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7 entries from January 2012

Denglish: Check Your Male


This billboard, with its tantalising wisp of chest hair on a svelte torso, didn't raise too many issues of language.  At least not at first.

It's an ad for World Compact, a tabloid version of the prestigous German national daily The World.  Few know this, but the paper was founded in Hamburg by the British occupying forces, who modelled it on The Times.  Early this year, the new Welt Kompakt was hyped as a hipper, snappier version of Die Welt, with the blunt slogan Short. Different. Printed.

The headline reads: We chat on the phone with Mama and check emails at the same time. Are we ripe for a new newspaper? 

I pondered this piece as I waited for a train, and it began to fascinate,  on a number of levels.

It's Short.

First, look at all that hybrid-English!   In spite of all the Englishy words, the ad contains one of the few sentences which is longer in its English form, than in the original German.

As a language, German pursues precision.  Its grammar riddles normal conversation with redundancies and extra info—must I really specify the gender of my math teacher?   German doesn't just borrow a short Latinate word to describe an abstract concept, it must explain the idea in detail—no science, for example, but rather wissenschaft, which clarifies that science is a knowledge accomplishment.   This example turns a seven-letter word in English into a twelve character word in German, a typical margin.  Words and sentences seem to last an eternity.

Copywriters must put the maximum meaning into the shortest possible space.  The Texter(in) who wrote the billboard shows a mastery of the craft.

It's Gay.

Second, do my homosexual readers (you know who you are) detect some code?

I mean, who else but a gay guy would clutch his mother's photo to his nice-but-not-too-worked-out pectoral while (at least) half-naked?  

These clues had me looking at the model's fingers, for that foolproof sign of homosexuality—a ring finger shorter than the index finger.   Bingo!   He's family.

Let's leave aside the clear message that he's having naked phone-sex with Jocasta, and look at the word used to describe it.

He telefoniert with Mama.  He doesn't rufen her an, or as we would say in English, call her up.  (in German, he technically calls her on.)   Telefonieren refers to a discussion, an exchange that lasts a while.  In English, we're far less precise.  We neeed to use the phrase to be on the phone with someone. Or to add a clarification, like I phoned her for a long chat

The word telefonieren may sound familiar to an English ear, but it's a little more precise than we expect.

It's inboxed.

You native English speakers: what do you reckon about the word Mails?

Before the turn of the century, the word mails sounded dumb.   Grammatically, mail was a mass noun, as opposed to a count noun.   Such a noun never appears in the plural, like  traffic, Jello or pseudoephedrine.  The well-known 1998 movie is called You've Got Mail, not You've Got Mails

If you wanted to talk about pieces of mail, you might use a word like letters or postcards.  But how do you refer to a single unit of email?   No such descripive term exists, so English speakers have turned email into a count noun; e.g  I need to answer a couple of emails before I leave the office.

Germans cleverly side-stepped this minor confusion when they wrestled with what to call these new electronic messages.   No need for e-posten or e-briefe when you can just shorten the English word email to Mail and apply it—to mailen something always means to send it electronically.    The noun form started life in German as a count-noun.

The German language could have cooked the word from scratch, but it was easier to buy one ready-made. 

It's Checked.

The grammatical distinction between a mass-noun and a count-noun proved so riveting that I nearly missed the choicest morsel of English in the whole headline.  The verb checken

The Honourable Husband believes that no language borrows a foreign word just to sound cool.  The language has to need it.  Especially in this case, since checken is an odd word that flaunts its English origin through spelling.   The guy on the billboard really should tschecken his mail.

So, why does German need the word check?   I answer with another question: Have you ever been checked in Germany?

Germans don't check things.  We examine things, certify things, analyse things, understand things, ensure things, rate things, measure things, record things, judge and evaluate things. The closest literal translation for check, in German, is überprüfen; literally, to over-prove.  It can be excruciating. 

Nothing over-proves this better than reality cop shows.  

Such shows reflect their cultures in distinctive ways.  Sam Richards wrote in The Guardian that American shows like COPS and Rookies "glorify police work as a flashy, heroic fight against the forces of evil".  Their British equivalents, such as Cops with Cameras or Street Wars "present a grim, ceaseless and unwinnable struggle against petty crime motivated by booze, drugs, poverty and boredom."  In Germany, the forces of evil....create disorder!


