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).

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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 VI: im Supermarkt

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For your information, every open container has been weighed!

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Please, on hygenic grounds, use our one-way gloves. 

Only organic
Please put only organic items in organic bags
(Bio-logical!)

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!!!Attention!!!
The Federweißer is not provided with a fermentation lock, so the cover is not completely closed. We therefore ask you NOT to lay the bottle on its side because otherwise it will run out. Many thanks, your Supermarket Team. 

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Please always line up at the Meat Counter! 
Thanks. (Clown Smiley)

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Honoured Customers!  
Please lay your entire shopping on the conveyor belt.  Thanks.  

Trust is good
Trust is good, checking is better
No sale of alcohol to youth
Young people often don't look their age. Please understand if, when selling alcohol and tobacco, we ask for age identification—for the protection of all children and youth.

Belt divider hygiene

And note the excellent checkout belt divider hygiene.


The Definition of Sanity

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Peace.  We heard that word a lot over the recent holiday season.   Prayers for it, wishes for it, regret at how little of it seems to abide.  Heavenly peace, peace on earth, the prince of peace, peace to all men, peace was on everybody's lips.

Isn't it ironic that the new year always begins so peacelessly?

That goes double for our otherwise genteel neighbourhood.  A mere 5 doors away from us, we find the Europaplatz; a noble public space which the city government, for one night of the year, surrenders to hammered arsonists with explosives.  They're so drunk, most of them can't even find the place, and begin to blow shit up anywhere handy.  This was the view from our front window at one minute past twelve. 

 

That jars with my customary New Year's resolution.  From the previous sentence, you might conclude that I make the same, unsuccessful resolution every year.  You'd be right.   

My new year's resolution would appear to fit the definition of insanity often attributed to Einstein: it's crazy to do the same thing year in, year out, when the only result so far has been failure.  

Personally, I prefer a different definition of insanity: Giving fireworks to drunks.

My usual New Year's resolution aims for an oft-misunderstood state of mind; that is, mindfulness. To be present in the moment, to abandon that which angers, to be thoughtful in word and deed.  To mutter, when needed, Reinhold Niebuhr's famous Serenity Prayer, minus the first word.  

In 2012, I made a binding promise, in public, to be mindful.  Like, with a meme on a website, and everything.  It lasted eight days. 

This year felt different.

An afternoon walk on New Year's day, as always, revealed a the detritus of the night before.  But the sun, low in the sky, cast a light that made the trash, abandoned atop some recent snow, seem almost poignant. 

Detritus footpath

Detritus 2

Detritus whirligig

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Detritus beastmaster
Cars tried, and failed, to keep their dignity under the snow dumped on them.

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Buildings and trees schemed which pals to tag for the Ice-Bucket Challenge.  

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The usually sombre St. George's Church felt quite perky.  Under fresh snow, even their graveyard shines with optimism.

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By the time I reached the Maximiliananslagen, our local park, I was primed for a good mood.  Mind you, the park lifts your mood no matter what.  Its visitors have mastered the very skill I lacked; an unselfconscious ability to hang out, and enjoy simple pleasures. Especially on the sledding hill. 

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Yes, Rover, the yellow snow always smells more interesting, doesn't it?

It was then, I stumbled on an impromptu lesson in being present in the moment.  Three hung-over-looking men decided that the best thing to do this fine day, was grab a few shopping bags, and in an ass-chilling fit of madness, go for a slide.

  

I shall use these men—clearly too old to find joy in anything so childish as losing control of the direction in which their butts are travelling—as my example for 2015. 

This year, the resolution might stick, mildly.  I'll keep you posted.

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Blueskystudio2The first photo is entered in the PhotoFriday Weather challenge.


Ordnung ist das halbe Leben V: Protect Us from Dancing

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This helpful sign tells us what German youth are allowed, and not allowed, to do.  It clarifies the regulations under the Federal Jugendschutzgestez, or Youth Protection Act.  Hey kids, don't get excited over the word "allow"; the first sentence makes clear that just because it's legal, parents don't have to agree to it.  So none o' your lip. 

Naturally, many of the provisions concern alcohol. Thirsty adolescents should note in §9 that one may drink legally at the age of sixteen, as long as the drink contains no fortified spirits.  Germany recently declared college education free for all students, including those from abroad, and this loophole makes the deal even sweeter for many American youth who need to wait 'til they're twenty-one for a Miller Lite.  Dichter und Denker, meet underage Trinker. 

You may even do this in a pub—before midnight according to §4—but not in a nightclub.  Because there might be dancing.  

Youth dancing is controlled as strictly as alcohol.  §5 forbids those under 16 from entering a disco without the buzzkill of adult supervision.  And kids under 14 can't even do folk dancing past the hour of 10.00 pm. 

Bavarian Tanzangst reaches a peak next week when we celebrate the Feast of All Souls on November 1.  Halloween parties for all ages need to clear the dance floor on the stroke of midnight, lest it run afoul of the notorious Tanzverbot, or dancing ban.  The Church, still a powerful influence on German life, insists that the day remain solemn.  No dancing, public or private, for people of any age.

