58 posts categorized "Engrish, Denglish, and other language matters"

Foodzilla II. Frytening.

LONGREAD
Where is he gay today? Osaka Soemoncho, Sannomiya and Kobe Harbour. 

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The story so far: Dazzled by the dining options of the Dotonbori, Osaka's restaurant district, my husband and I set out to find a doofus food joint that won't challenge our soon to be inebriated brains. 

Don't you hate Westerners who won't shut up about Japanese food? It's so light! It 's so natural!  It's so pure so special so cleansing so spiritual so harmony with nature so blah blah blah blah wank wank wank! 

Here's what you should do with these people. Get them to shut their eyes, dip a piece of avocado in wasabi and soy, and tell them it's high grade tuna.  They won't know the difference. 

Truth is, not even the Japanese can live on raw fish and vinegary rice at every meal.  

First of all, it's expensive.  There's an old Japanese saying: I used to be rich, but I ate sushi.  And we're in Osaka, which is cheapskate central. Here's a Kansai saying: I'd rather lose a finger than a yen.

Furthermore, Japanese people like to drink. 

Unless you're quaffing champagne with caviar, raw fish is extremely poor drinking food. Insubstantial, unabsorbent of alcohol, and frankly, a little bland.

That may be OK among the social and corporate elites of Tokyo.  But Kansajin have zero patience for bullshit.  Ain't got no time for twelve courses of exquisitely arranged kaiseki.  Your average Osakan would be gnawing off his limbs before dessert.  

If a Kansaijin starts gnawing off his limbs, that shows his stomach is empty.  Japanese people hate drinking on an empty stomach, because—how can I put this nicely?—the ability to hold one's liquor is not exactly a national trait. 

Daikichi. Total alcoeats. 

My husband is a Kansai lad, so he knows this district very well indeed.  "Follow me," he said with a glimmer of nostalgia in his eye. "I'll take you to a place where Oscar and I would eat after drinking on the gay scene."

This remark predicted a night of heavy turpentine.  Oscar is my husband's gay BFF, or as we gay gents sometimes say among ourselves, BFFF.  

Oscar is a brilliant Kansai native, who reads his namesake Wilde in the original English, and speaks it with a perfect—and perfectly gay—Oxbridge accent.  But that wasn't the element of his character which I recall most vividly.  My fondest recollection of Oscar is his taste for gin and tonic, and his sneer if you pour too much of the latter. 

If this restaurant has the Oscar Seal of Approval, it will serve drinking food. Decision Accomplished. 

Thus did we find ourselves at the venerable Daikichi, or 大吉.  The kanji translate as great run of luck or on a roll.  (Odd. We didn't find fugu on the menu, so a run of good luck isn't critical.)

A thirty-seat izakaya, Daikichi cultivates a reputation as an insider secret. The celebrity autographs reminded me of a hole-in-the-wall trattoria in Naples or Brooklyn, whose owner is proud of the luminaries who sought out his special skills. Like its Italian counterparts, I suspect that Daikichi has seen the odd mafioso parking his legs under a table.  Tattoos, such as those on the gent in the glossy, are widely believed to be a sign of a yakuza.  

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In Japanese, the kanji for izakaya (居酒屋) literally mean a liquor store you can stay and drink at.  So the dishes tend toward bar food, small and sharable, like tapas.  Management has plastered its menu on the wall, revealing prices between one and four bucks each.

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Luckily, Daikichi provides an English menu for its foreign guests. Though the word English  may be a tad generous. 

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A whelk is a species of sea snail. You're whelcome.
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I wasn't game to try the fried hormone.  It sounded too much like a description of me in college. 

My husband needed neither menu nor wall; he ordered from memory. His youthful evenings always kicked off with octopus, and a fine choice it is.

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Pitch a tentacle

More fast food followed, keeping us content while our main meal was prepared.  The tofu soup and grilled sardines made a small gesture to healthy dining.  We quickly undid these health benefits with two rounds of Asahi Super Dry.  

(An aside: when I lived in Japan, I always wanted to get into English language voice-overs.  Many commercials end with an English tag-line, and I imagined it to be a pretty good racket.  Most famous was the abundantly-advertised Asahi Super Dry beer, whose royalty-rich TV spots concluded with its name delivered in a perfect be-afraid-be-very-afraid blockbuster American movie voice, which I can do in a dawdle.  Alas, the only gig I could score was Have a Break, Have a Kit Kat.)

