German Word of the Week: Fremdaussprechen

Behold the German (or "German") menu for McDonald's:

170309_McMenue_Landingpage_Teaser_948 (1)

Holy superfluous nipple, you might be thinking: it's almost all in English! This must make ordering a breeze even if you don't know German.

Not so fast. If you just waltz up to the counter and announce you want a "McWrap Chicken Caesar" the way you'd ordinarily pronounce it in English, there's about a 50/50 chance the clerk will look at you with befuddlement. And nobody likes to be befuddled. Or just plain fuddled, for that matter. Wait, where the hell did that word come from?

Where was I? Oh, right. If you want to be understood the first time, you're well-advised to butcher the pronunciation of "McWrap Chicken Caesar" so it sounds the way Germans would pronounce it. Germans consider it hip as hell to read English and write English, but not many can actually pronounce it.

Take the Big Mac. The "a" sound in Mac does not exist in German. German vowels tend sound more pinched and nasal and front-of-mouth than English vowels. Also, the standalone letter "c" is rarely used in modern German, having been replaced with the much more straightforward "k". The word for Caesar in German is Kaiser. Explains a lot, doesn't it?

So a German would pronounced Mac much more like "meck" (which a German, in turn, would spell Mäc). And a hapless Teuton with a high-school education would look at the meaningless letter-salad "Caesar", which breaks about 8 rules of German orthography, and pronounce it "TSAY-zarr"). "Big Tasty Bacon" becomes "Beg Testy Beckon".

Germans are aware of how ridiculous it is to use English words you can't pronounce. There's even a series of books (g) mocking the Deutsche Bahn (a favorite German pastime) based on the English phrase German train conductors always say at the end of announcements: "Thank you for traveling with Deutsche Bahn". The books are called "Senk ju vor träwelling", which mangles German spelling to re-create, for Germans, the butchery of words in English. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

So whenever I go to a store or a fast food place or cafe here in Germany and encounter English words, I gotta say 'em all wrong. Of course I could insist on the proper English pronunciation, and attach a short homily on how you shouldn't butcher words in languages you don't understand, but I prefer to be served spitless beer and dine unslapped.

I do as the Romans do, and pronounce my own beloved mother tongue as if my mouth were full or marbles. It always leaves me feeling soiled, as if I were begging for change in a red-light district by by reciting the Second Inaugural Address while wearing a crotchless Abe Lincoln costume.

Oddly enough, German doesn't actually seem to have a word for the phenomenon of having to pronounce your own language incorrectly to be understood in a foreign country. So I'm going to make one: Fremdaussprechen. Fremd for foreign or alien, and aussprechen for pronounce.

Krazy Karlheinz’s Place of the Woodening of the English

This is the official logo of the convention center in Essen a city of 567,000 people in Germany:

Messe essen logo

If you're a native English speaker, or even a mildly competent ESL speaker, you may have noticed that 'place of events' is something no proper English speaker has ever or would ever think, say, or write. It has every hallmark of Denglish obtuseness — the awkward adjectival phrase, the faintly ludicrous non-specificity (is there any location in space-time that is not a 'place of events'?), the cack-handed attempt to convey a sense of excitement by stitching together a few random words in the lingua franca of hipness. It looks like something you would read on a Thai T-shirt, or what you'd get if you asked a group of retired East German coal miners twenty seconds to think of a really cool English slogan for their local senior center.

And yet this is the official slogan of a multimillion dollar convention center in Germany's most populous state. This humiliating testament to the dreary stuffiness of German corporate culture has appeared on millions of signs, billboards, stickers, notebooks, cocktail napkins, sanitary pads, shell casings, flags, and streetcar-side advertisements.

What caused this train wreck? One part of me says the answer is obvious. The convention center's marketing director, Alexander Remigius Maximilian Cornelius Ignaz Baron von Shicklgruber started the slogan meeting by saying: 'It came to me over the weekend: Place of Events!' and his fawning underlings immediately congratulated him on the staggering awesomeness of his idea.

But maybe the inspiration was Crazy Vaclav, the swarthy, heavily-accented auto dealer from an unspecified Eastern European country featured in the 1992 Simpsons episode Mr. Plow. (unembeddable video link here). He tries to sell Homer a car from a country that 'no longer exists'. As the Simpsons Wiki puts it, the car is deficient in legroom, 'even for the driver'.

The name of Vaclav's car dealership?

 

The Perils of Denglish, or Ass Love Deluxe for the Whole Ass Family

Ass Golf

Ever played 'Ass Golf'? In the mood for some 'Ass Love Deluxe'? Does your family deserve to become an 'Ass Family'?

If you answered 'Jawohl!', and I'm sure you did, have I got a hotel for you. It's called the Saalbacher Hof, in Saalbach, Austria, and its summer vacation packages include:

The theme here, as German-speakers will have immediately noticed, is playing cards: Trumpf = trump, and Ass = ace. But then the oily-haired marketing types pepped up the stodgy hotel's image with some of that sickeningly hip English. Today's Austrian 'Familys' deserve no less!

One simple rule for ad-men, delivered free of charge: If you start a phrase or sentence in German, for G$d's sake finish it in German.

The Saturation of the Deer

Yo, behold this pleasant 1846 painting by Moritz von Schwind:

Moritz_von_Schwind_006

I admired it in person at the Hamburger Kunsthalle last weekend. It seemed darker in person — I think the digital version may have been brightened a little. Nevertheless, a nice chunk of late Romanticism, dusted with kitsch. The modeling of the buck's solid, sagging flesh and horns is nicely plastic.

Here is the translation of the picture's title:

Von Schwind

I chuckled over the translation of the German word tränken as "saturate". But then I became thoughtful, and stroked my chin. There's no easy translation for tränken. Tränken describes only how animals drink. Humans trinken, animals tränken. Same thing for eating: humans essen, while animals fressen. Add to that the fact that English has no simple transitive word for "give water to". You can "water" plants, but that always implies pouring water over or into something. You wouldn't water your dogs or your children, you would only give them something to drink.

The translators seemed to realize this, but then fatally chose "saturate" as the proper translation from the other entries on the dict.leo.org list. But how can we blame them? The meaning comes across, sort of, and the only other alternatives would have doubled the length of the title, which doesn't seem right.

The other titles were translated quite well.