 Mein Revier—My Beat—promises that Ordnungshüter räumen auf!   Guardians of Order Straighten Up! 

Viewers quiver with excitement as two officers help a young Kölner find his car when he's forgotten where he parked it.  Two others take care of an angry drunk until his wife can come and get him.  Viewers find polite parking inspectors worthy of note.  Next week promises that an attractive Russian woman will be caught with too many duty-free cigarettes.


Achtung Kontrolle! (no translation necessary) focuses on first-world problems, too.  

This link shows a teenager left alone while her parents are away; her parties have caught the attention of the apartment-building super and he phones the police to check that everything's in order.  The young woman outsmarts the cops with her superior cunning; she doesn't answer the door.   

In Die Chaos RastätteThe Chaos Rest Area—we follow an Autobahn catering inspector as he ruthlessly puts a motorway caf through its paces.  Top notch toilets, but poor time-and-motion management. In order to get a Bockwurst and a latte—your standard trucker coffee break—one needs to visit every corner of the shop.  It gets  worse if the trucker decides he wants a packet of tissues.  Unacceptable!

Achtung Kontrolle! recently did a feature about when to switch on, and switch off, your rear fog light.   I was on the edge of my seat.

Lucky these guys don't have any neo-Nazi thugs left to catch.

Borrowing from necessity.

Back to the point.  The point is that German didn't have a world to describe the casual, take-it-or-leave-it attitude with which a modern cyber-citizen must view his bulging e-mailbox.  So it looked to the messiest, most haphazard tongue it could find—our very own English. And they found what they sought—the word check.

So, it was with smug pride in my native language that I glanced away from the billboard.  My train had left.  Damn.  Must overproof the schedule, next time.

I Love You @wowiezowietuna, and Other Matters of Internet Hygiene


How about that new Twitter interface!  When composing a post, it didn't allow me to place the cursor at a point of my own choosing through the use of a mouse, but hey, let's not quibble.  It performed well enough to deliver a private Tweet from a certain @wowiezowietuna.

I'm not sure how @wowiezowietuna came into my Twitter orbit.  I followed him after he retweeted me—first because I appreciated the gesture, and second because anyone with a handle like @wowiezowietuna must be a wild and crazy guy.  Right?

Not long after, I get a private tweet from a certain Mr. Alabaster Smooth, real name Karl.  It was @wowiezowietuna.  He asked me how I got so many followers.  Here's my reply.

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Gosh, the guy is really hurting, and all I could do was sound glib.  I didn't even spend all my 140 characters.  I'm a bastard.

As of 8.08 am CET on 12 December 2011, Karl had tweeted 2,713 tweets, and they earned him a measley 12 followers.  By contrast, the Honourable Husband had published a meagre 172 tweets, and had 98 followers...hang on.  Fuck.  That dropped to 97. 

(OK, which of my Twitter followers is in prison?)

The Honourable Husband is a run-of-the-mill private user of social media.  He blogs.  He facebooks.  He tweets.  He puts his LinkedIn profile at the bottom of his emails.  He writes pompous reviews on TripAdvisor and booking.com, in the hope that hotel management will read his disgust at their flea-pits and offer free stuff to shut him up, or will read of his delight and upgrade him just to say thank you. Neither has happened.  He is uncomfortable with check-ins and geolocator services.  He's chuffed that someone invited him to A Small World.  People don't find his amazon reviews very helpful.  He's thinking about Tumblr.

On the other hand, the Honourable Husband is a communications professional, so he knows a little about the finer points of our new online universe.  But he ain't gonna tell you those.  Because the Honourable Husband's Rule #1 of social media is never blog about work.

Pleased to Meet You!

Let's look at Karl's dilemma.  Here he is, in his Twitter debut.

Screen shot 2011-12-11 at 20.31.51
Let's assume that your interest in death, Karl, is purely poetic.  If not, click here.

God is Dead. Nature is Dead. Love is Dead. What's next?  Make sure it's not you.

If you're a death-head on philospohical or aesthetic grounds, that's a different story.   Tweeting about Poetry and Death is as legit as tweeting about Britney and Kittens.  But find the right people to tweet at. 