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While we drank and nibbled, the TV on the wall caught our eye.  An Osaka talk show.

In Japan, the words "Osaka" and "Talk Show" add up to an oxymoron.  Osaka has talk-everything.   Nobody ever shuts up.  (The stereotype of shy Japanese folk comes from Tokyo, where government bureaucrats and corporate cogs waste oxygen in silent, organisation-man presenteeism.) 

The Osaka dialect reminds an Anglophone listener of outer-borough New Yorkese; fast, impatient, and the natural language of comedy.  There's no better example of this than Sanma Akashiya—Sanma for short.  A titan of mirth, he's been clocked as Japan's fastest speaker.  (Click this link to hear how fast he talks while interviewing hapless heartthrob Takuya Kimura, a Tokyo native and ex-member of Japan's most popular boy-band of the early twenty-first century, SMAP.  The limp-personalitied Kimura stands no chance against smart-aleck Sanma. Even Beyonce totally pwned him.)  

But that night on Osaka TV, Sanma encountered someone who could give it as well as take it.  Hailing from Chiba (Tokyo's New Jersey) the sumo-sized cross-dresser Matsuko Deluxe furnishes bitchy wisecracks to talk shows across the nation.  She started her career as a writer for Japan's pioneering gay magazine, Buddy, before hitting the big time. 

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Just in case you were wondering, Sanma is the one on the right.

Choosing the politically-correct English pronoun for Matsuko Deluxe is no easy matter, since Japanese pronouns have no gender.  Her drag-name, Matsuko, is clearly female.  Ko means small, and as a suffix, it might be translated as -ette.

To assign the right pronoun, we must listen to her speech patterns.  Deluxe uses the grammatically proper watashi to refer to herself, equivalent to the English I or me.  When speaking casually, most women will continue to use watashi or atashi, whereas men will change to boku or ore.  It causes many a snicker when men who have learned Japanese as a second language continue to use watashi, no matter what the context.  Lookin' at you, millennial American gamers. 

This show combined two Osaka obsessions, talk and food.  A rather large panel of talkative celebs watched evergreen A-lister tarento Nozomi Tsuji prepare a meal, to crack wise at her attempts.   Displaying no gender ambiguity, we caught the former starlet preparing a seaweed garnish for miso soup. 

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Sanma and Deluxe traded gags, while a noted doctor (also on the panel) touted the digestive virtues of having miso soup with your rice.  We listened closely.  We could use a few urgent health tips, since main course was on its way. 

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Many westerners look at Japanese people, few of whom are fat—sumo wrestlers or Matsuko Deluxe notwithstanding—and conclude that a Japanese diet keeps one trim.  World Health Organisation data published in 2017 ranks Japan 185th out of 191 countries in obesity, with a mere 4% of citizens officially classed as tubby.  The average Japanese body Mass Index lobs in at a svelte 23.  Thus, many assume that all Japanese food is low-fat, nutrient rich, and good for you.  As I mentioned above, that assumption is false.  Because this: 

Fried deliciousness
clockwise from top left: shu mai, tofu, beef, chicken, eggplant, shrimp and...um, dunno.

What lardy magnificence!  It's an Osaka specialty known as kushikatsu (串カツ).  If one prefers to avoid katsu, the borrowed French word for cutlet, one can also say kushiage (串揚げ).  Literally: fried stuff on a stick.  The Japanese character for skewer, kushi (串), is a nice bit of visual onomatopoeia.  

Now this is goddamn drinking food, amirite?  Beats your hard-to-eat wings and nachos.  And please, don't tell me that everything looks like a corn dog, because they just ain't in the same league. 

In olden times, restaurants often charged the same price for every stick. Customers would present a glass with their empty sticks to the cashier, who counted them up and thus settled the bill. One gets a proper check nowadays, but the tradition of collecting your skewers in a beer glass remains. 

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I took in this glorious scene, and grilled my husband. 

"An Osaka specialty, you say?"

"Yes."

"So, other restaurants in Kansai serve this?"

"Everywhere. Western Japan loves fried food."

"That means we don't have to live on sushi and ramen for the whole of this week, right?"

My husband scoffed.  "Of course not. Kansaijin aren't stupid."

Our vacation was looking up. 

Suika KYK, Sannomiya.  Pig out.

