Category Archives: Language

Idiomatic Monday: Wurst Will Be Wurst

I suppose it doesn’t take much of a grasp on semiotics to realize that culture will, come hell or high water, weasel its way into language, thus spawning idioms, but I’m here to tell you anyway.  For instance, what springs to mind when you think of America?  Maybe I’m coming out of left field, but if I were to take a swing at it, I’d say baseball.  (See what I did there?  Seriously, there’s a wikipedia page about this).  German is a whole ‘nother ballgame: when you think of the Vaterland, do you think of, say, this?:

Somewhere in that ballpark?

If so, you’re not way off base (alright, done with this) because happily, beer and wurst has had the baseball effect on the German language.  Take, for example:

An ihm ist Hopfen und Malz verloren
Hops and malt are lost on him = he doesn’t have a clue

Das ist nicht mein Bier
That’s not my beer = that’s not my cup of tea

Es ist mir Wurst
It’s sausage to me = it’s all the same to me

Seinen Senf dazugeben
To give his mustard = to put in his two cents

Jetzt geht’s um die Wurst
It’s about the sausage now = it’s do or die

In der Kürze liegt die Würze
Rick Steves translates this phrase this way: “In the shortness lies the tastiness” regarding the miniature Nuremberg sausages, but that’s an awkward translation, because really, who talks that way?  If you’re going to translate a colloquialism, translate it colloquially… so clearly:  “Boy howdy, these wee sausages pack a punch.”  (Incidentally, I also saw this phrase screen printed on a pair of men’s underwear in a tacky souvenir shop, which turned me off of the German language forever).

and the favorite of German professors everywhere:

Spiel nicht die beleidigte Leberwurst
Don’t play the offended liver sausage: don’t get your panties in a twist like I just did about a Rick Steves translation of a sausage saying.

The Very Beleidigte Leberwurst

Which leads us, ultimately, to this question at the intersection of food and baseball:

If the moon was made of spare ribs, wouldja eat it?


Idiomatic Monday: The Second

I had a dream the other night that a German professor from the U of A emailed me to ask me the translation of Eiermontag.  “Egg… Monday?”  I thought, bewildered.  What could an Egg Monday be?  Is that part of the week-long Karneval celebration?  Hey, she’s the professor!  What’s she doing asking me?  I was stumped.

Then I was ushered into a room at my school here for a meeting with some of the administrators, when that room detached from the rest of the building and started rolling down the street.  My mind went into panic-mode: What the heck! Why does no one seem to notice that the conference room is rolling away from the building!  I don’t know my way back to the school!  I don’t have my phone!  I can’t call anyone to come pick me up!  What!  The!  Heck!

Then I woke up, at which point I thought, “Boy, I’m glad I don’t have to figure that one out.”

Anyway, not the point.  I went to Aldi today to buy some groceries and some more minutes for my phone and internet.  I got back to the house, and was unlocking my door when my bike began to tip.  I dove, but no dice.  Normally, this wouldn’t have been such a problem, except, as it were, my basket was filled with eggs.  Ugh.  Still, through my frustration at egg-covered groceries and a slightly dented fender, I couldn’t help thinking smugly to myself, “So this is an Egg Monday,” and I felt pretty clever, if a bit sticky.

Then I tried to upload my new minutes to my internet account, and it worked for a while – and then zap, like that, it was gone.  All 25 Euro, no internet, no phone, just gone.  I hoofed back on down to Aldi to give them a piece of my mind, only to remember that actually I’m way too polite to give pieces of my mind and I end up more like: “Sorry, don’t mean to be a bother, but you see, my German is terrible, but I think there may have been a slight mistake, and if it just doesn’t trouble you too much – oh gosh, I don’t mean to hold up the line!  – but it’s just one of those days, you know?  One of those Egg Mondays?  Heh heh?  No? Okay anyway…” and so it goes.  I ended up talking to some guy on the Aldi help line, and truth be told, I wasn’t even that frustrated that it turned out to be a user error (ugh) because I understood what he was telling me.  I can talk to German customer support, I can do anything!

