German Word of the Week: Zwiebellauch

The other day I dropped by Pizzeria Cemo, one of Düsseldorf’s best, where the pie has the thin, crispy crust. The owner sings merrily (as merrily as Turkish songs ever get) while preparing your order. I scanned the menu:

Boring Pizza.

Tuna fish, calzone, and then “Boring Pizza”.

Let’s look at what makes this pizza “boring”. The first ingredient is Pastirma. Pastirma (g) is dried beef. It was originally invented by Turkic nomads, who hung specially-prepared cuts under their saddlebags to dry as they rode in the desert. It may well be the origins of Pastrami, which was brought by Romanian Jews into Europe. Although only the shape is similar; pastrami is not dried.

The next ingredients are mushrooms and artichokes, which are boring enough. But then comes Zwiebellauch. Odd: I can’t figure out exactly what Zwiebellauch (onion-leek) is in English. There’s no entry for it at the LEO website. There’s only one entry for it at linguee, which is pretty startling. They call it “chives“, but I don’t think that’s right.

Wikipedia re-directs you to Winterzwiebel (winter onion), one of whose alternate names is Lauchzwiebel — but not Zwiebellauch.

So what the hell is Zwiebellauch anyway? Little help here?

Also, why is this pizza boring? I asked the owner, but he only smiled. I’d say an exotic delicacy from the Inscrutable Orient™ and an unclassifiable mystery vegetable makes this the most exciting goddamn pizza on the menu. But what do I know?

German Word of the Week: Reanimieren

Here’s a headline from Austria about an accident during a youth outing. A boat capsized, and two girls were rescued from drowning and resuscitated:

reaminated

The German word for resuscitation is “reanimate”. Which makes me think two things:

1. That’s a lot less fussy and pretentious than “resuscitate”.

2. H.P. Lovecraft would approve.

Ähnliches Foto

German Word of the Week: Bruchwald & Hörsturz

I don’t travel in the summer, too hot and sticky. But the past few weeks have brought a spell of dry, sunny weather that has tempted me out on my Bulls cross bike several times a week. I’ve been riding to the east of Düsseldorf, to the hilly areas which mark the far eastern outskirts of the Bergisches Land , an area of low mountains and hills west of Düsseldorf and Cologne.

One discovery during these rides was the Stinderbachtal (g) nature preserve. A stream called the Stinder flows in the middle of a marshy area set among rolling hills and cliffside forests. A sign by the hiking trail identifies this as an Erlenbruchwald, where Erle is the German word for alder and Bruchwald (literally, break-forest), is the German word for…what, exactly?

Once I got home, I looked it up, and it means “carr“:

carr is a type of waterlogged wooded terrain that, typically, represents a succession stage between the original reedy swamp and the likely eventual formation of forest in a sub-maritime climate.[1] The name derives from the Old Norse kjarr, meaning a swamp. The carr is one stage in a hydrosere: the progression of vegetation beginning from a terrain submerged by fresh water along a river or lake margin. In sub-maritime regions, it begins with reed-swamp. As the reeds decay, the soil surface eventually rises above the water, creating fens that allow vegetation such as sedge to grow. As this progression continues, riparian trees and bushes appear and a carr landscape is created–in effect a wooded fen in a waterlogged terrain.

I make my living with words and I have a pretty damn big vocabulary, but I had never heard of the word “carr” before.

This is an example of the back-door second-language vocabulary enhancement effect, or BADOSLAVEE. The German term Bruchwald is not technical, Germans probably have a vague idea what one is (valley forest), even if they may not be able to identify it in precise geological terms. But its English counterpart is exotic as hell. And I would never have run across the English word had I not learned its German equivalent first.

Learning a second language exposes you to words that are ordinary in that language, but exotic in yours. Another example of this is Hörsturz, a German word which literally means “hear-fall”, and refers to a sudden loss of hearing.

The first time I heard this word, I said, “What? A sudden loss of hearing? You mean like after an explosion?”

“No, silly,” my German Interlocutor (GI) said, “it’s because of stress or overwork. You suddenly lose your ability to hear. It’s happened to me a few times. Happens to everyone now and then.”

“No it doesn’t,” I said. “You’re otherwise healthy, just sitting there, and you suddenly go deaf for no reason? And then you regain your hearing again at some point? How? Why? Never happened to me or anyone I’ve ever known.”

“Are you crazy?” GI said. “I though it was universal. Are you sure there’s no English word for that?”

And in fact, Germans consider a Hörsturz to be an ordinary sign of stress. You can call up your boss here and say: “I’m not coming in today because I suddenly lost my hearing for no reason, probably because you worked me too hard. But it will return on its own in a day or two, and I’ll come back then.” And your boss will say, “OK, get better soon.”

But you won’t be able to hear him.

Try that in any other country.

