April 29, 2012 Leave a comment
Here’s a famous quote attributed to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor:
To God I speak Spanish, to women Italian, to men French, and to my horse — German.
If it were indeed so, the same sentence addressed to the poor animal would be
Spanisch spreche ich mit Gott, Italienisch mit Frauen, Französisch mit Männern und Deutsch mit meinem Pferd.
Slightly different version of this saying was cited by Lomonosov:
Carolus V, Emperor of Rome, was wont to say that the Hispanic tongue was seemly for converse with God, the French with friends, the German with enemies, the Italian with the feminine sex.
Either way, German is not a language to speak with either men or women unless they are enemies.
Although I was learning German in school, and even remember being reasonably good at it, I never got to like it. For me, it always was a language best suitable for enemy. There is logic but no beauty. Südamerikanischer Nasenbär may be more descriptive term than “coati” but it is way too long — and ugly.
Even so, surprisingly large number of German words made it into English orthographically unchanged. Many of these loanwords are quite short, by German standard anyway, or refer to rather complex cultural, philosophical or psychological concepts. For instance, “gestalt” is definitely shorter than “a collection of physical, biological, psychological or symbolic entities that creates a unified concept, configuration or pattern which is greater than the sum of its parts”.
Inevitably, the words such as Anschluss, Führer, Gestapo or Lebensraum will remain intimately linked to (dark pages of) German history. But when we say ester, flak, hamburger or marzipan we don’t even think of German connection. Of course, umlaut is a bit of giveaway — but two small dots are often getting lost, so doppelgänger becomes doppelganger, flügelhorn becomes flugelhorn and so on.
|automat||a vending machine for food or drink; a cafeteria consisting of such machines|
|blitzkrieg||a fast, sudden military offensive|
|dachshund||a breed of dog|
|diktat||a harsh penalty or settlement imposed upon a defeated party by the victor; a dogmatic decree|
|doppelgänger||a paranormal double of a living person; a lookalike|
|eigen-||(linear algebra) own|
|ersatz||imitation, especially of an inferior quality|
|ester||an organic compound formed by condensing an oxoacid with an alcohol or phenol (contraction of German word Essigäther, “acetic acid ethyl ester”)|
|flak||antiaircraft gun (German acronym of Fliegerabwehrkanone, “aeroplane defence cannon”)|
|flügelhorn||a brass musical instrument resembling a trumpet|
|frankfurter||a type of sausage (named after Frankfurt; see wiener)|
|gestalt||a whole form|
|glockenspiel||a musical instrument of the percussion family|
|Götterdämmerung||“twilight of the gods”; the apocalypse|
|hamburger||a type of hot sandwich (named after Hamburg)|
|Kaiser||the (Austrian or German) Emperor|
|kohlrabi||a cultivar of the cabbage|
|lederhosen||knee-breeches made of leather|
|leitmotiv||a recurring theme|
|lumpenproletariat||a social underclass; the riffraff|
|marzipan||a confection of almond paste, sugar and egg white|
|menarche||the onset of menstruation|
|poltergeist||an unseen ghost which makes noises and causes disruption|
|realpolitik||pragmatic international government policy|
|schadenfreude||malicious enjoyment derived from observing someone else’s misfortune|
|schnitzel||fried veal cutlet|
|schwa||an indeterminate central vowel sound, represented as /ə/ in IPA, or the character ə|
|seminar||a form of academic instruction or a meeting|
|spiel||a lengthy and extravagant speech or argument usually intended to persuade|
|strudel||a type of pastry|
|torte||a rich cake|
|wiener||a type of sausage (named after Vienna; see frankfurter)|
|wunderkind||a child prodigy|
|zeitgeist||the spirit of the age|
|zwitterion||a molecule that carries both a positive and a negative charge|