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

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Travels Along the New England Coast

A collection of photos from the last 15 years—jetsam and flotsam from numerous trips and vacations. (I recommend hitting the View Fullscreen button on the right!)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Word of the Month: Schmierfink

A Schmierfink is a close relative of a Schmutzfink, whom we have already encountered (WoM Nov. 2010). Schmieren means to "smear," "daub," or "spread messily." A Schmierfink may do this literally by disfiguring a wall with graffiti or figuratively by spreading false accusations in print, like yellow journalists do.

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

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Word of the Month: Schnapsidee

I figure, after what we went through with Sandy, a little lightheartedness is in order. Schnaps (one "p"!) is any hard liquor, and an Idee is an idea. Put the two together and you have an idea that could have originated only in an inebriated brain. It's a bad idea, but one of the less consequential kind: Trying to potty-train your cat may be a Schnapsidee, the invasion of Iraq was not—it was something much worse.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Word of the Month: Rabeneltern

Raben (plural of Rabe) are ravens and Eltern parents. In combination, they refer to parents who neglect, if not abuse, their children. If you want to refer to a bad mother or bad father individually, you can use Rabenmutter or Rabenvater, respectively.

These words are common in German, although they do give ravens an undeservedly bad rap. When one finds little ravens outside their nest before they are able to fly, it's not, as people thought, because their parents wanted to get rid of them, but because they are safer there from predatory birds like hawks. [Sick 2012]

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

Friday, September 7, 2012

National Anthem of Herland

Another parody on occasion of the MOOC I'm currently taking: This is a spoof of a classic of feminist literature, Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (to be sung to the melody of Woody Guthrie’s “This land is your land, this land is my land”):

This land is her land, this land is my land,
Between high mountains we are an island,
A land of gardens, without male wardens.
This land was made for her and she.

A land of mothers, a land of sisters,
We need no brothers, we need no misters.
Parthénogenésis is our thesis.
This land was made for her and she.

If ever men came, we will not blame them.
We’ll keep them locked up, and train and tame them,
To mate with reason, only in season.
This land was made for her and she.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Word of the Month: Karteileiche

To continue with the bureaucratic theme started last month (and to provide some light summer fare): A Kartei is a card catalogue (from Karte - card), and a Leiche is a corpse. Put together, they indicate someone whose membership in some organization has expired, but whose name has not yet been removed from the organization's files. The term is no longer restricted to collections of physical cards—it can be applied to electronic databases as well.

Note on pronunciation: The stress is on the second syllable, and the "ei" in both Kartei and Leiche is pronounced like English "eye" or the "ie" in "tie": car·TIE·lie·chah.
See my post of Jan. 2013 on how to pronounce the "ch" in this case.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hitherto Unknown Letter from Van Helsing to Mina Harker

To all fans of Dracula: You'll be thrilled to learn that a hitherto unknown letter from Van Helsing to Mina Harker has been found (Bram Stoker did not know it and therefore could not include it in his book):

My dear Madam Mina:

When we make ash of the King-Vampire and gather around ourselve to say our fare-byes, I not have opportunities of private speak with you. So I write this letter to express my most deep thinkings.

Our poor Miss Lucy only know how look pretty and how say the suitors yes or no. You, on the other side, know more—you can short-hand, you can type-write . And oh! Your braveness! When you hear Mr. Harker be ill in Budapesth, you not hesitate! You travel, all by your selves, to the land of wild Magyars and bring home Jonathan—and make also husband!

When you hear the Un-Dead be inside of London, again you not hesitate. You open type-writer and type diary in wholeness, and in triplication!, in one hour—I still not know how you do it—and become partner of our deliberates.

Some of times we men be not the most bright stick on candle. So, we think Madam Mina are weaker sex and go visit tomb of poor Miss Lucy without of her. Thencetofore you be alone, and the Un-Dead come, and suck neck of you, and leave red hicky. But you not panic—you keep ears stiff; fear not grip you in his vices; and you fight, fight, fight!

I never have see you cry, but I have see men, big men, make wet your shoulder with tears of theirs. Howeverso we exclude you out again almost from voyage to the Transsylvania. But you put down your feet and say no! And we must accept and make partner from you in fullness. Thank to God! Under hypnosation you can tell the about-wheres of the Count and, at the last, not hesitate accompany with me to his forbid castle—what steel of nerves!

When I see you, Madam Mina, I see new woman, nay, I see my she-hero!

