German Words of the Week: Vokuhila & Tohuwabohu

Viersen, a city near where I live, just hosted Europe’s Biggest Monster Truck Rally.  Soon it’ll be traveling to Lower Saxony, and then to Norway and Sweden.  Here’s an interview (G) with the man who put on the show.

And what a boring interview it is. There’s nothing about silicon-breasted girls in tight bikinis announcing the "rounds," nothing about heavy metal, nothing about the pure, testosterone thrill of wanton, metal-ripping destruction. Not even any suggestion –obvious to me — that there’s something inherently Viking about the entire idea of a Monster truck rally.

Instead, we have painfully banal questions such as "Can you get rich putting on these shows?" and "How long is your season?" A country that’s capable of producing rap stars whose songs get banned for glorifying drug use should be able to do better.

Nevertheless, the article, or better Rally provides an opporunity for a few German Words of the Week. They sound a bit Hawaiian, but they’re quite German. I heard the Vokuhila, for the first time from sometime German Joys contributor Ed Philp.  Then Titanic used it to describe the hairstyle of the American stand-up comedian Bill Hicks. It will surely be on the heads of many people at the Monster Truck Rally.

It’s actually an abbreviation for the phrase "Vorne Kurz, Hinten Lang" or "Short in front, long in back."  Business in the front, party in the back, dude.  Canadians call it Hockey hair, Americans call it the mullet. Mulletsgalore has all you need to know, including a nice typology.

Tohuwabohu means a dust-up or ruckus. I first encountered it in a book about the 1970s terrorist organization the RAF (Rote Armee Fraktion). They grew out of the Berlin scene in the late 1960s, whose members formed communes, experimented with drugs, organized protests, and did everything else you’d expect. Whenever they were put on trial for one reason or another, their code of honor required them to create Tohuwabohu. They wore skin-tight yellow pants and orange feather boas, they addressed the judge with the familiar du, one of them even hopped up on the prosecutor’s desk and crapped on his file.

I hope you enjoyed this weeks exotic new contestants.  Happy First of May!

7 thoughts on “German Words of the Week: Vokuhila & Tohuwabohu

  1. Vokuhila is also called “Fußballerfrisur” (footballer’s hairstyle), as many West-German soccer players in the eighties were wearing Vokuhila.

    And there is an enhancement: Vokuhila-Oliba: Vorne kurz, hinten lang, Oberlippenbart (short in front, long in back, moustache), which is the outfit of Rudi “Tante Käthe” Völler.


  2. To the “Vokuhila” you can also add “Oliba”, erg. “Vokuhilaoliba” that is used for men who have a Vokuhila and a mustache (Oliba = Oberlippenbart)!


  3. Tohu wabohu is found in the Hebrew Bible but is not fully of Hebrew origin. The phrase is found in Gen 1.2, but this is a compound form to denote the primordial chaos from which God, the Great Divider and Clarifier, is portrayed as having carved out the known universe. The phrase contains three parts in the two forms:

    Tohu – This word has an uncertain etymology. It is found throughout the Hebrew literature but is also found in the Egyptian corpora (in verbal form, along with a form of ‘bohu’), according to _Zeitschrift fuer die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft._. It is also found in Ugaritic, a linguistic predecessor to Hebrew which existed in the thirteenth century BCE (before the common era) north of Israel (the archaeological site is at 35 35 N, 35 45 E). The vocalisation of this language is suspect, however. Thus, the consonantal value is present, but the pronunciation is uncertain. (FYI, all Semitic scripts were originally consonantal; major vowels were signified through the use of key consonants — aleph, he, waw, and yod in Hebrew; otherwise, no vowels were written in the text until the common era).

    Wabohu – This form is actually two forms, as the Wikipedia article notes.
    ‘Wa’ is merely a conjunction — whether it is a coordinating or emphatic conjunction is uncertain. The difference is respectively between (1) simply coupling the chaos of ‘tohu’ with the barrenness of ‘bohu’ or (2) emphasising the extreme nothingness of the primordial chaos — thus giving rise to the doctrine of creation ‘ex nihilo’. Obviously, this could be a both-and, not an either-or.

    ‘bohu’ is linguistically related to the mother-goddess of the ancient world. In Phoenician, she is called ‘Baau’, and in Babylonian, she is called ‘Bau’. If I recall correctly, she is the female counterpart to Baal, but I may be mistaken. In the Hebrew corpus, this word always occurs with the aforementioned ‘tohu’ and is to be rendered ‘wasteland’ or similarly.

    Obviously, the reason that the Rote Armee Fraktion appropriated this phrase seems evident: they were to bring or were to manifest the primordial chaos out of which would be born a new order by destroying the old.

    I hope these bits of information help. Cheers, as always, for an interesting post.


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