Note: All threads are intended to remain active after the day they were created—just click on the right-pointing arrow at each month to see the threads created that month.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Four Days in the Mojave

My new photo book, a diary of my recent trip to the Mojave with a group of geology enthusiasts (viewed best in full screen mode, second button from the right).

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Word of the Month: Das Sorgenkind

Thanks to Wunderkind and Kindergarten, Kind (child, plural Kinder) is probably one of the best known German words to English speakers. The verb sorgen is another matter. In its reflexive form—with the preposition um (about)—it means "be concerned" or "worry" (about someone or something). As an intransitive verb—with the preposition für (for)—it means to "take care" of or "provide" for something or someone. The noun Sorge (plural Sorgen) also has the double meaning of "worry" and "taking care," and both meanings are present in our word of the month: A Sorgenkind is a "problem child" whom parents are most concerned about and who needs the most help among their children. We may say, for example, "Walter war von Anfang an ein Sorgenkind" (Walter was a Sorgenkind from the beginning). The term can also be used in a figurative sense. For example, we may say that the luxury car division is the Sorgenkind of a car manufacturer.

Note that a Sorgenkind is not the same as a schwarzes Schaf (black sheep) in the family: The former commands sympathy and receives help, while the latter most often does not.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Word of the Month: Der Bärendienst

A Bär is a bear (see my Word of the Month Seebär) and a Dienst is, in the present context, a service performed for somebody. A Bärendienst is a service that backfires—meant to benefit the recipient, it has the opposite effect; it may even turn out to be a disaster for the intended beneficiary.

Why connect a bear, among all creatures, to that type of action? There seems to be general agreement that the German term derives from La Fontaine’s fable L'Ours et l'amateur des jardins ("The Bear and the Garden Lover"). It tells the story of a lonely gardener and a lonely bear who become companions. The bear assists his friend in his work, and when the gardener takes a nap, the bear tries to ward off a bothersome fly. When all else fails, he picks up a paving stone and crushes the fly, which had settled on the gardener's nose. Alas, the blow also kills the gardener.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Word of the Month: Die Nervensäge

Nerven are nerves, and a Säge is a saw. Taken together, they refer to somebody or something that gets on your nerve, badly and persistently. A Nervensäge can be strictly a creature of the imagination, like Frosty, the Snowman, or Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, or something that exists in real life, like a child who's endlessly complaining or a sports commentator who is more in love with the sound of his voice than the game he is supposed to comment on.

BTW The kind of handsaw that was the inspiration for my rendering of a Nervensäge is called a Fuchsschwanz (fox tail) in German.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Word of the Month: Der Morgenmuffel

Morgen means "morning," and a Muffel is a sullen person, a grouch. Put together, they signify a person who habitually wakes up in a bad mood and needs some time before being able to face the world with an even temper.

The late German chancellor Willy Brandt was, according to his wife Ruth, a Morgenmuffel. And recently, I came across a study dealing with the important question why (German) teenagers are such Morgenmuffel (the plural is the same as the singular).

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Excursions in Southern Florida

Another collection I created after sifting through the photographic residue from several trips. As always, full screen view works best.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Word of the Month: Sternstunde

Stern means “star” and Stunde “hour.” A Sternstunde (plural Sternstunden) is a “dramatically compressed, fateful” event in which a “lasting development is being condensed into a single day, a single hour, or even a single minute” as it occurs only “rarely in the life of an individual or in the course of history.” These are the words of Stefan Zweig, who published between 1927 and 1943 fourteen historical “miniatures” under the title Sternstunden der Menschheit (Sternstunden of Humankind). He called the events he described Sternstunden because they “outshine the night of transience brilliantly and lastingly like stars.” [Source]

What Zweig had in mind becomes clear when we look at some of the Sternstunden he chose to describe: Händel composes the Messiah in a state of creative intoxication after a near-fatal illness (1741); the Janissaries enter Constantinople through a secret gate during the Turkish siege and conquer the city for the Turks (1453); Lenin returns to Russia in a sealed train to lead the Bolshevik revolution (1917). What unifies these events is their momentousness—in Zweig’s depiction, they changed the course of political or cultural history almost over night. If it was for the better or worse is not a concern of his.*

In present-day usage, however, the term Sternstunde has a distinctly positive connotation—it designates a highpoint or a pivotal moment that turns things around in the course of history. For example, Einstein’s publication of his paper on special relativity could be called a Sternstunde in the history of physics, and Germany’s unexpected victory in the 1954 World Cup a Sternstunde for German soccer.

*Historians have also questioned the accuracy of Zweig’s narratives or the importance he assigns to certain events; for example, his account of the creation of the Messiah appears to be entirely fictitious. But this does not diminish the usefulness of the term he coined.