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5 entries from March 2013

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.

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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. 

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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?


Always Wear a Conservative

My landlord, Roman, loves the good life.  Since he takes charge of the bottle recycling at our place, he can't help notice that we do, too.  

That led us to chat, in English, about beer.  Nowadays, I told him, I could scarcely manage three Weißbier at a time.  That amounts to about 1500 ml, which isn't even two of those giant Krug you see at Oktoberfest.  A mere sip for a true Bavarian.

Condom_advertisement_1918"That's because Weißbier isn't covered by the Reinheitsgebot,"  he began.  The Bavarian beer purity law—the 1516 Reinheitsgebot, or Cleanliness Order—forbade local beer to contain anything more than water, malt, barley and hops.  Weißbier, made with unmalted wheat, doesn't actually qualify as beer.  Brewers can put a modest number of chemicals inside.  "It has many conservatives," Romulus continued, "Like with California wine, the next day the conservatives make my head explode."

Scholars call this linguistic interference.  In German, a preservative is Konservierungsstoff—literally, "conserving stuff".  No biggie.

"Yes, last week we went out to dinner, and the wine was full of preservatives," I replied. "We felt very sore the next day."

Perhaps I should have considered this sentence more closely.  In German, most people use the borrowed word Kondom, for a condom.  But that's slang.  The ever-wise Papa Scott tells us that his teenage son learned the high-falutin' term Präservativ in his sixth-grade sex-education class.

(One wonders what they teach in a German ninth-grade sex-education class. Cunnilingus technique?)

Roman looked at me quizzically.  Then he smiled.  "You gay guys and your parties!" he said.  He thought for a moment, and added "That's a very good idea, you know."  We bid each other a schönen Tag.

This post is part of the Awful German Language Blog Hop on Young GermanyServus to you, Nicolette Stewart!

Picture: Wikimedia Commons.  Links to source


Wir Sind Papst Nicht Mehr!

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After Thursday's angeljacking, yet more post-Papal sentimentality.  This flyer tells us that a mere €10 will secure a souvenir coin, commemorating one of  "the most important stations in the life of our German Pope."  That is, the day he quit.

But hurry!  The limited edition of a mere 20,000 means your devout grandmother might end up with an empty sideboard.  

The celebration feels aWirsindpapst bit subdued, when you compare it to the heady days of 2005.  People still remember the front page of Das Bild, which loudly declared We Are Pope! 

The faithful here in Bavaria view the former Archbishop of Munich through rose-coloured glasses.  Many will admit that their favourite son had a troubled Papacy; few will call him a failed Pope. 

Note how the blurbers use the word "station".  Does it suggest Ratzinger is being crucified by unbelievers?

Previous popes faced financial fiddles, conspicuously gay priests, and the systemic abuse of children.  None of these problems appeared overnight.  But what was Benedict's response?

Insiders tell us that the Pope was as shocked and appalled by much priestly behaviour as any reasonable man.  A sympathetic BBC Op-Ed reminds us how then-Cardinal Ratzinger led a Good Friday service in which he called out the "filth" afoot, and how it could sink the Church. 

As he assumed power, he choked.  He went back to what he understood best—theology—and doubled down on it.  Stricter adherence to doctrine would cleanse the church.  And, indeed, it would.  If it mattered.

No clerical criminal resorted to Catholic doctrine to justify his corruption, nor the abuse of children in his care.  No misunderstandings, or lack of clarity.  Every offender knew, and understood the rules.   Besides, the secular world, it could be argued, operates on even stricter doctrine than the church does. 

Nope.  The Pope needed people skills, not theological rigour.  Can you think of a worse place to learn people-skills than the Catholic Church?  And the Bavarian Catholic Church, at that.   It's a double-whammy.

When the chief clergyman faces a child whose life has been destroyed by treatment at the hands of fellow clergy, perhaps he might stifle the mumbo-jumbo about the how the abusers' contrition trumps everything else, and how it is the obligation of the victim to forgive.  Secular courts take contrition into account, too.  But they don't let contrition erase the crime. 

Confession is good for the soul.  So let me confess that I was raised, and confirmed, a Roman Catholic.  I am one no more, in part because my Catechism seemed to hate children; it was used in the classroom to justify cruelty, and not love.   The current Church hierarchy stands aghast that their actions can be construed as expressing anything but the epitome of love.  No amount of theology will correct the fact that the priesthood relies on scripture to tell them what love is, rather than personal experience.

Before you buy a coin for your devout grandmother, think about sending your ten Euros to a victim's charity instead.  Surely, a much better way to commemorate Benedict's papacy.  Happy Sunday.


The Angel of Piste

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The Angel of Peace.  Her golden wings have flapped ineffectively since 1899, when the Munich city fathers screwed her to a column in the überspiessig suburb of Bogenhausen.  That makes the Angel of Peace—in German, der Friedensengel—a neighbour of ours.

Her day job doesn't tax her very much.   She reminds us of a warless quarter-century after the Franco-Prussian war.  German kingdoms fought shoulder-to-shoulder, and repelled the armies of Napoleon III in a spat over who would be the King of Spain. 

The creation of a strong, united Germany out of many disparate monarchies changed the political landscape forever.   A strong, united Germany would ensure peace for generations.  Wouldn't it?

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In truth, the now-beloved Angel was a bit of PR window dressing.   Coming together as a nation put Bavarian troops under Prussian orders for the first time.  This humiliated the Bavarians, and reminded them that their king, the notorious Ludwig II, was unfit to command.  The Angel  told Müncheners that they should view this new state of affairs as just peachy. 

Nowadays, we've forgotten all that.  Müncheners love the Angel for her beauty, and who can argue with the message?  "Her angel wings seem to reflect the golden light of an early morning sunrise.  Poised in grace and tranquility, [the Angel] can serve as a reminder to seek peace and calm."  So says Horst Kohl in his authoritative Bismarck and the Creation of the Second Reich the blurb for the Angel of Peace Barbie® .

The good burghers of Munich, after a schnapps or three, sometimes take the piss out of our poor angel.  Especially around Karneval time, or as we say in Bavaria, Fasching

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Last year, a few tipsy sculptors made a Schneeengel tribute on the plaza before her.  It proved such a hit, that they came back in 2013.  This time, they made the tribute grander. 

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Look at the size of that gal!  The Tagezeitung wonders if this is not the work of American snow-artist Ignacio Marc Aspera, since his technique allows for exceptionally high snow-sculpture.  They dismiss this speculation in short order.  Frankly, neither the art or the engineering is up to scratch. 

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The lady's weak engineering begins to show.  How un-German!

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But let's celebrate her strengths rather than criticize her weaknesses.  Some rascals added amusing details.  The original bears a rose in her right hand, and it looks like the snowy tribute as dropped it.  Or simply a Valentine's gift scorned?

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As warmer weather approaches, her days are numbered.  Already, the snowplows circle ominously.

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The sun may soon do the snowplow's job.  A sign on her back urges caution in the face of collapse (literally, the signwriter warns us of avalanche).  But until then, she remains another of Munich's curious popular tributes, which take over public spaces

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UPDATE

On the last day of Benedict's Papacy, dammit if someone didn't turn our angel into the Pope. 

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The sculptor remains anonymous, but he's now left a clue.  His Snowliness wears a mitre fashioned from a cardboard box.  That cardboard box once contained a Liebherr 2321-23 model upright freezer

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Liebherr, by the way, means beloved lord in German.  So to out the artist, we need to look for a devout Catholic who likes ice cream.   In Bavaria, that should narrow it doen to about nine million or so

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