That means go to Vienna.  

No, srsly.  The Viennese love death.  After a funeral, people go all gooey about the schöne Leich, or the beautiful corpse.  (In Austrian dialect, the words for funeral and corpse are the same.  How cool is that?) 

The recent funeral of Otto von Habsburg brought the city to a standstill, and lasted five hours.  Five. Fucking. Hours.

In over six-hundred acres, Vienna's central cemetery holds the remains of three million late residents—artist Andre Heller described it as an "aphrodisiac for necrophiles".  Families often make a day's outing at the Zentralfriedhof, enjoying the buskers and hot-dog stands, even if they don't have a particular corpse to visit.

Bestattung museum 2
One of René Magritte's Seated Coffins, in the Vienna Funeral Museum
Photo links to source.

The reason you should go to Vienna is to obey the Honourable Husband's Rule #2 of social media.  Blend your online and offline communities. 

Those online friends whom I have never met, I feel familiar with—certainly familiar enough to talk in the flesh when the opportunity arises.  Neilochka, that treasured love-child of Mike Nichols and Bennet Cerf, is one example.  We have followed each other's blogs for so long now, he even put me on a Twitter list called Dated in a Previous Life.  He makes it a point to meet his online pals in 3D, and his online community is a place of generosity and love.  The next time I'm in Orange County, we're totally going out to one of those Onion Garden places for a pizza and margaritas because that's what you Californians do, right?

Another example, the marvellous nursemyra.  Why are we online friends?  Pretty much the same reason we'd be friends if we'd met offline.  She's warm, generous with affection and praise, knows art, loves human nature, likes to tell a good story, and looks hoochie-coo in lingerie.   Nursemyra is a big fan of Magritte's coffins.  You should follow her, Karl.

She and the much-admired Daisyfae, two women of like mind, began to comment on each other's blogs.  They met in Barcelona one year, and have become regular travel companions.  Young men quake before them, hovering between awe and arousal, as the pair cougar their way across the world every couple of years.  I feel sure that when we're in the same city, we'll meet in person over a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or two.  (Being gay, I am immune to their seductive weaponry.  Ha!  Take that, you vixens!)

Karl, you should seek online friends of the same calibre, and then make them your offline friends.  But here comes the sixty-four dollar question.  Will you find them on Twitter?


Karl sent me a pertinent follow-up question.

Screen shot 2011-12-27 at 5.14.42 AM
Obnoxious?  Twitter is perfect.

Twitter seems to bring out the worst in people.  JetBlue needs to remind followers that their Twitter feed is, in fact, not their complaints department.  The little exchange in this link is the kind of venom that fuels Twitter, and it's only interesting if you're famous.  All the @s and #s ruin the comic timing.

Who makes a success on Twitter?  Justin Halpern, that's who.  The guy behind Shit My Dad Says. 

Probably, you've seen the TV show.  But have you read the book, and the tweets?  When Halpern was tossed out by his girlfriend, he went home to live with a father who did nothing but insult and humiliate him.  If you are raised in a home like that, you become the kind of guy who...well, gets tossed out by his girlfriend and has to go home and live with his—there is no other word for it—abusive father.   In the book, Halpern breaks up the onslaught of toxic tweets with anecdotes from his childhood, even more ghastly.  The cleaned-up version of Shit My Dad Says lasted a single season on CBS, but on Twitter, it has 2.9 million followers.  Sad.

Twitter culture?  I stopped following @buzzfeed when it told me about the most extreme Bagel Bites commercial ever, and the king of Sweden watching a strip show.

Twitter holds few joys for a sensitive soul.  And you're a sensitive soul.

Karl's Tweets: A Critique.

Since you asked, here are a few suggestions. 

