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.

Topelement

[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:

Creation-006-small-thumb

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

Images

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 bienenretter.de (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.

Stormwood!

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

Bm-JdN_IIAAquFd

(From the twitter feed Unfinished Scripts)


German Word of the Week: Backpfeifengesicht

Over at a website called Chateau Heartiste*, the anonymous author has this to say about the above picture: 

The Germans have a word (the Germans always have a word) for “a punchable face”: Backpfeifengesicht.

That's rather hard cheese on feminism-boy, but we'll leave that aside for a moment. I found to my surprise that Backpfeifengesicht has an active double-life in English, with an eager crowd of Teutonophiles spearheading a movement to bring it into English to join Earworm, Weltschmerz, Fahrvergnügen, and other recent imports. Problem is, though, that nobody has any idea how to pronounce Backpfeifengesicht. The consonant-block 'ckpf' is, safe to say, not one many English-speakers have encountered, although it's far from the gnarliest that German has to offer.

My advice is simple: as with all German words, it's pronounced exactly as it's spelled, no matter how impossible that may seem at first.

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German Word of the Week: Lebenswallen

Reading Hans Joachim Moser's 1958 book Musikgeschichte in 100 Lebensbildern (Music history in 100 Biographical Sketches). Moser (g) was a famous German musicologist and prolific author of books about Western music for a high-middlebrow audience. Moser's biographical sketches are lively, readable, but also sophisticated -- he gently dismantles myths such as Palestrina 'saving' Catholic religious music, and isn't afraid to point out works and composers he thinks are under- or over-rated. Moser was also a Nazi, joining the party in 1936 and becoming a senior musical functionary. Among other dubious deeds, he oversaw the 'Aryanization' of Händel's oratorios in the early 1940s.

The book isn't ideologically inflected, though. Granted, lesser-known German composers (Schein, Schütz, Scheidt, Biber even Oswald von Wolkenstein) get more attention than they might in a book by a Frenchman, but this is to be expected. Moser is by no means parochial, and if you ask me, many of these German masters are a bit underappreciated outside of Germany.

At once point, Moser refers to the Lebenswallen of the well-traveled Orlandus de Lassus, which caused me to sit up and say: 'What the fuck ist ein Lebenswallen'? Leben is life, and forms the root of many German compounds: Lebenslust, Lebensauffassung (idea of what life is for), lebenslang (lifelong), even the useful Lebensmüde (tired of life, used of someone who's either suicidal or about to do something extremely stupid and dangerous, as in 'You're really going to drink that piss-colored Sochi tapwater? What are you, Lebensmüde?).

Wallen is a verb meaning, variously, to seethe, bubble or flow. So apparently a Lebenswallen is a seething, bubbling, foaming flow of life. I could find only very few uses of the word in German. One of these is typical, from an 1821 book entitled 'Investigation of Life-Magnetism (Lebensmagnetismus) and Clairvoyancy' by one Johann Karl Passavant:

Screenshot 2014-02-07 14.04.28

The middle paragraph reads: 'From the unsearchable depths of Being, universal Father of things, emerges the God-revealing life-source of all existence, the eternal word of creation (the Logos), and the worlds are created and disappear through the flow of life (Lebenswallen), the breath (spirit) of God, who, all-inspiring, fills the universe.'

Lebenswallen, like Afterkind seems to have fallen into disuse. Together, we can and will usher this fine word back into everyday use.