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

Friday, February 6, 2009

Kesselschlacht (word of the week)

This could have been a word of the month, but since a reader has brought it up, let's look at it now.

8 comments:

ArtLvr said...

Hi Ulrich -- I thought you'd get a kick out of Jim Cramer's comment on his Mad Money TV show on CNBC tonight, re Bush administration's disastrous removal of the "uptick" rule which then allowed unfettered bear attacks on the stock market... He said the Germans have a word for it: kesselschlacht -- meaning total annihilation. I think he was saying something about surrounding a castle and throwing everything at it, but if "kessel" is a kettle, it sounds more like slamming boiling water (or oil) all over somebody... good old medieval technique, anyway?

Ulrich said...

@artlvr: A Kesselschlacht (lit. "kettle battle") is a battle in which one side is surrounded and attacked on all sides by the enemy--they are "in the kettle". It ususally ends, as you suggest, in a total rout. Stalingrad was the mother of all Kesselschlachten (that's the plural) in WWII. A famous example from history is Thermopylae, where the Spartans under Leonidas found themselves attacked from the front and rear in a narrow passage between steep cliffs--that was the "kettle" they were in. We are told that the Persians were shown a secret path to the rear by a Greek traitor.

BTW The German Schlacht (battle) derives from the verb schlachten--to slaughter. Again, the German do not mince words when it comes to naming things.

ArtLvr said...

Many thanks for explaining, Ulrich! Very grim... Do rewrite or omit my lead-in, and have a Word of the Week!

Ulrich said...

Further research reveals that Thermopylae wasn't really a Kesselschlacht--the Spartans were not encircled by the Persians on all sides (it was a complete rout, though). A typical Kesselschlacht takes place on an open plain that makes a quick encirclement possible. The classical Kesselschlacht from antiquity is Cannae, where the Carthaginians under Hannibal annihilated the Romans under Terentius Varoo in 216 bc. Hannibals's cavalry did the encirclement then. In WWII, this role was usually played by tanks.

Ulrich said...

oops--the Roman commander was Terentius Varro.

ArtLvr said...

It's now a memorable word!!! Many thanks... Was Hannibal's cavalry mounted on horses at that point or on elephants? Whichever, let's hope that the unprincpled Bushite elite has not succeeded in virtual ruin of the world's less empowered masses!

Ulrich said...

I have never seen elephants mentioned in connection with Cannae. My guess it that by that time, the elephants that had made it over over the Alps (and had played a part in Hannibal's first victory 2 years earlier) were no longer alive.

Anonymous said...

Cramer also uses this word in this weekend's New Yorker magazine in reference to his appearance on Jon Stewart's show (it's misspelled in the magazine); I think Cramer doesn't understand its meaning exactly however.

It does refer to a battle of encirclement, but does not necessarily end in total annihilation for the trapped forces (indeed at Demyansk, Cherkassy, and Falaise the majority of German soldiers escaped or survived, although generally without their equipment). It's more about being cut-off and attacked from all sides, however, this is not literally a battle of "annihilation", the term for that would be something like Vernichtungsschlacht. (It also predates World War Two, so is not necessarily a "Nazi" term.)