First, a bit of tough love. You need to think long and hard about tweets like this one:

Charming, perhaps, to the right audience.  In a Haight-Ashbury coffee shop in 1968, after 11.00 pm and three bongs.  And to the following two tweets... 
  • We don't have to be cryptic; we have to be beautiful
  • Does everything have to mean something for me to say it?
...I reply yes, yes and yes.  You might like to put aside the brown spirits when you tweet; you don't want to become a tweeting drunk.  Or as the rad kids say, a twunk.  Alcohol and Twitter, I suspect, can lead to downbeat blurts:
  • I drink to get drunk like I write to get wrote.
  • The world sucks, get over it; it always did.
  • The Bell Jar isn't depressing enough
Of-fucking-course The Bell Jar isn't depressing enough, Karl!   Get yourself into Philip Larkin.  Compared to Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath plants tulips and plays with puppies. Larkin is man-sized maudlin. 
You're in the middle of getting a liberal education.  A liberal education demands a logical analysis of highly emotional subjects.  Relentless logic will reduce everything to the absurd. 
  • Absurdity is possible because we have reasoned it so.
  • Death is the nude absurd.
  • The Absurd is an imperative for ontological purity.
  • Is the idea of the Absurd rational? Is it rational to posit that such an idea is intellectually tangible?
I, for one, have ceased to be angry that our emotional investment in the world around us—with its beauty and joy and heartache—is pointless.  I could not engage my old college buddies with the following tweets—even if I could do it in such a nice way, reminiscent of Gertrude Stein. 
  • Because I'm passionate and crazy about poetry all the same; because I want to rail against it, abrogate it and detest it and throw it away.
  • Because I'm so torn and ensconced in the dialectic of confusion. Because it's cunning and petty and grandiose and rich, lofty and lowly.
  • Because logic has utility but is the warper of logic itself. AND more of what-the-fuckness.
What-the-fuckness is an elegant and vivid way to say meaninglessness.  But however elegantly expressed, Karl, it's snoozeville as subject matter.  Everything, when you  think about it, is absurd.  That's what thinking does to things.  Mankind spent much of the second half of the twentieth century kvetching about meaninglessness.  The time has come to resurrect the meaningful.

I wouldn't go too far with the Gertrude Steiney stuff, either.   I'm still scratching my head over this:

  • I looked for you looked for you I tried to look for you and wherever you were found I tried to look for you.
  • And if you were alone I tried to look for you and were found I looked for you I did not find tried looking for you.
  • These what is becoming is becoming is looking for I tried to look for what is becoming is becoming, come.
Which brings us to the ultimate question: why should you tweet about Poetry and Death, when you could write actual verse?  Every one of the following tweets show an exquisitely observant poetic sensibility.   Each could easily make a short poem.
  • Proportioned judiciously, we eat enough to die
  • Ghosts are just doing their job
  • Antique sounds, boots clopping on concrete
  • The morning yokes everything left behind in the night
"Eating enough to die" describes so many dieters, and their relationship to food—food as both life and death feels like a theme of our times.  The images we might see in a working world of ghosts demand a poetic description; the cubicle farm as haunted house.  Who makes the antique noise, and does he know how old-fashioned his footwear makes him sound? Is the strong clop of the boot, worn mainly by men, a statement of how dated strength as a measure of masculinity has become?  I wish I could write stuff like that.

Karl, when you do land a zinger in classic Twitter style, it's highly refined.  Again, these seek to be sentences in a larger, more involving work.

  • Never say: "I'm confused," Always say: "I'm not following you."
  • Work is a Christian ploy to tire us for sex.
  • One does not always need violence and destitution to live in a terrible neighborhood.
So, Karl, if you want to get the most out of the world of social media, don't seek a Twitter following.  You're too good for that.  Poems rarely fit in 140 characters.  (Unless, of course, they're haiku.  But don't get me started on haiku.)

Get a Tumblr.   It's the perfect venue for poetry.  Use it to find a community of like-minded souls who will enrich your art.  Then seek to meet them offline.  Go for quality friends, not quantity.

And as you say in a particularly nice tweet: Do not underestimate the value of simplicity and precision. 

Didn't mean to bust your chops, Karl.  But you did ask.  All my love to you, ol' cyber-buddy. 

Get Your Sneer On


IDTBM vert sneer white


Today's the day.  Tell the busybodies and fusspots that they can bite you, as those witty young people say nowadays. 

Then tell us about it on the IDTBM home page. Or the IDTBM facebook event page.   Tweet about it with the tag #bitemeday.  Or just leave a comment here.

If you're in Munich, a few of us might be getting together for a quiet Bite Me drink this evening to swap stories of how we expressed our enormous contempt.  Let's call it Bite Me, Beer Me.  Drop me a line if you're up for it.



