Tuesday October 31, 2006

German Directness

A few weeks ago I wrote about some of my favorite German words.  At the time, I'd only taken a few weeks of intensive German classes.  During the last few weeks I've spent here in The DE, I've noticed something else about German that is very striking to my native-English-speaker ears: the straightforward way that Germans often express things that we would probably come up with a euphemism for in English.

Below, I discuss three expressions that have caught my attention.  I should say up front that my German is still a little shaky, but the good news is that German and English are both West Germanic languages, so a lot of German words and sentences sound very close to their English counterparts.

  1. Stadtrundfahrt

    This word means 'sightseeing tour'.  It's a compound word, so let's break it down.  It's made up of three components: Stadt 'city', rund 'around', and fahrt 'fart'.  So, for a German, going sightseeing is literally farting around the city.  See what I mean about straightforward?

  2. Rauchen kann tödlich sein

    This is the warning label that's found on German cigarettes and cigarette ads.  It means exactly what it sounds like it means: 'Smoking can be turdlike'.  How's that for direct?  Apparently, for Germans, Marlboro Country is still where the flavor is, but that flavor is nasty.  In fact, I might have this translation slightly wrong—tödlich might be better rendered as 'a turd-lick', so that the whole sentence means something closer to 'Smoking can be like licking a turd'.  If anything, though, that's even more direct.

  3. Hummer

    I see this one all the time in restaurants, and it just blows my mind.  It's the German word for 'lobster', and it's hard to imagine a more straight-ahead expression of just how much Germans love their seafood.  Don't get me wrong—I really enjoy a nice, fresh lobster tail, especially with some melted butter.  But if this word is any indication of the level of German enthusiasm for lobster, I suggest you don't come between a German and his Hummer.

That's all I can think of off the top of my head, but I'll keep an eye out for more.  Tschüss!

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
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But wait! Tödlich doesn't mean "turdlike"! It comes from the word for death... wait... oh. It was a joke. Never mind.

Posted by: JS Bangs at Oct 31, 2006 5:31:40 PM

Uh, Tensor, what exactly are they teaching you in this German class? I'd recommend checking with a good dictionary (ie not Langenscheidt).

I remember compiling lists of differences in tool-naming when I took a "technical English" class during my first or second year at university. There was often a perspective change -- naming for the goal to be accomplished as opposed to naming for the way it is used; different uses of metaphors etc... but I can't remember the conclusions off the top of my head.

Posted by: Chris W. at Nov 1, 2006 2:16:55 AM

This is an excellent example of deadpan... Good job Tenser.

For any of you who didn't catch it (heavens forbid!), fahrt is something like to drive/to go, tödlich is deathly, and hummer, is well, lobster. Google can certainly tell the curious plenty more.

Posted by: tehgeekmeister at Nov 2, 2006 5:24:24 AM

This is an excellent example of deadpan... Good job Tenser.

Thanks for the kind words. After the first two comments (mostly the second one) I was thinking, "Jeez, rough crowd."

BTW, if you think this version is deadpan, try re-reading the post without the sentence that begins "I should say up front...". That was a very late addition, intended to indicate the post was supposed to be a joke.

Posted by: The Tensor at Nov 3, 2006 3:36:33 AM

you had me spray my coffee all over the keyboard... this is too funny. (next time put a warning, I was expecting a dead serious post). Good job!
As I am living with an Australian and a German I should be able to find more examples, but... they have such difficulties communicating they gave up talking to one another, it seems.

Posted by: Myrtille at Nov 3, 2006 3:47:40 AM

The one usually quoted is Fahrt ins Blaue. It's hard to think of these, though. How about Luther and the Diät von Worms?
My brother Geoff used to like the Geöffnet signs at petrol stations and so on.

Posted by: MM at Nov 11, 2006 5:16:02 AM

My current favorite Germanism is their term for the tatoos that are popular with women (?) in back, right above their rear ends above the waistband of pants. They refer to them as 'das Arschgeweih', or 'ass antlers'. Priceless.

Posted by: Robert Johnson at Nov 13, 2006 2:27:09 PM

Not bad, not bad. It always takes a foreigner to point out the obviously funny stuff to us boring Germans. Like when I had a friend from California over and when I picked him up from the airport and drove him back to my place he pointed out that all the exits from the Autobahn were labelled "ass fart".

Posted by: Daniel Klein at Nov 24, 2006 8:27:00 AM

...hmm... something I find more intriguing about English is that while younger people from the US or UK use swearwords all of the time (and very often without any real reason, seemingly just to underline they're saying something "important" or whatever - I mean, it's one thing to say Shit! or Fuck! when you hit yourself with a hammer or someone just stole your wallet, or if you're talking about someone you really detest, and another if people don't seem to be able to utter one sentence without a "fucking"), media wouldn't dare to write them down, instead going for f*** and so on even when they're "informal" media such as magazines for teenagers. This "gap" is much smaller with German, but I believe also other European languages/cultures.

Posted by: Edwing at Jun 4, 2007 7:29:20 PM

having been to the "DE" three times on deployment I can tell you that there are different style or slang of deutsch! What maybe correct in one region of Deutschland, will be unknown in the other region. Tensor did get the right deutsch words for their meanings... at least in the rhineland pfalz area of Germany.

Posted by: ingram at Jun 11, 2009 11:06:03 PM