Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Word of the month: Maulfaul, mundfaul

Maulfaul—or mundfaul—is an adjective adding faul ("lazy") to Maul ("mouth" of animals) or Mund ("mouth" of people). It literally means "mouth-lazy" and could be translated as "uncommunicative" or "taciturn". But it connotes taciturnity with an attitude, the result of boredom, or an expression of passive resistance. You could call a student who answers a question by a teacher with a shrug "uncommunicative", but maulfaul captures the underlying attitude in a more graphic way, calling up the image of a mouth too lazy to move. That's why I'm fond of the word.


Marlene said...

I think this is my favorite word of the month so far. The image it conjures up is so apt, a mouth too lazy to speak. But I love the variation "maulfaul," with its great rhyme. Is this compounding of words to get just the right nuance in meaning as common in other languages? It does not, to me at least, seem to be as common in English. Is this word strictly colloquial in its usage? The antonym in English would be "blabbermouth," someone who can't shut up. What would be the German word for someone who is the opposite of "mundfaul"?

Ulrich said...

@marlene: I cannot think right now of an antonym that would be an adjective.

There are several nouns denoting a person who talks too much--many of them sexist in the sense that they explicitly refer to a person of the female persuasion. My favorite among the non-sexist ones is Schlabberschnüss, a word in the Cologne dialect that means "slobbermouth".

Unlike Schlabberschnüss, maulfaul is not colloquial at all. It can be found in literature and would have a place in formal speech of any kind.