Pixel Perfect

IDTBM square subtle
A messy desk acts as a lightning rod for scorn from some.   Far be it from me to judge those who would spend time clearing up papers, rather than thinking of ideas to write on them. 

No scratch that.  I judge, and judge hard.  Those people can bite me. 

But something happened on Thursday January 13th 2011, the Third Annual International Day to Bite Me, which gave pause. And it goes to the heart of what the day is all about.

I made a PowerPoint presentation.   Now, a lot of people may race ahead to the conclusion that this formed part of the problem.  Not at all.  I adore PowerPoint.  My decks are like poetry; not meant to be read, but to be spoken.   They are drama.   Everybody loves them.  For the first ten minutes, anyway.

APresentation1s ever, when setting up, the audience caught a glimpse of my laptop's desktop.  It held all the electronic documents that I was working on, or using. It showed a few bits of flotsam; scratch-spreadsheets, e-books, installers that had been downloaded and used, but not discarded.  You know, the usual stuff.

One audience member saw the screen, and gasped.  "Wow", he said.

This wasn't a good wow.  It was a that-must-have-hurt wow.  A three-car-pile-up wow.  It was an I-really-wanted-to-say-fucking-hell wow. 

"Hat der Herr ein Problem?" I asked in German.  Does the gentleman have a problem?

He replied in English.  "No, no problem.  Just...um, wow."

Think about this.  If there is one desktop which needs no tidiness, it's the desktop on your computer.  If you can't find something, hit search.  It can be anywhere, and you'll find it. 

But my colleague didn't get that far.  His hindbrain jerked his instincts.  It conflated the normal disorder of the active workbench, with dangerous chaos. 

Now there are some people with those instincts, and some not. I don't have those instincts to any great degree.  For me, the actual work is of more importance than the form it takes.

And real work takes mess; on yourdesk, on your desktop, in the library, on your workbench, in your kitchen, under your car, in your legislature. 

And that's what the International Day to Bite Me celebrates.  Actual work getting done, thoughts being thought, deals being closed and fun being had.

When somebody sneers at your desk tomorrow, tell them to bite you.   When someone sneers a your parking, tell them to bite you.  When someone sneers at your kitchen, tell them to bite you.  Then tell us on the IDTBM home page. Or the IDTBM facebook event page.   Or tweet about it with the tag #bitemeday.

Make us say "wow".   In a good way.

National Clean Off Your Desk Day Passes Without Incident

Happy holiday, everyone. Yesterday was the second Monday in January, or National Clean Off Your Desk Day

You may recall that on just such a wintery day in 2009, a certain blogger failed to clean off his desk.  Instead, he wrote a blistering blogpost, and washed down his bile with a beer.  That post  declared the following day, January 13, the International Day to Bite Me. A day to tell those busybodies and fusspots where they can stick their manilla folders and pencil sharpeners.

IDTBM to the heavensIDTBM beats the NCOYDD hands down.  Not just because the purpose is noble, but also because it dispenses with that stupid business of landing on a different date every year.   Oh, you ever-so-organised people who must have the damn thing on a Monday every year because that's all neat and orderly, as opposed to being easy to remember!  We who follow the IDTBM philosophy like to remember stuff.  That's why we don't need to be neat and orderly.  Our minds are big enough to know where all our shit is.  Take that.  Now go and put all your pencils in a coffee mug or something. 

In my humble opinion, the Personal Organising community has been dispensing some odd, if not silly, advice.  For example, hint #3 on how to keep your desk tidy in this HuffPo piece is "Keep Everything at Your Fingertips".   No, really.   And, of course, any place where you work hard, collaborate or have fun can harbour germs.  An unmanaged desk will kill you!

This year, we see a beautiful co-incidence.  National Clean Off Your Desk Day occurred on January 9, two days after I'm Mad As Hell And I'm Not Going To Take It Any More Day on January 7.  No, really.  Click this link if you don't believe me. And this one.  And this one, too, since it has some cool videos.

