Celebrate My Fit of Pique!

Bite Me Black Dress

What does it take to unleash your indignation?  Eight years ago, a calendar and a couple of beers did it for me.

It came to my attention that some busybody proclaimed the second Monday in January as National Clean Off Your Desk Day.  This impertinence provoked me to declare the following day, January 13, The International Day to Bite Me.   

The busybody in question was one Anna Chase Moeller, daughter of Bill Chase, who co-founded the Chase's Calendar of Events in 1957.  Rumour has it that Anna helped in the family business, and in so doing, shared a desk with her father.  As is the case with pretty much all entrepreneurs, forward-thinkers, creative personalities, and productive people of every stripe, the desk was a mess.  In a snit, Anna declared National Clean Off Your Desk Day to humiliate her father's habits.  Once a year, Bill was forced to sacrifice a day of personal productivity to appease his daughter, who no doubt could have worked on the goddamn kitchen table if the sight of actual work upset her so goddamn much.  Neat-freaks have used it to shame us normal people ever since. 

In 2017, The International Day to Bite Me falls on a Friday.   By coincidence, the first Friday the 13th of every year is National Blame Someone Else Day.  (It's also National Rubber Duckie Day, but that's another story.)

On Friday, August 13 1982, a sleepy Michigan woman found that her alarm clock had failed to ring.  This set off a cascade of lateness and bad luck that hounded her throughout the day.  The National Blame Someone Else Day commemorates her string of excuses and apologies.  In truth, it should be National Blame Fate Day, since the mechanical failure likely had no human source.  Unless it was the woman herself who failed to set the alarm on August 12—in which case we should celebrate National Sorry, It's My Own Damned Fault Day.

Who was this unfortunate woman?  None other than a certain Mrs Anna Chase Moeller.  

Clearly, this amounts to an abuse of privilege. Anna's way to vent petty annoyances was to declare a day after them, because in the days before the internet, she was one of the few who could.  Well, two can play at that game now, eh?

Screen Shot 2017-01-14 at 08.58.53By the authority vested in me by Typepad blogging software, Deutschland über Elvis declares The International Day to Bite Me 2017 open for all.  The ritual Flipping of the Bird will take place across Germany and the rest of the world, perhaps flipped all the harder because it might occur over Friday drinks.  

Personally, I spread the message by keeping calm.  On the International Day to Bite Me graphics page, you'll find an #ID2BM Keep Calm message, created on the official Keep Calm and Carry On Merchandise Store.  I had it embroidered on a pillow, suitable for screaming into. 


Brexit Explained

Brexit
Where is he gay today?
 A burger joint on Fulham Broadway, London.

Overheard from the next table, a group of men in their early thirties. 

"Of course you got sick.  Can't 'elp it if you travel abroad."

"Mate o' mine reckons you can get sick from just handling the money. It's filthy."

"A lot of them carry their money in in their arse-cracks.  The criminals are so afraid of looking gay, they won't touch another bloke there." 

"They say you should get your cash out of the machine in the morning, put it in your pocket, and jump in the swimming pool."  (Murmured agreement)  "Yeah, the chlorine cleans it right up."

Conversation ends as Spanish waiter arrives at table with lunch. 

No, I'm not making this up. 


Denglisch or Dancais?

IMG_2041

As you approach Stuttgart, the A8 Autobahn takes a precipitous dip. A big, menacing sign warns you that the speed limit is reduced to a lousy fifty miles an hour, under the headline Gefahr Danger Pericolo.  

I drove past that sign weekly for two years, intrigued.  The road connects Munich and Vienna with Strasbourg and Paris.  Why would the authorities write a sign in German, English and Italian, and neglect French? 

OK, I'm kinda slow.  But many fellow English speakers assume that when you see an Ungerman word in German, it's been borrowed from English.  Though less prone to lexicographical thievery than our own tongue, German has stolen quite a bit from west of the Rhein. 

This adds une complication for those of us whose mother tongue doesn't inflect—that is, doesn't change grammatical rules depending on whether a noun is masculine, feminine, or neither.  

All other things being equal, German assigns a neutral gender to nouns borrowed from a foreign tongue; das Sushi, das Curry, das Handy, das Big Mac. On the other hand, if a word sports a gender at the source, then it carries over into into German.  Latin words hopped directly over the Alps into scientific usage without a detour into English; that's why der Radius looks butch, but das Radium sounds like it's had the snip.

Tricky for those words which come via English rather than from it.  A credit card arrived this week and the issuing firm urged me to download die American Express App, turning this petite slice of software into a woman.  I hadn't thought about it until an online pal prompted me to ask why it should be so.  Surely, the term app came straight out of Silicon Valley.  It ought to be gender neutral. 

But Silicon Valley is fond of Latinate terms, which English sucked up from Norman French.  La application enters German as feminine, die Application.  This shortens into the rather girly term, die App.  

So it didn't surprise me to overhear two bemused people in the supermarket, wondering aloud in German, whether the product pictured above was das Pain, or der Pain.  And if the latter, should it not be im Bäckerei?