Or so I’ve always believed.

Anyway, finally, we reach this week’s saying.  It’s nothing too clever, just a reliable go-to that seems to sum up the day:

So ist das Leben.

It’s the German c’est la vie: sometimes all your eggs break, sometimes you lose all your money to user error, but sometimes you find your German’s improving, and sometimes your boyfriend sends you a bouquet for Valentine’s Day even though he’s always been in the Valentine’s Day-is-for-schmucks camp before.

Happy Egg Monday, and happy Valentine’s Day to all you schmucks out there.

Milestones and Idiomatic Mondays

Last night, something remarkable happened: at the stroke of midnight, my time in Germany reached its half-way point.  149 days gone, 149 to go.  I feel sort of obligated to reflect back in some meaningful way… but I’ve been keeping this blog precisely so I wouldn’t have to do that.  So instead…

I’m going to take this moment to introduce a few “featurettes” to Denglish: first, Idiomatic Mondays (I thought, very briefly, of calling them “Idiomanic Mondays,” but soon decided that inducing those groans just wasn’t worth the effort), in which I introduce a weekly German idiom/proverb/saying because nothing’s funnier than a direct translation of an idiom from a foreign language; and second, some yet-to-be-named Wednesday night recipe (all I can think of are strained alliterative titles like “Wednesday Whistle Wettin'” and “Hump Day Hash” which I like because it sounds vaguely dirty), because Beth and I have begun to cook together once a week because we’re both beginning to tire of eating rice alone in our rooms, night after night.  So, thought I might throw the recipes we try your way.  Sorry boys, they’ll be vegetarian.

So, to kick things off, a proverb that bridges the two, and which I like because my brother used to have a novelty tee with this phrase printed on it, it’s just that clever:

Man ist, was man isst.
(Man is what he eats.)

The funny thing here, though, is that the conjugated form to “to eat” (essen) is “isst” and the conjugated form of “to be” (sein) is “ist“, which, conveniently enough, sound identical… the joke, of course, is that when spoken, this proverb is simultaneously “Man is what he is” and “Man is what he eats.”  Out-punned, English language.


If this phrase held, I would look a little less "fresh-from-the-garden-y," and a little more Nutella-y.

False Friends

I suppose, with a title like that, I’m supposed to start this post with some juicy sentence like, “This past year, I’ve figured out who my true friends are,” but I get so lonely here, I simply don’t have the luxury of weeding out friends at the moment.

Also, I’m not fourteen.  And I like my friends.

This title, of course, is referring to false friends of the linguistic sort, those backstabbing, two-faced, lying son-uffa-gun words that seem like they would have the same meaning in both German and English.  And there are so dang many cognates and loanwords between the two languages, seeing as English stems largely from Germanic roots, and more recently, English thought it would return the favor and stage a mass takeover of the German language, for which Germans everywhere are quite welcome.  You hear it everywhere: Outdoor-Event, To-do List, Inlineskaten, Wanderlust, Wiener. In some ways, German can almost be comical to the English ear, like it’s almost-but-not-quite English.  “Komm hier” sounds nearly identical to its English counterpart, “come here.”  You don’t need me around to tell you that “Die Familie singt und das Baby trinkt Milch” is “The family sings and the baby drinks milk,” although das Baby could also have  had Alkohol, Bier, or Wein without losing a single English-speaker among us, although it may have lost the MADD members among us.

But then, there’s the other words.  The words that lure you in with their dashing good looks and their debonair charm, only to dash your hopes of establishing a fulfilling and long-term relationship when they turn out to be a total jerk.  Words like handy.  Seems innocent enough, right?  Handy, like, he’s good with his hands, a handyman!  But something went horribly wrong when that word found its way into German: Handy, auf Deutsch, is cell phone.  Drat.

So then I wrote a poem (which can be a Lyric, whereas “lyrics,” unfortunately, are “Liedtexte.” But “text” is “Text,” so I guess that makes up for it.):

A friend is a Freund; German’s a breeze
‘Til you realize your friends are masked enemies.

