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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Words of the month: Bücherwurm, Leseratte

Bücher is the plural of Buch (book), and a Bücherwurm is the German equivalent of the English "bookworm"—a person who has no life outside of books. Since the German and English terms are so close both linguistically and semantically, there would be no reason to make Bücherwurm a word of the month.

However, there is also the Leseratte. In German, you can attach certain words to Ratte ("rat") to coin a term for someone who likes something: A Wasserratte (Wasser means "water") is a person who loves to be in the water, while a Landratte is a person who doesn't, or at least doesn't like to set foot on a ship. Lesen means "to read", and a Leseratte is a person who loves to read. In distinction to a Bücherwurm, though, there is no implication that this person has no life outside of books—an "avid reader" comes close in English, but doesn't conjure up the image of a voraciously reading rat, which I find very appealing (and I'm a person who suffers from muriphobia!). Anyway, I think a Leseratte and a Bücherwurm make a nicely contrasting pair.

[Source: Wild Things in the German Language: Kindle version | iBook version]

19 comments:

Laraine Flemming said...

I usually just read your blog and don't comment but I had to comment on this sweet pair. I don't know how you get these little creatures you draw to have so much expression. The rat looks so kind-hearted and helpful, and the poor worm looks so concentrated and obtuse, it's amazing. I am not objective perhaps, but you seem to me to be an extremely talented person. Deine Frau

Marlene said...

Well, first off, I love the Leseratte and the Bucherwurm. They are just darling, but I'm also fascinated by the fact that rat in German could be used in such a non-negative way. In English, the word seems to always have negative associations as in "ratting" on someone or being a "rat."

Your wife is correct. Your ability to work expressions into your little creatures is astonishing. And the worm really does look kind of slow-witted but attentive.

Ulrich said...

Ladies: Thanks for the kind words!

When I do these drawings, the main challenge and, if I succeed, the greatest fun is finding a way to give animals human-like expressions w/o distorting the features that make them recognizable as the animals they are meant to depict in the first place.

Laraine deserves much credit for being an honest, and therefore invaluable, critic along the way: No drawing appears on the blog w/o her imprimatur!

Ulrich said...

@Marlene: I did find a German source on the Web that claims Leseratte has a slightly negative connotation, one that implies a lack of discrimination in the choice of books--a Leseratte reads anything it comes across.

However, that is not how the term was used in my family. At least it's not what I perceived when I was called a Leseratte as a kid!

Esther said...

I felt an immediate rapport with the rat, who looks interested and kindly. I don't mean to shortchange the Bücherwurm; it's just that the Leseratte is not only a great reader, but obviously a good soul as well.

Esther said...

Ulrich, re your talent for endowing your animals with human expressions, it occurred to me that the kindliness that both Laraine and I saw in the rat was achieved at least as much by the position of her head as by the expression on her face. (Maybe that comes from your architectural background. )

Ulrich said...

@Esther: You are exactly right. I did this consciously b/c by itself, a rat's face, if I do not want to anthromorphize it beyond recognition, doesn't give me much to work with. Then, as I was drawing (in pencil), I pulled its tiny feet more and more in the opposite direction in order to further emphasize the turning of the head and to make it appear as if the rat was leaning toward the bookworm.

Marlene said...

Actually, I thought of an expression in English where rat is kind of positive, a gym rat is someone who works out a lot.

Laraine Flemming said...

Esther, I just looked at our dear rat again, and I think you are right, it does seem to be a she. Now the question is, Ulrich, why does she look like a girl, excuse me, woman? The worm is definitely a guy. Is it her "tiny feet?"

All of the drawings have my highest seal of approval, but I am particularly fond of Leseratte. She is obviously learned without being a pompous pedant,( which would, in any case, be lost on Bucherwurm. ) I like that about her.

Ulrich said...

@Marlene: That's exactly the sense conveyed by the German examples I used!

Is there a "mall rat"? And if so, would it have, if not positive, at least non-negative connotations? I sense it could mean not just someone who hangs out in malls a lot, but someone belonging to a group that may hit malls like the plague.

Marlene said...

You are absolutely correct, Ulrich, there is such a thing as a "mall rat," and while I think the suggestion is the person has no life except for malls, it also definitely suggests that the person loves going to the mall. I wonder if there are more but I just can't think of them. I'm going to google expressions with rat in them.

mac said...