The next night, we set off in search of the crumbiest dinner we could find. We made it just in time.  Restaurant KYK closed permanently not long after we visited.  Clearly, we were the ultimate in alpha-customers.  Management gave up.  Future patrons could not possibly meet our measure of gluttony.

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Thrifty Kansai fellow that he is, the numerous set-menu options in the window attracted my husband's attention.  Frittered food makes an ideal Japanese restaurant window display; the crumbs are very easy to duplicate in acrylic, and lose none of their appetite appeal.  Oddly, many restaurants still cover these fake plastic dishes in cling-film overnight. Not to preserve the food, but simply because the plastic models are a pain in the ass to dust.

One of the plastic window models
Not exactly Surf 'n' Turf.  Pig 'n' Prawn, maybe?  Fruit of Sea and Swill?

Digesting such mountains of  fried food would make even the sturdiest bowel wince.  So Osaka custom demands side-dishes of fibrous cabbage, rice for ballast, and miso soup as a digestif.  In unlimited quantities, to do battle with the giant gut-clogging cutlets for which the place was famous. 

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Look at the pork cutlets below, and look at my husband's hand for scale.  KYK served up a mess o'pig.  Fried to perfection, these thick slabs of pork stayed juicy, with just the barest wisp of pink in the middle. 

Crumbed prawns (or for you Americans, breaded shrimp) came with the set.  The decadence of deep-fried oysters was entirely my husband's touch.  Note the plentiful dipping sauces and sinus-scorching Chinese mustard.

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We tucked in so heartily that the server rushed over with emergency cabbage, almost instantly. She repeated this several times. 

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I had never experienced a food coma in Japan.  But this meal caused our eyelids to droop, and both of us to yawn with satisfaction.  We lounged around for about half an hour, picking our teeth with a Proo. 

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Teppanyaki Grill Tajima, Portopia Hotel, Minatojima Kobe

We took my husband's parents to dinner the following evening, which pushed us upmarket.  Could we keep up our fry-happy lifestyle?  Teppanyaki gave us the perfect solution.

The Restaurant Tajima is located in a hotel on Port Island, a man-made island in Kobe Harbour.  I use the phrase "man-made" because when I called it a fake island, my husband objected. "It's not a fake island.  I saw the many tonnes of dirt they trucked into the harbour to make it.  It's a true island from top to bottom."  

(Hmmm...surely, islands don't have bottoms.  That's how you can tell them apart from a boat.)

When in Kobe, beef it up.  And since Kobe is a port city, do seafood too.  The lanced prawns were still alive and wriggling as the chef presented them to us.  

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Ordinarily, I wouldn't include pricey teppanyaki in a piece about comfort food.  But here are four reasons: 

  1. It's fried. 
  2. Look at the fat in the Kobe Beef below. I'd say the fat/protein ratio in that cow ran at 50/50.  This pushes it well into state fair concession territory, and maybe even rivals French food.
  3. Look at the picture below. The chef topped the scallop dish with a pillow of fried cheese.
  4. Let me repeat: fried cheese 

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Kagurashokudoukushiyamonogatari, Kobe Harbour City

On the Kobe waterfront, we hit a motherlode of oil and crumbs.

Kagurashokudoukushiyamonogatari sits inside a mall of restaurants facing the waterfront at Kobe.  The name is almost as long as one of those pesky German words.  It's so long, I haven't attempted to type it; readers may assure themselves that every mention of the restaurant's name has been cut and pasted from its Yelp entry.  

As best I can figure out the kanji, (神楽食堂 串家物語) the name means The Story of the Gods' Temple of Easy Meals.  

"Here's the deal," explained my husband. "At (ctrl+V) Kagurashokudoukushiyamonogatari, ¥2000 (USD $18, €15) gets you all you can eat. Another ¥1000 ($9, €7.50) gets you all the beer you can drink."  He paused for a moment, trying to contain his enthusiasm. "I think we'll get our money's worth on both counts."

"What's on the menu here at (ctrl+V) Kagurashokudoukushiyamonogatari," I asked?

"Fried stuff on a stick." His eyes went dreamy. "Fried stuff on a stick, forever. There's a catch, though.  Like a Korean barbeque, you gotta cook it it yourself."  

One starts at the buffet of pre-stabbed edibles. Patrons choose among meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, tofu, and other items of indeterminate provenance. 

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Lotus root and okra
For the vegetable course, lotus root and okra

A diner-cum-chef carries his selection to the table, where a modest friteuse awaits, dangerously hot.  (The grillwork on all four sides is an exhaust fan, by the way.)

