In other words
ALTHOUGH autumn has officially begun in Germany, we have been enjoying an altweibersommer for the past couple of weeks. Roughly translated it means “old crone’s summer”.
In case you’re wondering what tetchy old women have to do with summer, the term itself is actually a play on words. The verb weiben refers to the webspinning activities of spiders typical for this time of year. The noun weibe means women of “a certain age”.
According to ancient Nordic folklore, people associated spider webs with the white hairs of the Norns – three goddesses of fate who spun and wove the threads of each person’s destiny. Hence the “crone” bit.
Frau Sommer, whom I encounter regularly during my evening brisk walks in the forest, related this story to me. By the way, Frau Sommer is a chatty neighbour and not some woodland sprite!
Tickled by the story behind the word, I figured it was time to once again shortlist some German words for which you cannot quite find apt English equivalents but that nevertheless capture a meaning eloquently.
Others however, serve to remind non-native speakers that things can be concise and easier enunciated in English.
Another word that harks back to the days of yore is eisbein (ice leg). This macabre sounding traditional German dish is actually boiled knuckle of pork and contrary to its name, is served warm.
According to one website, it owes its unusual name to the fact that people in medieval times fashioned ice-skates out of knuckle bones instead of using iron, which cost an arm and a leg.
Other food-inspired terms include kummerspeck (grief our columnist reviews German words or figures of speech that have no english equivalent but yet encapsulate an emotion or situation perfectly. bacon), which refers to the love A verbesserungsvorschlagshandles gained from emotionversammlung, for instance is a related bingeing. compilation of suggestions for
If you are a man already improvement. ensconced in a relationship, Telling a waiter that you’d like you may be forced occasionally a side order of oberammergauerto invest in some drachenfutter alpenkraeuterdelikatessenfrueh(dragon fodder) as a peace offerstueckskaese would certainly be a ing if you’ve peeved the lady. The mouthful. You’d be better off askname itself conjures the image. ing for the delicatessen breakfast
With winter looming round cheese made with herbs from the the corner, gloves will soon be Oberammergau Alps. part of our outdoor get-up. Yet, But the winner in terms of you wouldn’t want to be labelled length, at least according to a handschuhschneeballwerfer. several websites I consulted is ...
Literally, it means “a glove(drumroll) das rindfleischetiketwearing snowball thrower”. In tierungsueberwachungsaufgaactuality it describes a coward. I benuebertragungsgesetz. guess realistically one must have It actually means the law on some moxie to be able to lob icy delegating supervision duties for snowballs with their bare hands! cattle marking and beef labelling.
Ever encountered someone who evokes violent thoughts in your head? Chances are he has a backpfeifengesicht – a punchable face that cries out for backenfutter (cheek fodder). No guesses for what that means.
You might also occasionally spot someone with an arschgeweih or a “butt antler”. No, this is not some freak of nature. An arschgeweih actually refers to swirly tribal tattoos etched at the base of the spine. Their curled ends sometimes resemble deer antlers. They were once the rage and best flaunted by wearing low-slung jeans. Apparently today, they are like the “white trash” of body art in Germany.
However not all words are that concise. The German language is notorious for its compound words. Some can even run the breadth of a typeset A4 page. I’m only thankful that German language tests do not include spelling bees. I’d be gobsmacked if I were tested on the following.
However, as they say, it’s not quantity but quality that counts and in German there is a word that has no single-word equivalent in English – the four-lettered, quintessential doch, which means “contrary to your assumptions”.
This multi-purpose article can sometimes be used as a third alternative to ja or nein statements. For instance, if you answer ja to the question, “Have you no money?” the asker may think that yes, you do not have any money. But by simply insisting, “ Doch!” you make it clear that “Actually, I do!”
It can also be used as an adverb or to express surprise, cast doubt or question among others. It’s just a matter of experimenting.
And even if all the other words here fail you, this should stand you in good stead. Doch! n Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Frankfurt. She has yet to master ‘beamtendeutsch’ or ‘civil servant-German’, a jargoninfested lingo that confounds the Germans themselves.