Affectionably yours,

Abraham Van Helsing

Friday, August 10, 2012

Parallels Between Rumpelstiltskin and The Merchant of Venice

Here are my latest musings triggered by the Coursera-based course I'm currently enrolled in:
Parallels Between Rumpelstiltskin (Rumpelstilzchen) and The Merchant of Venice

Note to readers not enrolled in the course: It's a massive open online course (MOOC) offered by the University of Michigan. The title is Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, the Modern World. The video lectures are given by Prof. Eric S. Rabkin. The first unit dealt with the Grimm Brothers and the fairy tales they collected.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Otto Ubbelohde—Illustrator of the Grimms' Fairy Tales

Otto Ubbelohde is the most famous of the German illustrators of the Grimm's fairy tales. What distinguishes him from everyone who came before and afterwards is that he located the scenes he chose to depict firmly in the region of Hessen, where the Grimms lived and where they collected most of their tales. When Ubbelohde shows, e.g., Briar Rose's castle (shown on the left) or Rapunzel's tower, he draws real buildings that exist to the present day (and, needless to say, get much publicity out of this connection). I also believe that the altar he shows in his drawing for Cat and Mouse in Partnership is a real altar in a real church (even if the tomb cover he shows depicts the artist himself). And the women, when they wear their Sunday finery, wear the traditional folk costumes of the region

I think this realism extends to the figures in his drawings. For example, the robbers shown in the image accompanying my last post appear to be portraits drawn from life—in fact, the young robber in the middle foreground has a face that also appears in other drawings, like in the first picture he shows for The Brave Little Tailor—there may have been a lad who modeled for these portraits. I'm also, and particularly, enthralled by the care with which he depicts animals in their characteristic postures.

None of this would amount to much if he were not a draftsman of the first class—he was. His line is clearly influenced by Art Nouveau (Jugendstil), which makes his drawings more than just faithful renderings of what he observed.

An edition with the complete drawings can be purchased on amazon. My one quibble with this edition is the translation the editor chose to go with the drawings. I can elaborate on this in the comments if someone is interested.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Talking Animals in the Grimms' Fairy Tales

I'm taking right now a massive open online course (MOOC) offered by the Univ. of Michigan using the Coursera support software. The course title is Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. The first unit dealt with the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales, and each student had to submit a 270-320-word "essay" (more realistically, a few paragraphs that do not amount to anything deserving the name "essay"). Anyway, we're talking about two famous Krauts, and I'm showing below my submission (expanded by a few words beyond the 320 word limit).
A distinct feature of the Grimm tales (and folk tales in general) are repetitive narrative patterns and recurring motives. Among these, talking animals are particularly prominent. I am drawn to such stories because I like animals. More importantly, I’m intrigued by tales with talking animals because many of them can be viewed as little morality plays, not in the sense that they have a pat moral, but in the sense that a moral issue is at stake, if in a playful manner. For example, trust and the betrayal of trust are at the heart of Cat and Mouse in Partnership.

A subclass of the talking animal stories deals with farm animals. I know from my own experience (I lived for four years in a small rural village) that these animals often have a hard life, and it must have been even harder at the time the Grimm tales were told. When an animal was no longer useful, it was disposed of unceremoniously—beaten to death, or drowned, or beheaded and eaten, as the dog, the cat, and the rooster, respectively, lament in The Bremen Town Musicians. In the latter story, and in Old Sultan and, to a lesser degree, The House in the Forest, these exploited creatures receive a voice and are allowed to take their fate into their own hands. By teaming up, they manage to outwit their masters. The loyalty the animals show among each other contrasts with the disloyalty exhibited by humans—the animals prove, in the end, to be the “better people.”

A further appeal of these stories is that the moral lesson, if there is one, is not treated in a heavy-handed manner. There is much humor in them—Old Sultan, in fact, ends in a burlesque as the toothless dog of the title and a three-legged cat manage to win a duel against a wolf and a wild boar, both perfectly healthy, who turn out to be veritable cowards. And The Bremen Town Musicians is distinguished by a humorous tone sustained throughout.
BTW The image is by my favorite Grimms illustrator, Otto Ubbelohde, who deserves a separate post.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Word of the Month: Amtsschimmel

