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

Monday, November 1, 2010

Words of the month: Dreckspatz, Schmutzfink

Dreck and Schmutz mean basically the same thing in German: dirt. A Spatz is a sparrow and a Fink a finch. Hitched to a word meaning "dirt", they refer to people who get themselves dirty easily and may not be too eager to clean up after themselves. Dreckspatz, in particular, is often applied to children who actually enjoy playing in the mud and getting it all over themselves.

Note on pronunciation: The "u" in Schmutz is a short "oo" as in "foot" and the "z" in Spatz and Schmutz a very sharp, voiceless "s".

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


Marlene said...

What great words? As usual I can't think of an English equivalent. The bird drawing is delightful. I'd love to see your drawings collected into a book

Ulrich said...

@Marlene: Thx.

Here's a picture of me as a real Dreckspatz.

Marlene said...

Oh my god Ulrich, you look like the mud man and where are you? It looks like the tropics. You really are a Dreckspatz in that picture.

Ulrich said...

I'm in our backyard, carrying away dirt dug out from underneath our house--my first substantial DIY project here in CT.

Esther said...

I really like this one, Ulrich. Somehow the bird maintains its graceful appearance above, despite what it has just dumped below. Is it a sparrow or a finch? Dreckspatz or Schmutzfink? As a rude non-German-speaker, I confess that I find both words innately hilarious. As I've said before, and agreeing with Marlene, your drawings should be collected in a book. s One last thing: this reminded me that I once used the word "dreck" in a movie review I wrote for the Buffalo News and the editor censored it and substituted the word "garbage."

Ulrich said...

Thx, Esther. Since sparrows are considered a finch species in Germany, you may have your pick. As to "dreck", my guess is it passed from German into Yiddish and from there into colloquial English.

I'm not sure about the book, but Laraine came up with an intermediate solution: I've combined all animated creatures I've drawn so far into a single drawing, called "Die KrautBlog-Menagerie", and she plans to put it on a T-shirt--we'll get you one if we succeed!

Esther said...

I love the idea of the t-shirt. Is the combination picture available to see online? You could also do a series of t-shirts, each with one animal. Tell Laraine that I got the latter idea when I visited Margaret Atwood's new blog after hearing her interviewed about it on the radio. I don't happen to like her blog or her t-shirts, but each one has an animal on it, the proceeds to go to some environmental cause. By the way, i mean BTW, Atwood has become a devotee of Twitter and uses it extensively. Do you do Twitter too?

Just one last try for the book: Adam Gopnik and Bruce McCall, the New Yorker writer and illustrator respectively, are collaborating on a children's book. Would you ever consider doing that with a children's book writer of similar sensibility?

Ulrich said...

I'll e-mail you the picture.

As to the children's book: The standards of the best illustrators are extremely high in my opinion, I mean IMO--I just bought the lovely It's a Book, written and illustrated by Lane Smith (I have been interested in children's books for a long time). Great illustrators like he all have a unique style, which I don't have yet. I think my drawings are getting better, but are far from what I would consider "good enough" for a commercial venture.

One has to keep in mind that drawing depends on manual dexterity and, like playing an instrument, needs daily practice, which I'm not doing (yet?). I must say, tho, that with some practice, I think I could reach Bruce McCall's level, but that would not be good enough for me. [I'm speaking here of his acrylic paintings for New Yorker covers--I don't remember any line drawings by him--line drawings, to me, are more difficult because the means at your disposal are more limited; i.e. you have to do more with them].

Be this as it may, I certainly appreciate your confidence in me!

Esther said...

I was just checking out your blog for the December 1 word of the month and found your reply re children's books above. Actually, I've been less enthusiastic about New Yorker covers over the past year or so: too many of them are by or in-the-style of Blitt (I forget his first name), but I love the tiny drawing spots inside the magazine. Do you know the ones I mean? They do so much with a few lines. I also checked out It's a Book website after reading your comment. I hadn't heard of the book or of Lane Smith—and didn't find it; I'll look again later— but the list of children's books and their illustrators reminded me of what a great tradition it is.

Ulrich said...

@Esther: I tried the Lane Smith link and it still worked for me. Here's another exceptionally well-painted favorite of mine, The Lion and the Mouse, the Aesop fable told without words by Jerry Pinkney, in the classical water-color style where the painting is laid out by soft-pencil lines and then colored with small brush strokes--he's a virtuoso of that technique.

As to Blitt: I'm totally with you. His ideas are sometimes great, like when he did a take on the famous photo of the sailor enthusiastically kissing a nurse at the end of WWII, only they are clearly gay in his drawing. The problem with him, for me, is that he doesn't draw well enough. I do not mind drawings that are intentionally amateurish, like Roz Chaz cartoons (whom I actually do no get, but that has nothing to do with her drawing style and is another story anyawy). Blitt falls inbetween, not accomplished enough to be called good and not amateurish enough to be forgiven for it...just my 2 cents.