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

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Word of the Month: Die Geschichtsklitterung

Word of the Month: Index

Source: Wikipedia article "Geschichtsfälchung"
Soviet officials were notorious for falsifying historical records by removing references to persons no longer in favor. An example is shown in the photos on the left. The original (top) is from 1897 and depicts the members of the Revolutionary Club of St. Petersburg, with Lenin in the center. Below is a version from the 1930s with one member removed—he had fallen out of favor with Stalin.

The falsification of history is not restricted to totalitarian regimes. In the US, for example, Christian fundamentalists unwilling to accept the constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state try to rewrite history by insisting that the Founding Fathers had intended all along to ground the new nation in the "Judeo-Christian tradition". Another example is the claim (since retracted) made in a textbook for Virginian 4th-graders that thousands of blacks fought for the South in the Civil War, "including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson". (Washington Post, Oct 20, 2010; see also the current controversy in Texas about the role of slavery in the Civil War).

All of this involves falsification with a purpose, and the Germans, of course, have a word for it: Geschichtsklitterung. The first part is a shortened version of Geschichte, which derives from the verb geschehen (to happen, come to pass). Geschichte is used in two distinct meanings: (a) Like English "story", it may refer to a tale told by someone; for example, the English "short story" is called a Kurzgeschichte in German. (b) Like English "history", it may refer to the events that formed a political, geographical, or cultural entity as well as to descriptions of these events. It is in the latter meaning that the term appears in our current WoM. The second part, Klitterung, is a noun derived from the (rarely used) verb klittern (to cobble together; take out of context and misrepresent). Taken together, these components refer to an intentional falsification of history for political or ideological reasons.

There seems to be general agreement that the term originates with Affentheurlich Naupengeheurliche Geschichtklitterung, the pun-laden and therefore untranslatable title of a book by Johann Fischart published in 1575. It is considered one of the first language experiments in German and sometimes called the Finnegan's Wake of the 16th century.