One coats the food with a slurry of water and cornstarch, which allows the breadcrumbs to adhere.  You rest the coated stick inside hot oil, and when done, slather it with dipping sauce.   At this link, you can watch two young women show how it's done.

First course
First course: crab, shrimp, tofu, mushroom, potato, beef, pork, chicken, champignon, fish balls and...um, something else we couldn't identify.  Appetiser: beer. 

The sticks emerge crisp, ready for a good dipping. 

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We tasted the first lot, and maybe went a little overboard.

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The place was packed with teenagers, and no wonder.  Not only did the food suit an immature palate, it thrived on a teenager's underdeveloped impulse control. 

The two teen girls at the next table had packed away a brace of kushi, and moved onto dessert.  I did a double take when I saw them eating soft-serve ice cream cones with a spoon. 

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In Japanese culture, opening your mouth too wide is kind of vulgar; a little too intimate.  Women feel particularly sensitive about it, and will often cover their mouths when they laugh or eat.  Ice cream poses a special problem; licking is icky. 

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As with everything else, the ice cream was self-service, and so was the dessert bar.  Their English skills rivalled Daikichi.

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Keeping with the stuff-on-a-stick schtick, a chocolate fountain drenches your stabbed sweet morsel of choice in brown goo.  You can even dip french fries in it.  And finish the evening with coffee-flavoured Jello, which you garnish with non-dairy creamer from those little sealed cup-things.  Because your body is a temple. 

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My husband insisted I take the picture below, as proof that we nailed this whole skewer business.  We couldn't count the number of sticks demolished, because we got excellent value out of the ¥1000 bottomless beer.  And my beloved topped it off with an ice cream cone, which he licked, because he's a real man who laughs at all this prissy business of covering your mouth.  You could see his tongue. It was very erotic. 

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No doubt, you readers have noticed that I've been typing this slowly.  The memory of that dinner  (and the next, since we returned the following evening) has put me into a food fog and beer haze.  We got wasted, and waisted.  We left the restaurant for a stroll along Kobe waterfront, and onward to a highly necessary evening's sleep.  Barely made it.  Goodnight, and sayonara.  I gotta go burp. 

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Dude's Day

The Munich Eagle
A sign which hung outside the now-closed Munich Eagle, a leather bar in the Glockenbachviertel, Munich's gay neighbourhood.  Einlassrecht Vorbehalten means that the management reserves the right of admittance. 

It's a holiday here in Germany, a day when the nation truly earns its title of the fatherland

Officially, it's the feast of the Ascension, or Christi Himmelfahrt.  Though it reminds an English speaker of Jesus breaking wind, it literally means the Messiah's Ride to Heaven.  

By coincidence, it's also German Father's Day.  Why?  Ascension occurs in the spring, you see.  Farmers would take a day off tilling the fields to wander through them.  After determining the prospects for a good harvest, the men would wander back into the village together.  As we all know, any chance meeting of two or more men demands beer, and thus began the tradition of Männertag, or Men's Day.

German father's day celebrations have a slightly different flavour from the rest of the world.  For one thing, you don't have to be a father to join in.  Being a man is enough. 

As elsewhere, German mothers generally spend their special day in the bosom of their family, being pampered.  Here, men extract themselves from home and escape to the public square for some DIY pampering.  

Groups of men wander the streets and lanes, pulling a cart laden with kegs and bottles.  They favour beer, but schnapps is not unheard of.  Many use the occasion to raise money for sporting clubs, volunteer fire brigades, service or other associations. Though such clubs are open to both genders by law, they tend to be male hangouts.

The feeling reminds me of the volunteer fire department in Port Vue, Pennsylvania, Vigilant Hose Company #1, with its distinctive blue Mack fire truck.  My father and his brothers spent many hours playing pinochle on duty.  More than a fire brigade, it's a powerhouse of practical compassion.  I never saw them so relaxed and emotionally healthy as when they were united in this common purpose.  A common purpose that gave them license to form close bonds with each other. 

Männertag always gets me thinking.  On every International Woman's Day, those clamouring for an International Men's Day rightly get pilloried for false equivalency.  But a day set aside for male fellowship is a different matter.  

Being a man is often lonely and isolating.  We disproportionately choose solitary jobs, which reward self-reliance over collaboration.  We retreat within ourselves, ashamed to be close to our male friends. The burden of emotional support falls on our partners, often unreasonably.  