To check my suspicion that this was a German idiosyncrasy, I turned to Wikipedia, and sure enough, there’s a detailed entry for Hörsturz (g) including sections coverage by medical insurance, as well as treatment by vitamin-C infusion, “corticosteroids”, and “fibrinogen reduction” by apheresis. All for a medical syndrome that appears to be a by-product of some sort of Sapir-Whorf effect (language shapes perceptions of reality, things become much more common and recognizable if there’s a word for them), or generation-spanning mass hysteria.

Sure enough, there’s no entry in any other language except…Japanese. Intriguing, that.

Anyhow, as a reward for reading to the end of this post, I give you a few photos from the Erlenbruchwald, or “alder carr” of the Stinderbach Valley, plus surroundings:

German Word of the Week: Bekenntnisschrein

This GWOW is special, because it’s new.

It occurs in a short piece by Christoph Seils in the German politics mag Cicero about the hapless German Social Democratic Party, which has been circling the drain along with every other Western European center-left party. The title, appropriately, is Warten auf den Untergang — ‘Waiting for the Collapse’.

As I read along, I came across this sentence: “Das Bemühen das Thema soziale Gerechtigkeit aus dem Bekenntnisschrein zu holen und für die unterschiedlichen Zielgruppen der Partei konkret herunterzubrechen, wirkte ideenlos.”

“Efforts to take the subject of social justice out of the shrine of beliefs and to break it down for the party’s various target groups made the party seem out of ideas.”

Bekenntnis is the German word for a profession of belief or an article of faith; lip service is called Lippenbekenntnisse. Schrein is a shrine, obvs. “Shrine of beliefs” is just my clumsy way of translating Bekennnisschrein. And why did I have to resort to a clumsy approximation?

Because the word Bekenntnisschrein does not exist. Check out this Google search:

He made it up!
He made it up!

Seils, you magnificent bastard, you made it up! You used German’s endless, Lego™-like flexibility to create a brand-new word that never existed before, at least according to Google. And if Google don’t know it, it ain’t worth knowing.

It conjures up a great image, too. I imagine the Bekenntnisschrein to be a sterile, vacuum-sealed chamber, let’s call it the Brandt Chamber, where the temperature is kept just above absolute zero. Whenever elections time rolls around, a senior operative of the SPD party dons a clean suit and enters the Brandt Chamber:

Bildergebnis für clean room

Here, the Sacred Core Principles of Social Democracy (SCPSD) are arranged, in careful alphabetical order, in glass cubes. Each sentence is composed of glowing, ethereal script composed of pure Bebelium. Upon contact with ordinary oxygen and party infighting, the principle slowly deteriorates, but the original, inside the Brandt Chamber, regenerates using a mystical source of energy: the Simple Faith of the Common Man.

But lately, the SCPSDs grow dimmer and dimmer. The Simple Faith is depleting with each passing year. One day, the glowing sentences will eventually flicker out and die forever. And, joined my millions of doughty dockworkers and contumacious costermongers, I will shed a silent tear.

And then return to absolutely slaying it on Grand Theft Auto IX.

German Word of the Week: ‘Agathe Bauer’

I hope everyone enjoyed the excursion into game theory and the Estonian Museum Locker Paradox. Many of you are now probably harboring doubts about my mental state, but that’s the risk I took in the name of Science.

And now for something completely different. I can’t believe I’ve been living in Dear Old Deutschland forever, but just learned what ‘Agathe Bauer’ songs are today. Let me clarify. First, let’s fade into 1990, with the dancefloor classic ‘I Got the Power’:

Parachute pants, flat-tops, primary colors, sampant rampling, — it’s all there. Still holds up pretty well, I’d say. When Germans heard this song, many thought ‘I Got the Power!’ was ‘Agathe Bauer’.* It turns out that native German speakers constantly hear phrases in their native language within English pop songs. Some of them absurd, some perverse.

Eventually, the entire phenomenon came to be known from its most famous instance, “I Got the Power/Agathe Bauer’, and songs which are misunderstood by Germans are now ‘Agatha Bauer’ songs. Here’s a recording of a radio call-in program (all in German, except the song titles and lyrics) in which Germans discuss their favorite ‘Agatha Bauer’ songs:

The irony is that “I Got the Power/Agathe Bauer” is a song by a German group, Snap! Here is a fun fact from the Wikipedia article about the song:

The song opens with the somewhat enigmatic line in Russian“Американская фирма Transceptor Technology приступила к производству компьютеров «Персональный спутник»” (meaning “The American company Transceptor Technology has started production of the ‘Personal Companion’ computer”). “Personal Companion” was a computer-like device for the blind and visually impaired. Released in 1990, it was controlled by voice and could, among other functions, automatically download articles from USA Today by a built-in modem. It was made by Transceptor Technologies of Ann Arbor, Michigan

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