A Schimmel is a white horse, and Amt denotes, in this context, a government office. In combination, they refer not to a bureaucrat as a person, but to bureaucracy as a sometimes baffling phenomenon. When you are confronted with some bureaucratic absurdity, you may say, "Der Amtsschimmel wiehert (whinnies)." A fine example is given by the foreign student who tried to enroll at the University of Vienna, but could not do it because he did not have a residence permit and could not get a residence permit because he was not enrolled at the university. [Beikircher p. 314]

Now, what does a beautiful animal like a white horse have to do with bureaucratic excess? Nothing, it turns out! Schimmel derives, by way of folk etymology, from Simile (Latin for "similar"), a term used in Austrian offices to refer to a boilerplate form from which other forms could be generated. It came to stand for the enthusiasm with which forms are embraced by some bureaucracies and for their sometimes unfathomable ways in general. [Source]

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

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Word of the Month: Armutszeugnis

Armut means "poverty", and a Zeugnis is a certificate or, in an educational context, a report card. Armutszeugnis referred originally to an officially recognized proof of poverty entitling the holder to certain types of government aid like legal assistance in a law suit. Nowadays, the term is used exclusively in a figurative sense: When we speak of an Armutszeugnis, we mean that a certain action (or lack thereof) is proof of somebody's glaring inadequacy with respect to a stated goal. It indicates an embarrassing gap between intent and result and can be viewed as a damning indictment of a person or group.

I find the term very useful, for example, when I contemplate the action or inaction of certain politicians or political parties, and since I know of no exact equivalent in English, Armutszeugnis is a term that comes to my mind rather often these days.

Note: The "s" between the two components of the term is a Fugen-s ("gap s"). Its function is to make the transition between the "t" and "z" easier to pronounce. The "eu" is a diphthong and sounds like the "oy" in "joy."

Friday, June 8, 2012

Euro 2012

I've arrived in Germany and will watch the competition with my knowledgeable brothers and friends. I will describe my impressions as the drama unfolds and invite readers to join the conversation.

A few remarks up-front on the mood here when it comes to the chances of the German team. Last year ended on a high when Germany convincingly beat the Netherlands in a friendly 3:0. Together with the impressive way in which the side had played during the qualifiers, where they won 30 matches in a row, this victory generated an almost boundless optimism in the country. However, this mood has become much more guarded because of a series of setbacks that happened since the start of 2012. The team lost two friendlies, first to France at the beginning of the year and then to Switzerland, where the second loss was particularly embarrassing. In both matches, the defense (which used to be the strong suit of German teams in the past) proved vulnerable and even now, two positions in the back four (the Viererkette - chain of four - as it's called in German) are still open, an unheard of situation for a German team. [See also my post from last December!]

True, the Bayern Munich players who form the backbone of the German side were missing from the team that lost to Switzerland. But this is small consolation because the psychological makeup of these very players suffered a severe blow when they lost the final of the Champions League, the most prestigious annual team competition in Europe, to Chelsea of England on May 19. The Bayern players were clearly in shock afterwards because they had been the better team throughout the game and gave the victory away on several occasions, most spectacularly in the final penalty shootout. The whole nation is asking itself: Did the Bayern players have enough time to get over it and be at their best again only a few weeks later?

If we look at the bright side (remember, I'm in the Rhineland where one always looks at the bright side!): It's these very questions that create a palpable sense of suspense in the country now that the competition is about to start.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Word of the Month: Landpomeranze

Word of the Month: Index

Land means, in this connection, "countryside" (as the opposite of "city"), and a Pomeranze is a Seville or bitter orange (the one used in making marmalade). Hitched together, they refer to a girl or young woman from the countryside who has not yet learned how to behave like a city slicker. In particular, her unfashionably rosy cheeks betray where she came from.



Nowadays, the term can be used as a putdown of provincials of either sex. English "hayseed" has pretty much the same meaning.

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wild Things now available as paperback ...

... at the Create Space store.

I've now explored self-publishing using various venues: iBooks Author and Kindle Direct Publishing for digital books; and Create Space, an Amazon affiliate, for the above paperback version, which will be sold also in the Amazon store. Since most of the material was readily available through work I had done before, I could concentrate on the technicalities of the software platforms I had to use, rather than worrying about content. This helped me greatly in my efforts; i.e., it kept me sane;-)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Found Art Around the World now an iBook

Finally, more than two months after I submitted it, the iBooks version is also available!

