German Word of the Week: Fremdaussprechen

Behold the German (or "German") menu for McDonald's:

170309_McMenue_Landingpage_Teaser_948 (1)

Holy superfluous nipple, you might be thinking: it's almost all in English! This must make ordering a breeze even if you don't know German.

Not so fast. If you just waltz up to the counter and announce you want a "McWrap Chicken Caesar" the way you'd ordinarily pronounce it in English, there's about a 50/50 chance the clerk will look at you with befuddlement. And nobody likes to be befuddled. Or just plain fuddled, for that matter. Wait, where the hell did that word come from?

Where was I? Oh, right. If you want to be understood the first time, you're well-advised to butcher the pronunciation of "McWrap Chicken Caesar" so it sounds the way Germans would pronounce it. Germans consider it hip as hell to read English and write English, but not many can actually pronounce it.

Take the Big Mac. The "a" sound in Mac does not exist in German. German vowels tend sound more pinched and nasal and front-of-mouth than English vowels. Also, the standalone letter "c" is rarely used in modern German, having been replaced with the much more straightforward "k". The word for Caesar in German is Kaiser. Explains a lot, doesn't it?

So a German would pronounced Mac much more like "meck" (which a German, in turn, would spell Mäc). And a hapless Teuton with a high-school education would look at the meaningless letter-salad "Caesar", which breaks about 8 rules of German orthography, and pronounce it "TSAY-zarr"). "Big Tasty Bacon" becomes "Beg Testy Beckon".

Germans are aware of how ridiculous it is to use English words you can't pronounce. There's even a series of books (g) mocking the Deutsche Bahn (a favorite German pastime) based on the English phrase German train conductors always say at the end of announcements: "Thank you for traveling with Deutsche Bahn". The books are called "Senk ju vor träwelling", which mangles German spelling to re-create, for Germans, the butchery of words in English. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

So whenever I go to a store or a fast food place or cafe here in Germany and encounter English words, I gotta say 'em all wrong. Of course I could insist on the proper English pronunciation, and attach a short homily on how you shouldn't butcher words in languages you don't understand, but I prefer to be served spitless beer and dine unslapped.

I do as the Romans do, and pronounce my own beloved mother tongue as if my mouth were full or marbles. It always leaves me feeling soiled, as if I were begging for change in a red-light district by by reciting the Second Inaugural Address while wearing a crotchless Abe Lincoln costume.

Oddly enough, German doesn't actually seem to have a word for the phenomenon of having to pronounce your own language incorrectly to be understood in a foreign country. So I'm going to make one: Fremdaussprechen. Fremd for foreign or alien, and aussprechen for pronounce.

The Minnesota Umlaut Wär

In which soulless bureaucrats try to strip 'Little Sweden' of its proud Nordic heritage:

[T]here is a city in Minnesota that had been known as Lindström — or, if you saw the signs greeting you on the way in or out of town in recent years, Lindstrom.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation replaced the signs welcoming people a few years back. These signs are generally replaced every decade or so after the U.S. Census takes place, and after the last such survey, new signs were brought to Lindström.

The state transportation authority relies on federal guidelines that outline what it can put on signs, and these rules say signs must use only “standard English characters,” said Kevin Gutknecht, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

“So when we replaced the sign, we didn’t put the umlaut in,” Gutknecht said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

And that was that for a few years, with little notice since the signs were first put into place in 2012, he says. However, a few days ago, the Star Tribune noted that some people in Lindström were — politely — wondering where the umlauts went.

“It’s a big deal to us,” John Olinger, the city administrator, told the newspaper. (Olinger did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.)

On Wednesday, the state’s governor put his foot down: The dots were coming back.

Gov. Mark Dayton (D) announced that he would be signing an executive order demanding that state transportation officials put the umlauts back on the roadway signs.

“Nonsensical rules like this are exactly why people get frustrated with government,” Dayton, who grew up in Long Lake, about an hour southwest of Lindström, said in a statement. “Even if I have to drive to Lindström, and paint the umlauts on the city limit signs myself, I’ll do it.

That probably won’t be necessary, according to the Department of Transportation.

“We will certainly add umlauts to the signs in Lindström,” Gutknecht said Wednesday. “We’ll probably get that done within the next few days. It’ll be a fairly simple process.”