I regard Mad as Hell Day, occuring less than a week before, as a nice warm-up for the International Day to Bite Me.  But alas, like so many holidays, Mad as Hell Day went commercial.  Zany Holidays wants to sell you a stress ball.  The Giftypedia website also suggests a stress ball, or perhaps a nice long vacation

Bugger that.  Do not look inward for a solution.  You don't need to buy some bauble to comfort you when the problem rests with others  Just sharpen your tongue.  It's cheaper.

And when you do, tell us about it on the IDTBM home page. Or the IDTBM facebook event page.   Or tweet about it with the tag #bitemeday. 

The Fifty Most Annoying Germans, as Judged by Experts

It is not a part of German culture to withold one's disapproval.  Many foreigners who live here can recount tales of being told off if a passer-by thinks you need improvement.

Nervigsten deutschen show-16Haughty matrons tell off the Heidelbergerin for not packing her groceries fast enough at the Aldi.  Ian in Hamburg gets the stink-eye for riding his bike in the afternoon on a work day.  Phone operators chastise me for not having the serial number of my washing machine handy when I call for a repairman.  And customs officers assure everyone that no matter how the form is filled out, it's wrong.

Yes, we like to point out each other's faults, here in Germany.  So it shouldn't surprise us that among the highlights of last month's viewing, we find Pro Sieben's Most Annoying Germans of 2011.  

If you open the list of fifty most annoying Germans, one sees the smiling face of Boris Becker.  This shocked me.  Not that Becker made the list, but rather, that there were 49 others in front of him.

The Odd Men Out

Television viewers selcted the Die Nervigsten Deutschen, and they showed quite specific tastes in their distaste.  They filled the top five slots with tabloid glitterati, except for one. 

The Pope (#4), technically qualifies as a German, and a Bavarian at that.  But to call His Holiness annoying is to call Dick Cheney a little haughty, or Bernie Madoff an inconvenience.  

Two of this year's Nervigstern filed in joint names, those cooing turtledoves Pietro Lombardi and Sarah Engels. The pair fell in bed love when they placed first and second on Deutschland Sucht den Superstar, part of the Pop Idol franchise.  They got engaged soon after, and many smelled a cynical PR opportunity.  The pair drips with starry-eyed goo.  Each wears a silver ID bracelet that reads Sarah and Pietro, and have been seen, in public, sharing a lollipop.  They're so romantic, you'll rarely find them outside each other's mouths.

And you know what?  Good for them!  Public displays of affection annoy only the cynical, the miserable and the loveless. Yes, voting public, that clearly  means you.

The panel of TV commenters weren't far behind the mob, baying for blood and public humiliation. 

Comedian Simon-Gosejohann chided Pietro for having no self-awareness or interior life.  Rapper Sido trotted out the old chestnut that dumme Menschen sind glücklich, or stupid people are happy, to wild applause from the studio audience.  Comedienne Carolin Kebekus just kind of sneered. 

A Bunch of Boobs

What annoys the public more than romance?  Breasts, it would appear.  The remaining three finalists sport boobs like zeppelins, as the professionally annoyed panel reminded us.

The booth announcer commented that fifth place mononame Indira had just been reassessed by ratings agencies, and "upgraded from a D+ to a DD+".  Amid many shots of second place Gina-Lisa Lohfink's ample bustline, Sido cattily christened her Vagina-Lisa, and moderator Micky Beisenherz changed her last name to Lohfick.  For those of you who don't know: ficken, in German, means to fuck.   It takes real class to be that annoyed.

(An aside: According to , the Langenscheidt youthspeak dictionary, young German men call such an ample rack a docking station.  They don't seem to be terribly nervig.)

Die Siegerin

So, who is the most annoying German for 2011?  It's the pneumatic Daniela Katzenberger, an actress/model/singer/personality/author.  At first glance, she might seem like a celebrity in the Gabor or Kardashian mold, famous simply for being famous—or as we say in German, she has no hobbies.  But like the cat after which she is named, her cunning hides her genius.  Her autobiography confirms it: she titled it Be Crafty, Play Dumb. Screenshot 2018-11-09 at 11.49.05

Katzi is truly a child of the media, with an unerring sense for publicity.   As a teenager, she auditioned for a spot on Auf und Davon – Mein Auslandstagebuch, one of several popular reality shows which document the tales of Germans who set out for a new life abroad. 

