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!


Celebrate My Fit of Pique!

Bite Me Black Dress

What does it take to unleash your indignation?  Eight years ago, a calendar and a couple of beers did it for me.

It came to my attention that some busybody proclaimed the second Monday in January as National Clean Off Your Desk Day.  This impertinence provoked me to declare the following day, January 13, The International Day to Bite Me.   

The busybody in question was one Anna Chase Moeller, daughter of Bill Chase, who co-founded the Chase's Calendar of Events in 1957.  Rumour has it that Anna helped in the family business, and in so doing, shared a desk with her father.  As is the case with pretty much all entrepreneurs, forward-thinkers, creative personalities, and productive people of every stripe, the desk was a mess.  In a snit, Anna declared National Clean Off Your Desk Day to humiliate her father's habits.  Once a year, Bill was forced to sacrifice a day of personal productivity to appease his daughter, who no doubt could have worked on the goddamn kitchen table if the sight of actual work upset her so goddamn much.  Neat-freaks have used it to shame us normal people ever since. 

In 2017, The International Day to Bite Me falls on a Friday.   By coincidence, the first Friday the 13th of every year is National Blame Someone Else Day.  (It's also National Rubber Duckie Day, but that's another story.)

On Friday, August 13 1982, a sleepy Michigan woman found that her alarm clock had failed to ring.  This set off a cascade of lateness and bad luck that hounded her throughout the day.  The National Blame Someone Else Day commemorates her string of excuses and apologies.  In truth, it should be National Blame Fate Day, since the mechanical failure likely had no human source.  Unless it was the woman herself who failed to set the alarm on August 12—in which case we should celebrate National Sorry, It's My Own Damned Fault Day.

Who was this unfortunate woman?  None other than a certain Mrs Anna Chase Moeller.  

Clearly, this amounts to an abuse of privilege. Anna's way to vent petty annoyances was to declare a day after them, because in the days before the internet, she was one of the few who could.  Well, two can play at that game now, eh?

Screen Shot 2017-01-14 at 08.58.53By the authority vested in me by Typepad blogging software, Deutschland über Elvis declares The International Day to Bite Me 2017 open for all.  The ritual Flipping of the Bird will take place across Germany and the rest of the world, perhaps flipped all the harder because it might occur over Friday drinks.  

Personally, I spread the message by keeping calm.  On the International Day to Bite Me graphics page, you'll find an #ID2BM Keep Calm message, created on the official Keep Calm and Carry On Merchandise Store.  I had it embroidered on a pillow, suitable for screaming into. 


Brexit Explained

Brexit
Where is he gay today?
 A burger joint on Fulham Broadway, London.

Overheard from the next table, a group of men in their early thirties. 

"Of course you got sick.  Can't 'elp it if you travel abroad."

"Mate o' mine reckons you can get sick from just handling the money. It's filthy."

"A lot of them carry their money in in their arse-cracks.  The criminals are so afraid of looking gay, they won't touch another bloke there." 

"They say you should get your cash out of the machine in the morning, put it in your pocket, and jump in the swimming pool."  (Murmured agreement)  "Yeah, the chlorine cleans it right up."

Conversation ends as Spanish waiter arrives at table with lunch. 

No, I'm not making this up. 


Denglisch or Dancais?

IMG_2041

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.