Lindström calls itself “America’s Little Sweden” on the city’s official site and states that the city was founded in the mid-19th century by a Swedish immigrant. Its sister city is Tingsryd, an area in southern Sweden.

...“The Swedish heritage in the Lindström area and the rest of our state should be celebrated,” state Rep. Laurie Halverson, who grew up in the city, said in a statement. She added that Lindström is a tourist hub for international visitors.

I confess to tearing up just a little but when I read what Governor Dayton's promise.


Fünke: He Wears the Umlaut with Pride

People had been intermittently advising me to watch the American sitcom Arrested Development over the past few years, but I somehow never found the time. Until, that is, I found out that the show feature a character with an umlaut in his name, namely: Dr. Tobias Fünke.

Why was this not brought to my attention earlier?

Fünke, it turns out, is one of the greatest American comedic creations since Ignatius Reilly. Trained both as an analyst and therapist (Business card: "Analrapist"), Fünke has ditched psychotherapy and is trying break into the acting business.

His attempts to do so are hampered by many horrible problems. First, his last name, which, as he constantly has to remind people who call him "funky", is pronounced FYOON-kay. Second, his utter lack of charisma and hair. And finally, his complex, multi-faceted, poorly repressed LGBTsexuality, which drives him to generate endless streams of unintentional homosexualistical doubles-entendres (see above). It has also put a strain on his relationship with his wife, Lindsey, in whom he shows no erotic interest behind the scenes, despite bragging in public about how, while he's making "sweet love on her", the "clatter of her breasts" is positively deafening.

Fünke is also proud of his German heritage. We see this, first and foremost, in his near-constant wearing of socks-and-sandals combos, often sogar with white socks. He also proudly claims to share a psychological disorder with two members of the German Parliament. Finally, he repeatedly utters the German word for "shower gel," Duschgel, at various moments during the show:

Or is it douche chill?

Strictly for Non-Swabians

Over the weekend, I visited the magical kingdom of Swabia. Its ancient tongue is an unmistakable sing-songy drawl, and its inhabitants are the Germans' Germans, in the sense that some writers are 'writers' writers.' The Swabians are Germans' Germans for two reasons. First, they embody (many aspects of) Deutschtum at its purest and pristinest. Second, like novels written by 'writer's writers,' Swabians are, shall we say, a niche product. Other Germans complain loudly about the Swabians' obsession with order, as exemplified by officious neighbors who crawl inside of garbage cans. Why do they do this? To make sure that whichever tenant was last obliged to clean them during the Kehrwoche (weekly rotating cleaning duties) had done a proper job.

But let's put that to one side for a moment -- especially since I have a looming deadline. For now, you'll just have to content yourself with some pictures of things I found amusing. Translations, if needed, provided in the hover text.

Beware of dog sign, with numbers of 'postmen, auto tires, burglars, and cats' the doggie has claimed. Har Har Har!

'No brat with some stupid name on board'. Extra points for being (apparently) handmade!

Unterriexingen UnterROCKSingen! Note to d'Frishinators -- band name rethink session overdue (feminine hygiene product? toilet bowl cleanser?) 

Deutschlands Patheticste Poster

 'Stop it!' you're screaming. 'I can't take it anymore! Wasn't there anything -- anything -- redeeming about Swabia?'

Why yes, this bird, resting on the letters of a beer advertisement in a passage under the Stuttgart central station:

The 'a' would be more comfortable, if it weren't for the bloody umlauts

Brüno Set to Shatter Taste Barrier

According to Indiewire, Dieter's successor will be called Brüno [h/t JR]:

With just two days to go until the 2009 SXSW Film Festival, a special event has been added that’s sure to be the talk of the fest. “Brüno,” or as its rumored to have been titled, “Brüno: Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Males Visibly Uncomfortable in the Presence of a Gay Foreigner in a Mesh T-Shirt,” will be previewed as part of new section Fantastic Fest at Midnight.

The film, which is Sacha Baron Cohen’s follow up to “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” centers on one of the three characters Cohen created for his HBO series “The Ali G Show” (the others being Borat and Ali G). Bruno, a flamboyant Austrian fashionista, comes to America in the film to, as its alleged title suggests, for the purpose of making heterosexual males visibly uncomfortable in the presence of a gay foreigner in a mesh t-shirt.

[emphasis added]. As Germans often say when reminded of certain other Austrians, don't forget he's Austrian.