Backen is bakin’ and kochen is cookin’,
But Chef is boss, and snack is Happen.

A Herd‘s not a herd; instead it’s a stove,
Although herd is Herde; I know, I know.

An Oldtimer‘s not grandpa, it’s just an old car
And wide is breit while weit is far.

Gymnasium is high school, that one’s a doozy
And receipt and Rezept are nothing but floozies.

And so what is the moral of this too-tragic tale?
Gift is not a present, but poison; farewell.

Wah-waaah.  Any favorite false friends of your own, all you polyglots out there?  Or, alternatively, any public shaming you want to do of the actual false friends in your life?  Leave it in the comments; that’s totally appropriate.

Some Songs, Some News, and a Story

Maybe I shouldn’t put my reputation on the line again so soon after my last weepy post, but at the risk of sounding folksy and romantic, I am here to tell you: I love rivers (and trains).  I love spending lazy days floating downstream, Fat Tire in hand and a flotilla of friends bobbing around me; I love the Buffalo

Floating down the White River

for its underdog story of how a grassroots movement kept the river one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the States; I love the White River for the weekends I’ve spent eating good food and listening to 70s folk at my friend’s cabin there; I love the Mississippi for all the Mark Twain-y Delta Bluesy imagery it conjures.  I love rivers for the place in mythology they hold, and  I love what rivers can do to  language, for all the “Old Man River” epithets and the “You can’t stand in the same river twice” proverbs they inspire, and how it’s still okay to use slightly out-dated and sentimental phrasing like “ancient waters” and “down by the riverside” and “lonesome banks” when talking and telling stories and singing songs about them.  I am, in short, hokey.

And rivers make me think of home.  When I get lonesome fer the green, green grass of home, I listen to the sappiest and the Southernest of music: Johnny Cash, bluegrass, Delta blues (it’s funny, the way getting taken out of the South only makes you more of  a Southerner).  And 9 times out of 10 (there’s an exaggeration), these songs are about rivers (or trains), and these songs run the musical genre gamut (by which I mean bluegrass, folk, blues, and classic rock, because that’s what I listen to, but a quick search through my iTunes did reveal one song by M.I.A. which begins “When it’s really hot we go to the river and swim/ When we go fishin’ we catchin’ the brim”… so I assume there’s more of a gamut to run than my limited and questionable tastes might suggest).  And while we’re talking about gamut running, these river songs cover an array of topics and moods, from laments to romps, from murder ballads to gospel, and I’m happy to report that the completely archaic sentiments expressed by completely contemporary artists (Joe Purdy sings about his desire to be a riverboat captain, and Old Crow Medicine Show asks “Where’s a boatman to go?” after his job is made obsolete by train moving in) make my admittedly ridiculous notions of rivers (and trains) seem positively au courant.

I’m thinking about this, though, only because the other role rivers can play: a wealth of songs and stories and cities grow up around them, yes, but also, they flood, people die.  And this happened here, just a few days ago.  I live at the confluence of the Nahe and Rhine rivers, and it’s quite apparent how much of a lifeline the Rhine still is: barges, tourist cruises, and passenger and car ferries are  a constant.  The thing is, I live slightly upriver from a famous point in the

The Loreley, the cliff on the right. Photo cred: Joe.

Rhine, the Loreley.  This is a sheer cliff marking the narrowest part and a particularly windy portion of the Rhine, which has proved itself to be one of the most dangerous bits for river traffic.  I thought, somehow, that this danger had long been sorted out since, oh, I don’t know, the Middle Ages or so.  But, we were reminded that the Rhine does still pose a threat just two days ago, when a barge shipping sulphuric acid capsized near the Loreley.  Two of the crew members were saved; two still haven’t been found.  The river is closed to traffic while authorities try to prevent the sulphuric acid from leaking and search for the lost crew members, an effort made nearly impossible by the river’s current high level.

And, not to lessen this tragedy or chalk it up to mythology, but I thought I might take this opportunity to tell you a bit more area lore, since it’s suddenly nosing its way into the news.  This river, like any other river, has its own crop of stories, as the story of Hatto II and the Maeuseturm suggests.  And today, here’s  a new and, unfortunately, timely one.