I know many men who say they find no safe space to talk about emotions. Männertag may, or may not, perform that function. Messy drunk dudes certainly don't look like they're tending to each other's emotional health.  But in a solid, practical way, perhaps they might be.  


Ththththth!

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We were at our favourite Greek resturant in Munich, speaking English with our Greek waiter.

"There you are!" he said, as he presented my meal.

"Thank you," I replied.

He smiled.  "It's so nice to hear someone who can pronounce theta. Nobody in Germany can do it."

Of course, he didn't say Germany.  He said "Dzermany".

Flourishing a perfectly-voiced dental fricative, I added. "That's right." 

A gentleman from Barcelona piped up from the next table. "Other languages use theta, too" he corrected us. "Don't be thilly."

"Without doubt," I replied, " but nobody sticks the tip of his tongue up to his front teeth and blows like a Greek or an Englishman."  I basked in the word teeth.

A nearby German  became quite piqued.

"Sagen Sie mal", he asked, "sind Sie Französisch?" Tell me, are you French?

"Nein, ich bin Französisch nicht," came my reply.  No, I'm not French.

Of course, I didn't say ich.  I said "ick".

He sneered.  "Ha!  That was the worst ich I have ever heard.  Your nicht sounded like a chihuahua trying to shit." 

"Harumph" I grumbled, in my best English.

He chortled over his spanakopita.  "Oh, you Englishy types with your thinking and your theories and your thumbs!  But none of you can say ch!" 

I shouted to a Scotsman across the room, easily identified through his kilt and tam o'shanter.  "Hey Jock, wazzup!"

"Och, laddie..." he began.

"That's enough, thank you." I said, and turned back to the German chap.  "See?  English speakers can ach and och like the best of you." 

"You're completely wrong!" he replied, with a directness the world so admires in his countrymen.  "Any one can make a ch when it follows a nice rounded vowel like an ah or an oh.  But not when it follows a delicate sound like an ee or an ih that you actually have to make with your mouth and not your throat already."

He had a point.  One can sound consonants in different ways.  Think of the humble L.  It sounds a bit different when you use it to say line and when you use it to say hall.  This is known as a "light-L" and a "dark-L" respectively.  .

We English native speakers hear the two Ls as the same.  Polish—a fiendishly complex tongue—actually uses separate letters for the two sounds.   Natives of some other languages can struggle with one L, and not the other. 

My husband, whom you may recall is Japanese, has mastered the light-L.  I often hear him say a perfect let's take the lift, with none of the R/L confusion that afflicts speakers with an Asian mother tongue.  Not so the dark-L.  Should you meet him in a hotel, don't ask him where the ballroom is.  Nor should you discuss the movie star, Errol Flynn.  Nor require him to use the word uncontrollable.

Conversely, it's the light-ch that gives us English speakers trouble.  We end up saying ich—a common sound in German—as an ish or an ick.  It mainly occurs at the end of syllables.  Which gave me an idea. 

"OK, Mr. Gescheithosen.  You may think you're pretty smart, with your lippy th at the beginning of words.  So tell me.  What do you enjoy at the end of a hard day?"

"A bath," he replied. 

Except he didn't say bath.  He said "bus". 

"Perhaps you have a particularly nice ride home, so I'll allow that", I said.  "But here comes the clincher.  Say the word clothes...in one syllable!"

"Clozes." he fumed.

Others around him tried to help. "Clothis", interjected a lady from Berlin.  A gent from Schwabing tried "Clodzes".  A fine attempt came from a rural Rosenheimer with a "Clozzess".

Ha!  Our Greek waiter merrily celebrated by putting his tongue up to his incisors and letting out a big "Thththththththth!"   .

I joined him in a jolly "Ththththththththththth!", too.  Soon, all the English speakers in the room pitched in with a nice big, long "Thththththththththththth!".   Except for the Scotsman, who was arguing over his bill. 

 

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


Denglisch or Dancais?

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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


Ordnung ist das halbe Leben IV: At the City Finance Office

IMG_2085

!!ATTENTION!!
PLEASE NUDGE THE REVOLVING DOOR
ONLY LIGHTLY.

IMG_2064

PLEASE first take a WAIT NUMBER!

IMG_2081

-Contact Desk.
Please wait until your call
100
shows on the display panel.  
Two persons are waiting in front of you. 

