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

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Word of the Month: Unglücksrabe

Word of the Month: Index

A Pechvogel was the first 'compound creature' I drew and posted on my blog. I'm finally getting around to giving him a companion in misery. Unglück is the opposite of Glück (good fortune, luck), and we encountered a Rabe (raven) already in connection with Rabeneltern. Like a Pechvogel, an Unglücksrabe is a person who has run into some misfortune—he and a Pechvogel are partners in bad luck.

The most famous Unglücksrabe in German literature is Hans Huckebein, the anti-hero of a story told in pictures by Wilhelm Busch. I have to do some more research to find out why ravens are associated with bad luck in this expression.

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


Heika said...

Given my current life experiences, this is the perfect word of the month for me. As always, I love the drawing.Have you found out anything about why ravens are associated with bad luck. Who is Wilhelm Busch? Come to think of it, you have graciously provide a link so perhaps I can find out there.

Ulrich said...

Well, Heika, I hope your luck will turn soon!

Wilhelm Busch's Bildergeschichten (picture stories) are considered precursors of the modern comic strip. He had a dual talent: He could not only draw, but had a wonderful feel for the German language—his lyrics are the best humorous poetry ever written in German. He not only skewers the habits of his fellow men and women (and children!), but plays with and makes fun of the very conventions of lyric poetry. Since it's so language-specific, it's untranslatable.

As to ravens, this is what I've found: The Grimms' German Dictionary mentions that ravens were considered harbingers of bad luck in the middle ages. Several sources point out that in the days of public hangings, ravens were frequently sighted at the gallows (they are carrion eaters after all). In fact, it's a standard convention to depict gallows with corpses hanging from them and ravens sitting on the cross beam.

So, the association between ravens and bad luck is not that surprising. But note that in the term Unglücksrabe, the meaning has shifted from someone who augurs bad luck so someone who has it!