Daniela set her eyes on Chicago, and scored an internship with Hooters.  When Hooters learned that their new intern would be bringing a TV crew, they rather wisely demurred.  But that didn't stop Katzi, and she delivered her application to become a Playboy Bunny to Hugh Hefner himself.  I understand he offered to marry her, before someone reminded him that he was married already.

From there, the Zeppelins pointed full steam ahead.

Who's Annoying Whom?

I think it's fair to ask a question of the people behind The Most Annoying Germans of 2011. 

Surprisingly, that question is not what the fuck will people think of Germany with all these shows about Germans getting on each other's nerves and wanting to leave the country?  

No, rather the question who the hell do you think you are?

The gracious Miss Katzenberger has not responded to this taunt on her highly-professional, multilingual website.  (I notice that none of the panel of commenters has a goddamn multilingual website, BTW.) 

But if she should wish to tell these TV sorts where to get off, I invite her to do it this Friday, January 13.  The fourth annual Deutschland über Elvis International Day to Bite Me.

Bite me, bitte!

Snarl at them, Katzi.  You can read all about the history of The International Day to Bite Me at its homepage on Deutschland über Elvis, join in the fun on our Facebook event page, or follow the hashtag #bitemeday.  

DüE declared the day in response to the annual Clean Off Your Desk Day, and it celebrates, with a hearty bite me!, a deserved riposte to all those busybodies who will tell you how to live your life.

Daniela, let those puppies loose anywhere you want.  Ignore what people say!

BIte me Bloke

Youth of Germany, Try Harder This Year

Frau_jugendwortHä Jungs, pull up your Kurzstrumpfen.  What a pathetic effort!  You know what I'm talking about.  It's your 2011 Jugendwort, or German Youth Word of the Year

Every year, Munich firm Langenscheidt gathers a jury of linguists and youths to select the most important words from the Jugendslang it hears.  This year, three of the five top finalists were borrowed from English—the first time this has happened.  You lazy-tongued layabouts!   I'd call this an Epic Fail.  And so would you, since that's the 2011 Jugendwort runner-up.

The real grown-up German Word of the Year, according to the authoritative Gesellschaft der Deutschen Sprache, also borrows from English.  It's Stresstest.  Pity that wasn't the German word of the year for 1999, when the Euro was introduced.  Instead, the GdDS chose the predictable  das Millennium.  Sleeping on the job, if you ask me.

Out-Guttenberging Guttenberg.

To add insult to lethargy, the youth of Germany stole one of the finalists from the adult list and added it to their own: the verb guttenbergen

As you may have read, Baron Karl Theodore of and at (von und zu) Guttenberg was bounced from federal Cabinet this year when the press discovered he had plagiarised much of his doctorate.  Hence, to guttenbergen something is to copy it. 

Are the Louis Vuitton bags sold by street vendors in Hong Kong just a cheap guttenbergen?  Has the photocopier become a modern Guttenberg Press?  And if one wählt some text aus via Kommand-C in Mikroweich Kraftspitz, one guttenbergt it to the Zwischenablage, right?

(About that last sentence—you now understand how others feel when we force them to adopt English tech jargon.)


Technology segues us into the fifth-place finalist, one of the three English words to make the cut: googeln, or to google. 

Hang bloody on.  Googling, as a verb, may be a new word, but it ain't that new.  We've been googling stuff online for at least a decade.  Much longer than we've been youtubing our children or friending our friends.

Apparently, this googeln means something different.  In German, you can now google something offline, too.  If you don't find your car keys in the hall, you can googeln them in the kitchen.  You might googeln all over the mall for the perfect pair of shoes.  Will that well-known German TV show  need to re-christen  itself Deutschland googelt ein Superstar?

Do these words have a future?  Will googeln and guttenbergen fade away once the joke wears off?   I suspect so.

Dick as a Brick

The only real German word—and the most useful—slips in at fourth place.  The marvellous Körperklaus, or body (Ni)c(ho)las.  In short, a klutz.