My husband, who you may recall is Japanese, thought this was a stupid name for a hot sauce, too.

In the Meiji era, Japan imported many exotic foods, along with the words to describe them.  Sensibly, they chose most of their new Western diet from France—let's be honest, if you could choose among global cuisines, would you choose any from the English-speaking world?  To him, pain (パン) will always mean bread, no matter how much American marketers boast of the agony their condiments inflict.  

When speaking German, you cannot be laissiez-faire about such things.


German Youth Word of the Year: Revenge of the Alpha-Kevins

Better known as a bicycle
My Egg File

At Deutschland über Elvis, it's the most wonderful time of the year! 

No, I'm not talking about Halloween.  In southern Germany, Halloween is nothing more than the night before All Saint's Day, a grumpy, morbid Catholic holiday on which you can't dance. 

No, not Oktoberfest, during which nobody stays sober enough to recall if it's wonderful or not.  

And no, not even Christmas.  Like everywhere, Christmas in Bavaria demands you buy a shitload of useless overpriced stuff and drink too much.  But outside, at a market, in the freezing cold.  

The management of Deutschland über Elvis believes the most enchanting season starts with a vote for the Langenscheidt German Youth Word of the Year.  

100% Jugendsprache 2014
The 2014 results in book form, or as they say, unplugged.

We love words here in Germany. New ones, old ones, and especially great big long ones.  We take Word of the Year seriously, as you can tell from the list of official, grown-up, serious German Words of the Year.  

Why does the "Z" key sit conveniently under the right index finger on German keyboards?  Because when asked to describe Official, Grown-Up, Serious German Words of the Year, one simply may type zzzzzzzzzz.  

Not so the Youth Word, or Jugendwort.  Crack Munich lexicographers Langenscheidt sharpen their pencils and open their ears in pubs, on sports-fields and street-corners, at universities and Diskotheken. The results? 

Ouch!  Or as we say in German, Autsch!

Let's take a rando from the list of finalists.  Nowadays, German youth refer to their bicycles as Eierfeilen, or egg files.  In other words, a tool to sand off your balls, which are known in German as a gentleman's eggs.  Not only does this earn a snicker, but it also raises several important linguistic issues.  

Is a woman's bike an Eierfeile?  Why is the word Ei (egg) neither masculine or feminine, but neutral?  (In German, both males and females can have Eier.)  And finally, why use the word file, and not sander?  I looked up sander in German, and found two words, Bandschliefmaschine and Sandstrahlgebläse.  Enough said.

The Countdown, or das Rückwärtzählen zum Start.

Here's a selection of the 2015 finalists. Many of them sound like they could have been stolen from Fede's 100 Days of German Words Project, except his are actually in German. 

  • Swaggetarier—A bling vegetarian.  Someone who is a vegetarian only for the status.

  • Augentinnitus—A ringing in the ears, of the eye.  The unpleasant feeling of being surrounded by stupid people.  Interesting that the word conflates stupid with ugly. Beautiful + stupid is a thing, too.

  • Bambus—Bamboo.  An adjective meaning cool.  One wonders why the German language needs a word for "cool", when it has already borrowed the English word cool.  But with the world dreaming up so many cool things every day, no language can have too many words for coolness. 

  • Rumoxidieren—To hang around, rusting.  A verb that means to chill out.  Another odd one, since fashionable German already adopted the verb chillen to mean the same thing. Are German youth trying to de-Anglicise their slang? (A move I would support, by the way)  

    Or are too-clever Langenscheidt linguists digging shit up from their Latin dictionaries?  Let's really get Latin: how about intoxidoxidieren, for chilling out over a few drinks?

    Hat tip to my pal at Berg ≠ Burg for deciphering that one.
     
  • Bologna-Flüchtling—a student taking a break from studies.  Literally, a Bologna refugee, so named for the Bologna Process that unified higher education in the EU.  I had originally thought it might be named for the fashion of spending one's gap-year in Italy—which may still be the case.  For American readers, Bologna ≠ baloney, though in context, that might still make sense. 

  • Shippen—to be a couple.  A shortening of the English word relationship. E.g. Boris and Steffi are 'shipping.

  • Maulpesto—Snout Pesto.  This simply means bad breath.  At first, I thought it might refer to the distinctive fax-papery texture of your teeth when hung over.  Further, I thought that fax paper was a far better metaphor.

    Then I remembered this is a youth word.  No present-day youth were even alive at the time when faxes needed special paper, or indeed, when faxes were needed at all.  

    But that didn't seem to stop German youth from coining the word Arschfax, or ass-fax, to describe the practice of showing your fashion-brand underwear label above the belt of your low-rise jeans.  

    How did I get from bad breath to underwear in the space of a few sentences?  Hey, that's how we roll at Deutschland über Elvis.  

Cherry Picking

The Jugendwort never fails to attract controversy, and in 2015 the press is running hot with outrage. Langenscheidt plucked the word Alpha-Kevin from contention, in favour of kirscheln. 

Kirscheln is a lame choice—if it had a literal meaning, would mean to cherry. The term refers to lovers who make it a point to stand close, like two cherries joined at the top of the stem, so that they may cuddle on impulse, or in German, spontan kuscheln. Gag me with a spoon.  