This rock causes both a dangerous eddy in the river and (before the noise of urban development overpowered it) a mesmerizing murmuring echo (the word “Loreley” may or may not come from the Celtic word ley, or rock, and the Old German word for murmuring, loreln).  That irresistible combination of danger and beauty spawned the myth of Loreley, who, as the legend goes, was a beautiful siren/mermaid/daughter of a ruined king/ghost/enchantress/nymph/probably virgin because don’t these figures tend to be virgins?  who sat atop this aforementioned cliff, combing her golden hair with a golden comb, singing a song with a golden melody, a melody so alluring that it lured sailors to their deaths.  Perhaps she threw herself off the rock when her lover-sailor never returned.  Perhaps she was condemned by the church as a witch because every man who fell in love with her died.  Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps (aren’t legends lovely?).  This melancholy story has not only made this rock a sort of a tourist destination, but has also been made the subject of German poetry (including the most famous by Heinrich Heine, written in 1824, found in translation below), paintings, and songs (as all good river stories and myths about virginal beautiful women should be).  As luck should have it, it’s also been written about by names more familiar to our ears: Mark Twain, Paul McCartney, Eagle Eye Cherry (bet it’s been about a decade since you’ve thought about them), and, yes, Sylvia Plath (wouldn’t she just).

The Loreley
Heinrich Heine
Translated by Ernst Feise

I do not know what haunts me,
What saddened my mind all day;
An age-old tale confounds me,
A spell I cannot allay.

The air is cool and in twilight
The Rhine’s dark waters flow;
The peak of the mountain in highlight
Reflects the evening glow.

There sits a lovely maiden
Above so wondrous fair,
With shining jewels laden,
She combs her golden hair

It falls through her comb in a shower,
And over the valley rings
A song of mysterious power
That lovely maiden sings.

The boatman in his small skiff is
Seized by a turbulent love,
No longer he marks where the cliff is,
He looks to the mountain above.

I think the waves must fling him
Against the reefs nearby,
And that did with her singing,
The lovely Loreley.


A 1904 depiction of the lady of the hour by Ottmar Zieher.

(A nice collection of poetry and paintings of Loreley can be found here; the site’s in German, but I’m sure Google Translate would gladly do the dirty work for you.)

(One last factoid before I go: Despite Heine being a Jew, the Third Reich couldn’t entirely outlaw his poem due simply to its popularity.)

Wieder Allein

Disclaimer:  Excuse me for being a giant mushball in this post, but I’m just recovering from my blubbering stage.  And, judging by the amount of consolation chocolate I’ve been consuming, I’m entering my blubbery stage.

My three weeks of constant companionship, eating out multiple times a week, and wandering around beautiful wintry cities dotted with Roman ruins and neo-Gothic cathedrals are over, which means back to the grindstone, by which I mean blog.  Stone.  Back to the blogstone.  So, shake yourself out of your post-holiday slump, quit forcing down the Christmas cookies crumbled at the bottom of the cookie jar (they’re stale dad, throw them out), and tell the kids to gather ’round: Denglish is back.

And I mean that in multiple senses.  I’m back to blogging, certainly, but I’m also back to dealing with my own Denglish, which, after three weeks of neglect (the only German to leave my mouth being the occasional “Ich hätte gern ein Schoco-Croissant”), has crept back into the recesses of my mind, and shows no interest in being coaxed out again.

But more devastating than losing my German is losing  my Joe, who never once noticed if I butchered a word’s past participle in the moments when I did speak German, or if he did, nary a once mentioned it, good boyfriend that he is.  (As an aside, one of my favorite aspects of our relationship is that we majored in subjects on entirely opposite ends of the collegiate spectrum, he preferring an education that lends itself to things like jobs, so I can remain “the one who speaks German” unchallenged).