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PLEASE note Contact Desk 1 or Contact Desk 2

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(Contact Desk 2 has not been manned since 2005)

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 Please note hereupon, 

that you [must] lay the provided ball-point pen back again after use.

Because the next visitor would like to fill out his form/application with it.

The ball-point pens are placed by
the Finance Office Munich Service Centre
in the context of [a] Service Concept for the disposition of visitors.

They are not promotional giveaways!!

We thank you for your understanding. 


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.

_______________________________

* "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


Better in Boarisch

Boarisch cash machine

Christmas season is almost upon us.  In Munich, that means Oktoberfest season is finally off our backs.

Oktoberfest brings the same cheese-level as Christmas, but with a different subject matter.  Bavarian cheer becomes almost as unavoidable as Christmas cheer.   Everybody dons lederhosen, sings corny songs, eats wild game until he grows antlers, and drinks super-proof beer brewed to make you extra gemütlich.

The local dialect gets laid on thick, too—it calls itself Boarisch, though standard German would call it Bayerisch.  You hear Yaw instead of JaNayn instead of neinHod instead of hat.  And a simple d' instead of the more precise der, die or das.  I still have trouble with the last of those, even after all these years, so the season is a godsend. 

Stadtsparkasse (city savings banks) around Bavaria allowed you to conduct your ATM transaction in Boarisch, as you can see from the screen above.  I tried it, and liked it.  Boarisch grammar is much more devil-may-care than standard German, which sounds a bit prissy by comparison.

The producers of the summer-comedy Ted even released a special version of the movie to coincide with Oktoberfest.  (For those of you who don't know, it's a movie about a boy's teddy bear which gains the gift of speech. As his owner grows, the two pick up some bad-boy habits, until true love puts a stop to it.)  The movie would be released with the bear speaking Bavarian, instead of Hochdeutsch.  Here's a scene of the stars bloking out on the couch; I cannot understand a word of what the bear is saying, but I guess that's the point. 



In German culture, Boarisch is a byword for unintelligible.  When translators faced the testy problem of dubbing the jive scene in the Zucker Brothers movie Airplane!, they chose to make the two jive-speakers speak Boarisch, with German subtitles.


(The jive scene wasn't the only challenge the translators faced—as I've written before.) 

One can also find a version of Ted in Berlin yoof slang—or as they say, the bear Berliniert.  (Those who would like to compare the two, can do so here). 

I would call the Berlin version krasser (groovier), but that wouldn't be very toll (groovy) of me.

 

Ted-freche-komoedie-nun-42682_big


Bets of British

Screen shot 2012-07-12 at 21.43.41
The Monty Python crew were men of many talents, and one of them was selling out.   They ain't ashamed to cash in on their celebrity—indeed, they revel in it.  And none so well as that chuckledaddy darling of adland, John Cleese.  

In his endorsements, Cleese stops short of complete shamelessness, but it's often a close call.  I remember a series of ads he did for Planters Nuts in Australia.  (Check them out.)   The script joked about the client wanting to dissociate himself from the commercial; unfortunately, that's exactly what happened.  The spots ran, I believe, once.  

One day, while watching Austrian television—we watch a lot of that in Bavaria during the Strausssommernachtstraum season—I got an eerie sense of deja vu.   Cleese was hawking William Hill, Britain's behrümteste bookie.  

In it, a gorilla tires of lugging around a laptop just so he can log onto williamhill-punkt-com, and steals Cleese's Blackberry.   Another tells us that Austria has besseres Wetter (better weather),  but in Britain one can besser wetten (bet better)

Like I said, these gags stop just a bee's dick short of shameless.  But during the recent European Football Championship, the Hill turned from William to Benny.   Cleese says there are plenty of amusing things about the Euro Cup, but you shouldn't gamble with jokes.  A fat guy in his underwear appears, proving the point.


Why is this most British of British comedians famous in the German-speaking world?  Many forget that Cleese is part of it.  He speaks excellent (if accented) German, and was responsible for bringing the Pythons to Bavaria in 1972 for a series of TV specials.  YouTube contains most of the sketches from Monty Pythons Fliegender Zirkus, and I urge you to watch.  Personally, I think it some of their finest work.  Like the English version, it cracks the veneer of uptight order to release anarchy, but with a professional polish they never quite achieved at the BBC.


Visitors note: service in Bavarian restaurants has not improved in the last four decades.