German Word of the Week: Schlammbeiser

Schlammbeisser 1

And now, to keep things classy, we move from public masturbation to feces. This is from a recent Atlas Obscura post:

Until 1913 the town Giessen, Germany had one special profession. It was the "Schlamp-Eiser," the men who walked the city and collected the feces of the citizens of town. 

Relatively early in the Middle Ages Giessen came up with a latrine innovation: They built small wooden boxes on the outside of the walls of the houses which included a pit latrine connected to a wooden pipe, which led feces down into a wooden bucket placed in the small spaces between the houses.

When the buckets were full, the feces had to be brought somewhere, but the spaces in between the houses were extremely narrow and it was hard to reach the buckets. Hence the Schlamp-Eiser was born. Using a long bent iron bar, men pulled out the filled buckets, collected the feces in a large cart, and transported the waste to the Rodtberg outside the town.

Word of the strange innovative waste system spread fast and spiteful onlookers started calling the citizens of Giessen "Schlammbeiser," which roughly translates to shit-eater.

…Normally the old-fashioned profession would be forgotten by now, if it wasn't for the obnoxious nickname the profession brought to the citizens of Giessen, which stuck up until today. For decades people were unhappy with the insulting term, but over more recent years citizens came to embrace the nickname, and today the Schlammbeiser name is used in cultural facilities, clubs and other places around the town. There is even a statue dedicated to the old Schlamp-Eiser. The bronze statue, built in 2005, is located right in the city center in front of the house where the last Schlamp-Eiser lived. 

This seems a bit odd to me: Schlammbeiser isn't any sort of German word. Schlamm is, but -beiser is not. Schlammbeißer would be approximately "mud (or sewage) biter".

Is this just a matter of some regional dialect, or is there another reason for the odd spelling of Schlammbeiser? Perhaps just a elision of Schlamp-Eiser? But then again, Schlamp isn't a word in modern German either, as far as I know. Schlampe is, but not Schlamp.

Any theories?

5 thoughts on “German Word of the Week: Schlammbeiser

  1. Duden says der Schlamp is an ‘unordentlilcher Mensch’. So literally just the male version of die Schlampe. Not sure what it implied in past centuries though.

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  2. Could also be a corruption or elision of schlampen I suppose. As for the odd spelling, dialectic corruption seems the likeliest reason, but it is weird.

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  3. It looks a lot like Hessian dialect to me. They have no sharp s and tend to swallow trailing consonants, so Schlammbeißer and Schlampbeiser should sound exactly the same.

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  4. Beiser is a regional dialct of Beißer (old meaning: eater).

    According to the German Dictionary the modern word Schlamm (mud) seems to be a transformation of the older High German dialectical word Schlamp (mud, garbage, liquid feces).

    So Schlamm-beiser (“mud eater”) is a regional cacography, a deliberate comic misspelling/mispronunciation of Schlamp-Eiser (short for: man who pulls feces buckets with an iron bar).

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