Because dancing might lead to sex.  That's probably why the sign tells us, in the grey highlight near the legend, that none of these restrictions apply to married youth under 18.   

The Tanzverbot turns adult citizens into adolescents.  Flout it.  Who wants to join me for a quick Madison in the Stachus next Saturday?  


A Saturday Outing

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These several dozen dicks form a detail from a Keith Haring work, snapped at the Paris City Museum of Modern Art last July.  

I share it in honour of Coming Out Day 2014, which occurs every October 11.   Haring, as you may know, created the first Coming Out Day poster in the late eighties, and it remains an iconic work.

Coming out.  Is that still a thing?   Arguably, notwithstanding a rocky start, communities in the bourgeois West found diverse sexualities relatively easy to accept over the last half-century—easier, perhaps, than accepting the full implications of gender, race or economic equality.    

In our highly connected age, when we fight to keep the details of our private lives private, a public declaration of what gets our rocks off feels a little risky.  Maybe even déclassé.  

But we should ask ourselves if this reluctance is a matter of being discreet, or ashamed. Coming out day

Nice people don't talk about what goes on behind their bedroom doors.  So much of gay politics has concerned itself with making sure that bedroom door opens into a highly mortgaged house protected from estate duties through marriage.  Have we forgotten we have sex?

Over the last decades, coming out has focused on the social aspects of sexuality—marriage, money, personal safety, and community.  We want to weave our parners into the fabric of our economic and family life, whatever form that takes.  And for that to happen, revealing your orientation is a necessity.  Nobody knows it better than my husband and me. 

But coming out has a personal dimension.  Part of that personal dimension is erotic.  

When I came out, it meant more than just being able to bring a bloke to a dinner party.  Someone had given me a licence to find the world an erotically-charged place.  I ogled, I slobbered, I saw immense beauty in the men around me.  I found it easier to keep all this arousal respectful if I could actually talk about it, in a relaxed way, with anybody in earshot.  Still do. 

If you find talking about sex tacky, tough.  Jane Austen didn't write the queer script, pal. 

Revealing a sexless sexuality is pointless.  To stay schtum about the erotic side of our queerness doesn't make the world a freer, more open, more humane place.  It just announces that we're willing to conform to Puritan expectations.  It's just another closet.

All I can say is that coming out—even as late in life as me—did this bloke a power o' good.  Dammit, I could be horny anyplace I damn well pleased.  I loved talking about sex, and I loved hearing about sex.  My repartee began to sound like a gay Carry-On movie, if that's not a tautology.  The smutty banter was authentic.  All that applies today, too.  

To queers everywhere, enjoy mental health.  Coming out is a Mood Gym.

If you're in a safe place to do so, today is the day to tell the world where your libido points you. Lots of people, in many parts of the world, don't have that luxury.


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

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

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PLEASE first take a WAIT NUMBER!

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-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. 


Tattooed on the Memory

Where is he gay today? Edinburgh
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Thirty years ago, I found myself wishing bagpipes had a snooze button. 

Those sleepy mornings—over two dozen of them—took place in Edinburgh in the summer of 1985.  Seeking cheap digs, my pals and I bunked out at the Leith Nautical College, on the Firth of Forth.  A visiting pipe band from Canada, in town for Royal Tattoo, had the same idea.  They used the sports field outside the window to rehearse their drill.  Every morning, promptly at six forty-five.  

We spoke to management.  We explained that we were a comedy troupe from Australia, playing the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  Jet lag was eating our brains.  Lights went up for our show at midnight.  And we drank a lot after the curtain fell—in Scotland, we reasoned, such an argument held sway.  Could the Canadians please keep the noise down until lunchtime?  

The administrator replied in soft tones reminiscent of Gordon Jackson in Upstairs Downstairs.  "Now, you do realise you are in Scotland?"

Yes, we said.

"And you know that this college is an arm of the Royal Navy, and as such, is a military institution?"

Yes, we said.

"And you imagine that militia, in Scotland, might march to tunes played on a bagpipe?"

Um, yes, we said.

"Well..." he concluded, with a phrase that betrayed a schooling in classics not uncommon among east-coast Scots, "caveat emptor."

*     *     *     *     *   

Leith Nautical College closed its doors in 1987.  One of my fellow troupers quipped that had he known, he would have delayed his visit two years.  

But bagpipes before breakfast were a small price to pay for an extraordinary several weeks.  

Our band of undergrad comics regularly played the fringes of the festival in our native Adelaide, and sought to open our gills in a bigger pond.   We came as rubes from halfway across the world, and left as actual, minor-league almost-professionals.  (Up to a point. Only one of our troupe went on to earn a crust in showbiz.)  At the Fringe, both competition and opportunity ran hot.

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The Royal Mile.  As ever, packed with patrons of the arts

By the late seventies, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe had become the largest arts festival in the world, dwarfing the festival proper.  Every church, school, gym, pub, spare room and coat closet morphed into a theatre—though in 1985, we were still half a decade away from using the word morph.

