Sans Blanchisserie, Côte d'Azur
Tattooed on the Memory

English on the March: Push-Up

Push-Up Bra
Over recent months, this subway ad has tittilated many a Munich gentleman—and not a few ladies, for that matter. 

Immune to feminine charm as I am, one might think this fine display would hold scant interest.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

It wasn't the breasts that caught my attention. 

Don't get me wrong, I like breasts well enough, for a piece of anatomy. The breast ranks between the earlobe and the frenulum as an interesting bodily quirk.  What's more, you can pierce any of those three for added entertainment value. 

No, the fascination lies in the language.  A scant two words of copy—five if you count their component parts—ply some remarkable English. 

Pecta super protrudo

First, let's not count the word super as English.  You bookish types know that super is Latin for above.   Likely it came into English through Norman French, and into German through French French. 

Super makes itself equally at home in both languages.  And a good thing, too.  It's easy to invent new words to say how awful things can get—in German, these expressions contain the word scheiß as a grammatical requirement.  But to find a new word to say something good...well, our languages have to work at it.  

According to LEO, that fast source for all things deutschsprachig, most of the synonyms for super have to do with being on top or sticking out.  For example, spitze (peak), prima, or the futzy hervoraggend  (literally, protrude forth).  Other expressions refer, disquietingly, to annihilation; todschick (deathly chic) or bombig (bomby). 

English synonyms for super tend to be a bit more abstract (excellent, awsome, or phat—for pretty hot and tempting).  Slang often employs irony (bad, wicked)*.  Failing that, we opt for the more literally violent—smashing, belting, kick-ass—rather than the deadly.  It feels less über.

To see super in a German language ad raises scarcely an English-speaking eyebrow.  Not so push-up bra.

Brassiere Sincere

Hang on a minute.  Alert readers will have noticed the absence of the word bra.  That part is in German.  The letters BH stand for Büstenhalter, or breast-holder.  

Many authoritative sources, such as the makers of Trivial Pursuit, hold German count Otto von Titzling responsible for the first modern bra.  Bollocks.  That's an urban legend.  Everyone knows that the brassiere was invented in 1862 by British aristocrat Lord Booby for his amply-endowed Argentine mistress, Countess Gazonga, during a tryst in Bristol.  

(By the way, as I was googling researching this post, I discovered the German word for a nursing bra is a Still-BH, or distillation bra.  How splendid to live in a nation of scientists!)

A Word Under Pressure

The real curiosity on this poster is the word push-up

The Honourable Husband's First Rule of Odd Foreign English is that no language borrows an English word just to sound cool—the language has to need it. 

Why would German need a word so basic as push-up?  Surely there is a simple German equivalent for the phrase. 

I tried to think of it.

Aufdruck, the literal translation, means engraved printing.  Hochdruck ("high push") means high pressure, especially blood pressure.  Oberdruck would mean to print a second time on top if the first printing. An Ausdruck is a print-out—and ausdrücken can also mean to express yourself.  The literal word for above, oben, is seldom used as an adjective: we usually usually hear nach oben, or "toward above". 

Dammit.  Everything's taken.

The humble German pushdrücken—works awfully hard.   In English, we use a set of several words for related concepts—press, print, push, pressure.  In German, one word does the lot.  We see it everywhere.

IMG_0620
Drücken used as "push", on the doors of a Frikadellensemmelkönig

Your computer printer is a drucker.  If your boss hassles you about a deadline, you're unter druck.  To give someone a hug is to drücken them.  To beat someone down, or oppress them, is to drücken them.  In a game of dodge-ball, one would drücken the Kugel.  We drücken our toothpaste onto a brush.  The German expression for let 'er rip is to drücken it out the tube.  No wonder a modern German speaker is loathe to burden poor druck any further.  

Here's an example how to tiptoe around druck.  The word for push-up, when it refers to an exercise, can take two forms.  The first is der Liegenstütz, which kinda sorta hints at being horizontal and supporting yourself.  The other is der Einstichboden, which subliminally tells us that one should be stinging, or puncturing, the floor.  Thus, we deftly avoid yet another stretch of the druck

Der Volkische Push-Up BH

The need to borrow the word push-up for a bra becomes becomes clearer when one looks at German—and especially Bavarian—folk costume.  Women in Germany have pushed-up their assets for centuries.  But they did it with dresses, rather than undergarments. 

DSC00315
A bit of German stereotyping, found at a Russian bus stop.

Why do you need a silly old bra to überboob yourself, when the DIY solution has worked since forever?  A push-up bra feels like a foreign affectation.  Better to use a foreign name for it.

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* "Slang often employs irony."  Hey, have I turned into a pompous ass, or what?

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