3 hours ago
Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".
This is a post I should have written in March 2014 to mark the 100th anniversary of Christian Morgenstern's death. But I missed the opportunity and must be content with this belated homage.
Morgenstern (1871-1914) was a German humorist (yes, such creatures exist!) attuned to the oddities of life. Especially the idiosyncrasies of German and its use inspired many of his poems: For example, he deliberately used bad rhymes for comic effect or to gently mock the rhyming conventions of poetry1; he spun funny stories from figures of speech taken literally; he described invented creatures with names he got by fooling around with the names of existing ones; and in the introduction to a collection of his poems, he skewered the impenetrability of German academic prose. Since all of this is so tightly bound to a particular language, it's basically untranslatable.
One may have better luck with poems that simply tell a story without linguistic tricks, and that's what I tried with my translation of Morgenstern's poem Der Hecht (The Pike), which can be read as poking fun at vegetarians, or religious orthodoxy, or both (see illustration on the right). The link below will lead you to the German original together with a literal translation and a rhyming Nachdichtung.
Der Hecht: Original and Translations
1He shares this predilection with Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908), another master of German comic verse.
St. Anthony preaching to the pike family
Addendum (one day later): Since I posted this, I discovered a poem that
(a) illustrates Morgenstern's penchant for taking figures of speech literally; and
(b) uses a phrase that has an almost exact equivalent in English, a happy coincidence that motivated me to attempt a translation.
And so I added Die beiden Esel to the first poem:
Die beiden Esel (The Two Asses): Original and Translations
Addendum 2 (Nov. 25, 2015): I tried my hand at a third poem, Der Lattenzaun, dear to me because an architect plays a leading role:
Der Lattenzaun (The Picket Fence): Original and Translations
Addendum 3 (Dec. 3, 2015): It seems I'm on a roll:
Das aesthetische Wiesel (The Aesthetic Weasel): Original and Translations
The moon calf talking to Morgenstern about the aesthetic weasel
Word of the Month: Index
||If you are married and your spouse has a sister, it's your sister-in-law; if it's a brother, it's your brother-in-law. The Germans have single words for these relations, Schwägerin and Schwager, respectively (I won't go into the etymology). So far, so good. But what about the relationship your marriage establishes between your brothers or sisters and your brothers- or sisters-in-law, i.e. between your siblings and your spouse's siblings? I'm not aware of an English term expressing that relationship—well, the Wiktionary has "co-sister-" or "co-brother-in-law", but I swear, I have never heard these terms used in common speech, or seen them used in literature, for that matter.
The Germans, of course, have terms for these relationships: Schwippschwägerin and Schwippschwager: They simply prefix Schwägerin or Schwager with Schwippe (the flexible end of a whip or fishing rod), shorn of its final e (to ease pronunciation), and bingo! you have the relationship expressed in a compound noun (see the top diagram on the left). Note that the terms can also be used to express the relationships between the spouses of siblings (second diagram on the left). In my family, though, we drop the Schwipp in these cases: My brothers' wives call my wife simply Schwägerin and vice-versa.
Why use Schwipp(e) to coin the term anyway? One source suggests it's because the relationship can be flipped; i.e. it works in both directions, from the wife's siblings to those of her husband and vice versa [Bastian Sick, Oct 23, 2015]. A cynic may suggest, in contrast, that it's because a Schwippschwägerin and a Schwippschwager find themselves caught in new relationships without having given their consent (just kidding!).