And if I may say so myself, it looks great on an iPad;-)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Word of the Month: Oberlehrer

Word of the Month: Index
Sie wissen nichts, aber wissen alles besser. (They know nothing, but know everything better.) Comment by Czech students after being visited, during the anti-Soviet revolt of 1968, by a delegation of students from West Berlin, who had immediately proceeded to lecture the Czechs about everything they were doing wrong.
A Lehrer is a teacher. Ober, as a prefix, can mean several things. In front of geographical names, for instance, it means “upper”, as in Oberbayern (Upper Bavaria). In front of words indicating a profession, it indicates a senior rank. Thus, an Oberlehrer is a senior or head teacher. The position no longer exists in the German educational system. But the word remains very much in the language as a derogatory term for an obnoxious know-it-all who lectures and corrects people, even when he was not asked to do so, and tends to do this in a tone veering between smugness and condescension—the infamous Oberlehrerton. (I use “he” because I never met a female Oberlehrer.)

I have a particular dislike for Oberlehrer types because of what my wife and I experienced when we were living in West Berlin during the 1970s. She is American, and the Oberlehrer (the plural is the same as the singular) in the left-liberal milieu I used to move in tried their best to make her life miserable. As soon as they learned she was an American, they would launch into long (and largely uninformed) lectures about everything that was wrong with her country. We reached a point where we wouldn’t go to parties anymore and decided, in the end, to move back to the US (where we had met as graduate students).

All of this was vividly brought back to me a week ago when I posted an announcement about my latest ebook, Wild Things in the German Language (see column on the right), on an (American) blog targeted at Americans interested in learning German. I did not know that it was also a playground for German Oberlehrer. No sooner had I posted my announcement than two of them started to chastise me for the bad English in my book. This came as a surprise to me because my English tends to get compliments from Americans for its clarity and grace. And sure enough, when I looked at the particular complaints I received in a lengthy e-mail from one of the Germans, I realized they were all wrong—no, not all of them: I had misspelled “scaredy cat” in my book—so shoot me!  [more in my first comment]

Apparently, blogs have given Oberlehrer an entire new venue to regale people with lectures they did not ask for. My advice: Avoid those blogs because you cannot argue with Oberlehrer—they are loath to admitting mistakes and always try to have the last word.

PS.  Clearly, this post is longer and more heartfelt than my usual Word-of-the-Month posts—I hope readers will understand the reasons why.

Addendum (3/5/2015) for people able to read German. I just read an article that reflects on the love affair between social media and German Oberlehrer: Diskussionskultur im Netz. Deutschland, eine Belehrtenrepublik. I agree!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wild Things in the German Language

I've made my second eBook in a Kindle version.

The book collects my Word-of-the-Month drawings, including several that haven't been published yet. It's intended for readers interested in German or students learning German who want to have some fun learning new words in that language.

If you do not have a Kindle, Kindle Readers simulating it are available for common platforms:
Mac ReaderPC ReaderiPad Reader.

I'd love to hear in the comments section below from readers who got the book.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Word of the Month: Gnadenbrot

Gnade means "grace" or "mercy", and Brot means "bread". The term refers to the charity someone receives in recognition of past service. I love the concreteness of the term: I always picture an old watchdog—half-blind, hard of hearing, and with bad joints—who can no longer perform his duties, but is still fed and cared for because of the dedication to his job he has shown in the past.

Addendum (5/22/12). A friend just sent me this by e-mail (m.t.):
"Apropos your associations with Gnadenbrot: I had exactly the same and a vague memory of the origin: Grimm Brothers, Fairy Tales, no. 48, "Old Sultan," which starts like this:
A farmer had a faithful dog called Sultan, who had grown old and lost all his teeth so that he could no longer hold anything fast. One day the farmer was standing with his wife before the front door and said, "Tomorrow I'll shoot Old Sultan, he is no longer of any use." His wife, who felt pity for the faithful animal, answered, "Because he has served us for so many years and faithfully stood by us, we might well give him his keep [Gnadenbrot in the original!]." "Nonsense!" said the man. "You are not right in your head. He has not a tooth left in his mouth, and not a thief will be afraid of him; now he may be off. If he has served us, he has had good feeding for it." ...
As we know, it all ends well."

For the Grimm quote, I modified a translation of 1884 by M. Taylor. I, too, could not think of a way to render Gnadenbrot more faithfully in English without sounding awkward. Anyway, there is a good chance that this story also is the source for my association of Gnadenbrot with an old watch dog because courtesy of my grandfather, I grew up with the Grimm Brothers.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Found Art Around the World

I have produced my first ebook, a collection of photographs I took around the world. The underlying message is that "art makes us see things we did not see before". For more details, hit the link below.