Again, Ulrich, you did a wonderful job with the illustration. And again, boekenwurm means exactly the same in Dutch. I can't think of any expression with "rat" but I will ask around.

ArtLvr said...

Hi alll -- I think out Packrat might be seen as a non-perjorative, as opposed to a pathological hoarder. It's a bit endearing. However, that's not to say that a Packrat might not slip over the edge to the point where there is risk to life and limb in entering his abode!
___

I'm interested in a new discussion on the major uprisings in the Mideast... My point of departure is the history of thirty years ago, when the fragile democracies in Lebanon and Egypt were taken over by ultra-conservative Arabs...

A friend here in the US pointed out that out of the myriad of hyphenated Americans, I'd probably never met an Egyptian-Amercan! It was true. She explained that, as in Lebanon, Egypt had had a very tolerant society. Her traditional niche of Coptic Christians had held honored positions as judges, doctors, professors, and valued education highly -- similar to the Jews' role before Hitler took Germany down the path of the Aryan myth.

Then Egyptian law became only rigid Islamic law, in which the word of any Arab was held true in all courts against the word of any non-Arab ciitizen. Suddenly Copts were social outcasts: demoted, demonized, dispossessed and worse. Those who could emigrate did so as quickly as possible.

Now the Egyptian people want a regime change, mainly because of inflation and unemployment, we are told. Does anyone see hope of a more lasting return to real democracy -- or are the right-wing fanatics going to emerge stronger than ever? If we look at the prevailing US temper today, the bleak outlook here is just as discouraging!!!

∑;(

Ulrich said...

@Artlvr: I'm in no position to comment on the politics of Egypt. I do have a friend, a former PhD student in our program, who is almost an Egyptian-American--almost b/c he has "only" a green card. He is passionately following what's going on In Egypt as I can see from his facebook posts. I will pose your question to him once things have settled down a bit.

To reestablish a connection to this thread: I know you as a Leseratte!

Tita said...

Grüße!
I like that the book has little detail – you have beautifully rendered the two sentient beings – they are the focus, and their particular expressions are perfect!
By the way – the Bücherwurm is definitely at an advantage – he can turn the pages more easily!

It’s also interesting from a linguistic perspective that as others have said, “rat” in English is almost always pejorative.
And thanks to you and your readers for reminding me that English too strings words together, though certainly not with such abandon as German!!
Packrat, bookworm, campfire, houseboat… though we seem to have lost steam at just 2-word combos...
Does anyone know of common multiple combo words in English?

What happens if you add the diminutive – does Leserätchen mean something other than a child who loves to read?

Tita said...

Oops!! I mean the Leseratte has the advantage... ;)

loren muse smith said...

Ulrich - I LOVE the picture! Quite a talent! Mall rat, gym rat, pool rat - they hold no really bad connotation for me. Bookworm, fine. Tapeworm and pinworm, not so fine. I don't know why this discussion brings to mind such greats as love muffin and stud muffin. And liebsdirndl.

Ulrich said...

@Tita: It would be a Leserättchen, yes! The abandon with which you can string words together in German to create very nuanced meanings is really the main reason for the WoM feature of my blog.

@loren: When it comes to charm, we Germans are at a disadvantage compared to Austrians...

Cain Walker said...

Marlene said... "Actually, I thought of an expression in English where rat is kind of positive, a gym rat is someone who works out a lot."

I'm wondering if maybe you've heard of this phrase, but not really heard it used firsthand..? Because I've always heard it used as a pejorative term, albeit usually a mild one.

In queer culture, it's usually used in the plural, and refers to a specific, firmly established (in urban areas anyway) subculture of gay men whose lives revolve around the gym and sculpting their bodies. Zum Beispiel: "I never go to the Starbucks next to Gold's, the regulars are all gym rats who don't take kindly to flabby outsiders." Because it refers to a specific group of people, it could be nearly value-neutral, perhaps used by someone who doesn't dislike said group but is using the established term... However, you'd never hear a gym rat refer to himself as such, so clearly it's not really neutral. The term itself carries connotations of narcissism, superficiality, and in some contexts promiscuity.

Similarly, someone mentioned "mallrat/mall rat" as a non-pejorative use of -rat in Englisch. I'd say it's definitely negative. Tagline from the Kevin Smith film "Mallrats": "They're not there to shop. - They're not there to work. - They're just there."