So why does German need a word for klutz, when they already have a word for klutz, namely klutz?  The answer: klutz isn't a German word.  It came into the American vernacular from Yiddish, based on  Klotz, hochdeutsch for a block or brick

A block or brick is nothing like a Körperklaus, and that's what makes the word so interesting.  The nation first heard Körperklaus on Germany's Next Top Model.  Not applied to some oafish meathead, oh no.  Körperklaus speaks to the manner in which some young women are so practiced in the preposterous poses of fashion models, or simply so unathletic, that they lack contol over their limbs.  Judge Heidi Klum saw one contestant dance, and summed up the result: the feet do not know what the arms are doing.  Perhaps we should replace spinning and stairmasters with, y'know, running around a bit.

By the way, if any native German speaker can say why such a young woman should be described as a Körperklaus rather than a Körpermaximillian, a Körpersebastian, a Körperwolfgang, or—why not?—a Körperheidi, please enlighten us.

The Testsieger.

Enough suspense.  What's the 2011 German Youth Word of the Year? 

It's Swag.

To have Swag labels one as effortlessly cool, and describes an enviable charisma and self-confidence.  It seems to have origins in hip-hop culture. 

The magazine Stern correctly identifies the etymology of Swag.  It comes from Soulja Boy's Turn my Swag On, a song about how he blings up to take on the world. He uses the word in its original sense; some kind of shiny treasure, perhaps stolen.  A swag was once a cloth bag which pirates and other ne'er-do-wells would use to carry loot. 

(Check out 6.15 in this video.  Monty Python was my generation's history teacher.)

Austrian rapper Money Boy translated the song as Dreh Den Swag Auf.  Though literally very far the original, the German lyrics definitely capture its spirit.  Money Boy, forgive me, is right on the money. 

How Swag made the leap from blingy to casual, relaxed and unselfconsciously cool intrigues me.  To walk with a swagger—a tempting translation—isn't quite right.   To swagger means not just to be self-confident, but to show off in some way, and that doesn't play well east of the Rhine.  I once tried to explain the concept of bling to a group of local marketers, and they met me with polite befuddlement. 

I suspect swag, in German, is a true word of youth subculture.  The tribe uses such language to define itself, with words invisible to the mainstream.  If so, Langenscheidt has proved its chops as a forensic lexicographer.

For example, contrast swag with the vocab of toney Munich broadsheet, the Suddeutsche ZeitungIt made a feature of the 2011 Jugendwort, and asked its upscale readership for an opinion.  Around two thirds had never heard the word swag, and put it in 17th place out of 25.  

Instead, they chose Zwergenadapter, or Gnome Plug  (a joky term for a baby capsule) as the SZ Jugendwort.  SZ readers install these Gnome Plugs into the second-place word, one so perfect in German that I needn't translate it.   An SUV is a Hausfrau Panzer.  This is almost as good as the Australian term: Toorak Tractor.

Honourable mention

There are plenty more interesting, amusing and usful words among those which Langenscheit collected.   Check out their youth dictionary, Hä?? Das Jugendsprache Wörterbuch.  (, you might note, is simply the German transliteration of the English word Hey.)

I've only just got through the first few entries, and my mind is boggled. 

I never knew that my grey hair made me a cemetery blonde.  Or that my bald pate made me a  roll-on deodorant-head.  Or that an actual roll-on deodorant is an underarm moped

As you would expect, young people busily invent new euphemisms for sex (extreme cuddling, anyone?). But it astonished me how much mental energy they put into new words for taking a dump.   Young people fuck more than us oldsters, but do they crap more, too?  It might hold for the heavy-drinking stage of one's life, if memory serves.

Abseilen (to abseil, or to lower a rope) and Abwursten (to sausage down) are self-explanatory metaphors for the act.  Not so self explanatory is the English translation. 

Apparently, American youth coyly tell us they're dropping the kids off at the pool, as they excuse themselves with a magazine and cigarette.  I'd never heard that one before, but then, I hang around in vulgar circles.  With their modesty, the young Americans of today set a fine example for their elders.

gives you French and Spanish translations, too.  You can buy den App for your Apfelhandy.  It's downloadbar from the Jugendwort website.

And on that note, let me submit downloadbar for consideration as 2012 German Youth Word of the Year.

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Copyright notice: Illustration sourced from Langenscheidt.de, the publisher's website.  I believe that the reproduction of all images and content conforms with US and EU rules on fair use in quotation and criticism.