schlamp-Eiser. The bronze statue, built in 2005, is located right in the city center in front of the house where the last Schlamp-Eiser lived. 

This seems a bit odd to me: Schlammbeiser isn't any sort of German word. Schlamm is, but -beiser is not. Schlammbeißer would be approximately "mud (or sewage) biter".

Is this just a matter of some regional dialect, or is there another reason for the odd spelling of Schlammbeiser? Perhaps just a elision of Schlamp-Eiser? But then again, Schlamp isn't a word in modern German either, as far as I know. Schlampe is, but not Schlamp.

Any theories?


German Word of the Week: Glück im Unglück

Glück is like Geist -- a German word so context-dependent, it has perhaps 5 or 6 different meanings. The two main meanings of Glück are happiness and good luck. You can look happy (glücklich) because you just found a shirt at a flea market that fits you perfectly -- a lucky (glücklich) coincidence.

Which brings us to the German phrase Glück im Unglück. Unglück is basically the opposite of Glück. So Glück im Unglück is happiness in unhappiness, or good fortune in misfortune. This phrase is apparently based on the German translation (g) of the title of a Taoist parable. One online dictionary translates GiG as "blessing in disguise", but I'm not sure that really captures it. That suggests an experience that, overall, had a positive outcome. Say you're diagnosed with cancer, but your make a full recovery and your life is more meaningful because you now realize Every Day is Precious™.

Glück im Unglück, in my view, points to a situation in which the overall balance at the end of the day is still bad, but not quite as bad as it could have been. Something intervened to ameliorate what seemed like a hopeless situation, or to show an unexpected positive side. But when all is said and done, you still wish the whole thing hadn't happened.

This GIF captures it perfectly (especially since Unglück also means accident in German): 

Guck im ungluck

 


German Word of the Week: Schleimbeutel

German words for parts of the body are much more colorful and descriptive than their prettified Latin counterparts in English. Fuck nostril, German gives you 'nose-hole' (Nasenloch). Suck it, placenta, in German you're 'mother-cake' (Mutterkuchen). Don't think about that last one too long.

And now for the synovial bursa. WTF is the synovial bursa? This:

A bursa (plural bursae or bursas) is a small fluid-filled sac lined by synovial membrane with an inner capillary layer of viscous fluid (similar in consistency to that of a raw egg white). It provides a cushion between bones and tendons and/or muscles around a joint.

It comes from the Latin bursa, or purse. This is why people in English get bursitis.

Ooh la-de-da, bur-si-tis! 

German, the Moe Szyslak of languages, doesn't bully its speakers with this hifalutin' Latinizing.

What is the 'synovial bursa'? It's a bag.

What's it filled with? Slime.

So the German word is Schleimbeutel -- literally, 'slime-bag'. Now, you could also perhaps call it 'mucus-bag', since the German word for mucus is also 'slime'. (Hence the German word for the unpronounceable train-wreck of Latinate fuckwittery we English-speakers have to call mucous membrane is Schleimhaut -- 'slime-skin').

But the synovial bursa isn't filled with mucus, is it now? No, it's filled with a 'lawyer of viscous fluid' -- er, layer of viscous fluid -- similar to an egg white.

In other words, slime. And if your slime-bag gets infected, you have a Schleimbeutelentzündung -- slime-bag inflammation.

Now you know that in Germany, there are dozens of slimebags inside your body. In addition to the ones in high office (ba-da-BOOM!)


German Word of the Week: Jubelperser

Img
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.