Postcard_1985Millions crowded into a city which, under normal circumstances, held barely 350,000.  To squeeze the maximum number of butts on seats, most performances ran less than an hour.  Audiences sprinted from show to show, through as many as eight or nine in a day.  As you dashed to make the next curtain, performers plied their witty ways to get a playbill in your hand—a practice known as flyering.  It was chaos.  Energetic, inventive, brilliant chaos.

Billing ourselves haughtily as the Australian Comedic Revue, we touted that we were a hometown hit on the Adelaide Fringe—an exaggeration: we were less a hit, and more a mild slap.  

Several of us threw together a show called Wagga Wagga High High.  From memory, the blurb went something like the tale of a school so evil that it can turn children into accountants.  I played a character called Zeldor Fitzgerald, Teen from Another Planet. The costume included my own high school uniform, into which I still fitted. Yes, 1985 was a simpler time. 

We gave an even milder slap to the Edinburgh Fringe, but felt we acquitted ourselves well enough.  Thanks to a not-unkind review in The Scotsman, we sold out our season.  Russell Harty wanted to interview us, too.  But that fell through, because his phone at the BBC didn't allow Subscriber Trunk Dialling, or something.  

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Edinburgh has since grown to half a milllion souls, but can still barely contain the beast.  In the first three weeks of August 2014, the Fringe sold 2,183,591 tickets to 49,497 performances of 3,193 shows in 299 venues.  

If you divide the number of tickets into the number of performances, one gets an average audience size of a little over forty.  Few impresarios count this as a real figure.  In 1985, rumour put the median audience size at twelve.  This year, word on the street tipped nine. 

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Better Together

In the decades since, I'd wanted to return, simply as an audience member. This year, encouraged by friends who now live in Edinburgh, we did.  The promise of some fine travelling companions clinched the deal.  

When I told people in Edinburgh that I'd performed on the Fringe thirty years ago, they grew curious.  It must have been very different back then, surely.

I shocked them with my reply.  No.

In my observation, here's what's changed.  

  • Lager drinkers can choose from a wide array of bottled craft beers.
  • American university students majoring in theatrical administration or arts publicity often work on the Fringe as a course requirement.  We met several flyering. 
  • Edinburgh's quality broadsheet, The Scotsman, once provided the most authoritative critiques. The paper remains an authority, but nowadays a mammoth website called Broadway Baby overshadows it.  Curious, since the Fringe is about as un-Broadway as you can get.

That's about it.  Here's what hasn't changed since 1985. 

  • Busking bagpipers on the Royal Mile love the theme from Star Wars.  
  • Tickets are pretty cheap, but dedicated cheapskates pick up bargains at the half-price box office.
  • Snooty, sensitive, arty types hate the atmosphere.  Australian acts thrive.  American and Japanese artists enjoy the looser rules.  
  • An act lives or dies by its reviews—if you get a decent review, you put it on your flyers and flog the hell out of it.  
  • Modern times have seen the rise of the professional publicist.  But still, the best way to get an audience is for an artist to wear out some shoe leather, press some flesh, and perform on the street.  
  • Never sit in the front row for a stand-up comic. When he asks "And where are you from?"—and he will—whatever your answer, he will mock you mercilessly.  He will mock you mercilessly, too, if you decline to answer at all. Too often, the where-are-you-froms displace actual jokes.  It's heckling in reverse.  Hey, buddy, I'm your audience, not your material.  Lookin' at you, Fred McAulay and Scott Capurro.  I repeat, never sit in the front row for a stand-up comic, unless you crave attention.
  • You can take your drinks into the theatre, or indeed, anywhere.  Restaurants in most parts of the world will bundle leftover food in a doggie bag; in Edinburgh, pubs decant leftover drink into a Starbucks-style doggie cup.  Have you ever sipped beer through a straw?  Not my preferred means of suckage.
  • Scots like to vomit.  Billy Connolly's most famous routine even jokes about it.  Drinking Scots should be required to carry airsickness bags, in the same way dog-owners must carry plastic bags as a measure against their pets fouling the pavement. 
  • The Fringe organisation does an awesome job of managing the herd of over 20,000 temperamental performers. Nowadays, it provides a cool mobile app that lets you squeeze more theatre into a given day than you thought humanly possible.  Their website pulls together a programme, ticketing system, reviews and social media seamlessly.  But the telephone-book sized Fringe programme remains the most popular means for visitors, literally, to get their acts together.
  • With 20,000 performers in a city the size of Edinburgh, the Fringe thrusts artists and audience together in ways you simply don't find elsewhere.  Many performers mingle before and after the show—given the set-up of most venues, it's unavoidable.  If you want to talk to your comedy heroes face-to-face, go to an Edinburgh pub. 

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Umbilical Brother Dave Collins clowns with the public in the foyer after his show
—which was superb, by the way.

I've changed.  But the Fringe hasn't.  Every year, it finds new sources of energy, originality, and outrage.  Perhaps I shouldn't leave thirty years between visits.  Nowadays, I can afford a quieter place to sleep. 


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?