But there’s other reasons I love him, besides the obvious reason that he doesn’t speak German.  Reasons like he’s good lookin’, and I’m sure there’d be other reasons too if I sat down and thought about it.  And it’s reasons like this that make everything just a bit better, even those miniature disasters you inevitably encounter when travelling.  Waiting around for him in the Frankfurt airport for eight hours because his flight got redirected to and then cancelled in Zurich

Lots of people showed up at the Frankfurt airport to welcome Joe to Germany, which I thought was sweet.

isn’t quite so bad because, last I checked, Zurich is closer to me than Fayetteville is, and so it follows that Joe was closer to me than he was a day before.  In the same vein, waiting around with a boyfriend for four hours at a deserted train station in the middle of the night because somebody (won’t name any names except maybe DeutscheBahn) screwed with the timetable beats waiting around by your lonesome.  Waiting around with Joe was doubly better than waiting around by my lonesome because he has a Connect Four app on his phone.

And so it follows that if the crappy moments are even minutely improved  by good company, the good moments are bumped up to best moment status, and there were plenty of those: shopping for presents at the Christmas Markets; laughing at him (jaded local that I am) dash from one side of the train to the other like a puppy on his first car trip, trying to take in every castle on our first train trip up the Rhine; having our first Christmas together (which was made even better by the deluge of cards and gifts sent from home – thanks again, everyone); wandering from Roman monument to Roman monument in Trier; dodging rogue fireworks in Munich on New Years (what a war zone that place

The Munich skyline, ablaze with vigilante firework displays

turned out to be); watching his jaw drop as he first laid eyes upon the Cologne cathedral; celebrating my birthday at Hofbräuhaus, as all birthdays should be celebrated; ducking into churches and beer halls and museums (what a trifecta) to get in out of the cold.  Even that dreary, miserable, longer-every-time-I-walk-it trek between Bingen and Büdesheim was better because I didn’t have to spend those 45 minutes alone in my head, feeling like a crazy.


But now he’s gone, and that’s that, and I’m alone again (wieder allein, one teacher so gently reminded me), getting reacquainted with that feeling that comes only from spending inordinate amounts of time with yourself.  And it’s not so bad.  In fact, there’s some comfort in it: I sat in a coffee shop today with a book and realized with some satisfaction that no one was around to remark on just how much sugar I put in my cappuccino.  Then I noticed the crazy mix of music they had going on in the background (Creed followed by that “how will I know if he really loves me” song – none of that namby-pamby acoustic dribble you’d hear in an American coffee shop), and realized there was no one around to mock it with, and it struck me again that I’m pretty sure this is going to be a long and lonely winter.

Good lookin', musing on just how over-the-top sad that last sentence was.

Still, despite all my mopings, I’m glad to have a routine again, and lots to look forward to: friends and family coming to visit, a Fulbright winter ball and a week-long conference in Berlin, Karneval, classes to teach, posts to write, grad schools to get into, German to learn.  Schönes neues Jahr, e’erbody.

I Sing a Song of Love Downloaded

So, at this point, I’m basically just a Bella, waiting for her Edward (eighteen days! What!) (if Joe ever finds out he’s just been compared to a Twilight character, I am dead meat.  Or perhaps, if that comparison holds, I am living dead meat).  So, in true angsty teen spirit, and with the weight of my English degree behind me and also with helpful cues from Wikipedia (“The Petrarchan sonnet [also Petrarchanism or Petrarchian] is a verse form that typically refers to a concept of unattainable love”), I present a poem about love 2.0:

I sing a song of love downloaded,
Of my better half, halved, delimbed;
His backlit visage ne’er by these buttons dimmed;
His flattened, framed form by pixels corroded.
This song is of webcams, by an engineer coded;
His arms from which our love once stemmed
Now reduced a dimension, they send his love IMs,
And instead of him, mine hold a laptop unfolded.
I sing a song of love across miles,
Across oceans and countries, and exotic routes;
Too far for touch, near enough for talking.
This love is stretched on air and wires,
Enriched and reduced by Google’s pursuits,
Kept alive by heart and by Facebook stalking.

Neverminding that Edward Cullen is not a bard, and that Shakespeare is not Petrarch, I think this is a pretty accurate representation of what's going on here.