Kindle version, viewable on the Kindle Fire or a Kindle Reader tailored to a specific platform, free to download:
Mac ReaderPC ReaderiPad Reader

iBooks version, prepared with iBooks Author specifically for the Apple store.

In the comments section below, I'd love to hear from people who got the book.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Word of the Month: Spaltpilz

Here's another mushroom (Pilz), but this one is less endearing than the Glückspilz we dealt with in the past. Spalten means "to split" or, if you are in the mood, "to rend asunder". Spaltpilz used to be a botanical term for a bacterium, which, after all, multiplies by splitting. In biology, this term has been replaced by Bakterie in German, but Spaltpilz remains very much in the language in a metaphorical meaning, to denote someone who works hard to split a group into factions.

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

Monday, February 27, 2012

Shitstorm hits Germany

I mentioned briefly in the 'Bout them Germans post (Nov. 2011) that Michael Lewis had alleged a German obsession with excrement—actually, Lewis refers to the work of someone else, but I haven't followed that paper trail yet. My friend Esther just referred me to an article that makes one wonder anyway: A jury of academics selected "shitstorm" to become the "anglicism of the year" in Germany—apparently, it will fill a gap in the language. [On a personal note, I have often regretted that German has not equivalent for "The shit hits the fan", and I have been using the phrase untranslated.]

Now, what does that tell us about the comparative scatological inclinations of English and German speakers? I don't know at first glance. Yes, the jury selected "shitstorm" when it could have selected "cloud" or "occupy". But this does not necessarily mean that Germans always select the scatological term, given a choice—it may mean that there is, in fact, a dearth in the language when it comes to such terms.

Anyway, some day I may find the time to get back to Lewis and his source.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Word of the Month: Staatsverdrossenheit

With the present WoM, I'm returning to a theme I have touched upon in previous posts (Wutbürger, German funk). This time, I'm introducing a term that succinctly captures the phenomenon in question.

Staat means "state" and Verdrossenheit is a condition that could be described as a persistent ill humor, moroseness, or funk. Put the two together and you have a state of mind that I find increasingly expressed on German blogs, a general unhappiness not only with the government currently in charge, but with the way the country has been administered for a while. Politicians are accused of not paying attention to the real needs of their constituents. Rather, they appear beholden to lobbies and special interests (on the right) or to rigid ideological principles that do not work in practice (on the left), and Staatsverdrossenheit is the result.

A word of caution is in order: Useful as the term is to capture a particular state of mind, I cannot tell, from my distant perch, how widespread the sentiment it refers to is in present-day Germany.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Guten Rutsch...

...("good slide"), that's what my German friends—and some Americans who knew enough German—wished me for New Year's Eve. I always thought the phrase referred to the fact that snow or ice may be on the road at that night or that most Germans moved through it in an alcoholic daze. But John Dingly (thanks, John!) pointed out to me that Rutsch, in that context, is most likely a piece of folk etymology that derives, via Yiddish, from Hebrew rosh ("beginning"), as in Rosh-ha-Shana.

Grammatical note: Guten Rutsch is the accusative (direct object case) of guter Rutsch. Why do Germans not use this nominative? Because Guten Rutsch is short for Ich wünsche dir/euch/Ihnen einen guten Rutsch (I wish you a good slide), where (einen) guten Rutsch is the direct object. The same holds BTW for Guten Morgen, Guten Tag, Guten Abend (Good Morning, G'Day, Good Evening).

Monday, January 2, 2012

Word of the month: Schwein(e)hund

Schweinhund,SchweinehundA Schwein is a pig and a Hund a dog. Put the two together and you have a word designating someone who might be called a "bastard" in English. But the meaning can vary considerably depending on context, with a trace of admiration mixed in at one end and a completely derisive, contemptuous connotation at the other end.

I experimented with several ways of drawing the creature in question and show the two I considered the most successful ones—one illustrating the easy approach, where the animal is split into two halves crosswise, and one illustrating a more difficult approach, where the animal is split lengthwise. I have not tried what appears to me to be the most difficult approach, to draw a creature that would result from mating a pig with a dog. One problems is that some dog breeds already look as if they resulted from that kind of union—how does one draw a cartoon of a cartoon? But I haven't given up yet...

As to spelling: The e between the two constituent nouns is optional and can be added to make the transition from n to h easier to pronounce.

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