OTOH*, the phrase Alpha-Kevin actually gets used.  In German, Kevin is a byword for a dumb guy, and an Alpha-Kevin is a guy who has reached the zenith of dumbness...or maybe that should be the nadir of dumbness.  The German language is often employed to complain about the stupidity of others, so new insults always prove useful. 

A Wide Longlist

The long-list of nominated words on the Jugendwort website offers greater insight into the brains of our youth than the official shortlist.  If he wants to tell you he's hungry, a youth might remark "I'm a model".  In reply, you might suggest a visit to the Restaurant of the Golden Seagulls, or McDonald's.  A selfie-stick acts as an Idiotenzepter, or an idiot's sceptre.  A Twizzelditwazzelen means a long, satisfying draw on a cigarette; a word whose etymology, alas, defeats me.

Forever Jung

Why does Langenscheidt devote such attention to youthspeak?  The language spoken by the youngest among us surely gives us a clue to the future.  

And it's wicked fun to boot.  The Jugendwort mocks all those pompous language-purists, who figure large in chats held by the German chattering classes.

Munich has more than its fair share of blue-rinse pseuds, ready to tut-tut the way young people speak.  Bayerische Rundfunk, the Bavarian BBC, collected some senior citizens—combined age 238—to see if they could guess the meaning of the finalists.  

After breaking the Eis with a slug or two of Eierlikör, the trio were asked what they thought might be the Youth Word of the Year.  They agreed that it was likely to be an English word or phrase.  The youngest panelist, a mere slip of a lass at 74, guessed Fuck You.  

One of the first words to trip up the panel was Tinderella.  They imagined it must refer to a woman of incredible beauty, worthy to be a princess.  Or perhaps a modern day cosmetician, which stretches the meaning from Cinderella's original job as a cleaning lady.  As a sexually active speaker of any language in the 21st Century might guess, the word actually describes a woman who expects, naïvely, to find her Prince Charming online.  

(Its gay male equivalent, Grindrella, has a slightly different nuance.)

Smombie perplexed the trio; on first sight, it perplexed me, too.  Smombie mashes up smartphone and zombie.  It evokes a familiar scene; the wandering brain-dead, staring down at their iPhones, awaiting the next cat pic.  Though the elders couldn't guess the meaning, they responded warmly to the concept, and vowed to employ the word when next they sneered at kids nowadays.

So far, Null Punkten for the Bejahrter (literally, in German, the Enyeared).

IMG_6020
Erderotika, or Earth Porn

They didn't do much better with Earthporn, which describes a beautiful landscape.  The earth part posed no problem, since even wrinklies know about Google Earth.  But astonishingly, they couldn't decipher the term porn.

Even a cursory look at the internet auf Deutsch will reveal the term "porn" in common usage.  The panel may have had better luck if they checked the longlist, which contains the mildly more Germanly Erderotika.  Perhaps the elders were being coy. 

image from i.huffpost.com
Chancellor Merkel, in a rare display of emotion

Die Rätselhaftige Kanzlerin

Struck me as pretty rum that our group could not decipher the verb merkeln—to Merkel.

The panel worked out instantly that it referred to Chancellor Angela Merkel.  They imagined it might refer to a noble manner, dignified and respectable.  It surprised them to discover that it meant to do nothing, to say nothing, not to betray what you really think or feel—at least, not until you see the opinion polls.  e.g. When his girlfriend accused him of cheating, he Merkeled for several minutes. 

The rest of the world would not be so surprised.  The foreign press often describe Mrs. Merkel as inscrutable, an enigma, a sphinx.  It's her trademark. 

This New York Times op-ed by Anna Saubrey, opinion editor of Der Tagesspiegel, seeks to decode Merkel's quiet mystery. Alas, her account ends up just as inscrutable as its subject.  Perhaps those privy to the Chancellor's gehacktes Handy may know more of her inner thoughts, but the rest of us can only speculate.  

Merkeln, by the way, is winning. 

What word got my vote?

Since I can't vote for Alpha-Kevin, I threw my weight behind Hayat, a term of endearment.  Hayat comes from the Turkish word for life. E.g. I love you, you're life.  

Why?  Well, first of all, it's Turkish.  Outside of Berlin street argot—and fast food menus—surprisingly little Turkish has made its way into modern German.  

(By the way, German isn't the only language that puts up a fight. Think of how little Spanish has made its way into American English, with Spanish speakers a much bigger slice of the US population than Turks in Germany.)

Second, it's really nice.

Cynicism weaves through the Jugendwort list.  A good deal is just trash talk.  

Don't get me wrong, I like a good zinger as much as the next guy. But there's a time for optimism, too.

Hayat has echoes of l'chaim, the Hebrew toast to life.  Conflate the words love and life?  May we always find them in harmony.  

The photo of Mrs Merkel and her patriotic iPhone is embedded from the Huffington post, and the photo links to the source. 
All translations are my own, and thus subject to catastrophic mistakes.
*English Youth Word of the Year 1998