Post­cards from the Edge Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny sus­pects that Bri­tons would be lost for words with­out wun­der­bar Ger­man im­ports into our lan­guage

The Oldie - - NEWS -

While English is recog­nised as a global lan­guage (some­times now called ‘Glo­bish’) it’s re­mark­able how many Ger­man words and ex­pres­sions we now un­der­stand, and use.

Where would we be with­out the in­dis­pen­si­ble Schaden­freude? It’s bril­liant be­cause it puts a name to the ig­no­ble thoughts most of us have en­ter­tained, ‘glee at the mis­for­tune of oth­ers’: there’s no English equiv­a­lent. And we’d surely be lost with­out Zeit­geist, Ka­put, Kitsch, Sch­malz and Sch­lepp – the lat­ter from the Ger­man via Yid­dish. All Woody Allen fans grasp the good-egg mean­ing of Men­sch!

We don’t spring-clean our kitchens any more: we Blitz them. We don’t just pru­dently stay silent on cer­tain oc­ca­sions: we keep Stumm.

’Tis true that some of the Ger­man ex­pres­sions we recog­nise come to us from movies, new and old, about Nazis. We know Sch­nell!, Ach­tung! and Ver­boten, not to men­tion Sch­wein­hund!, Raus! and Herein! – what the swastikaadorned com­man­der calls out when the French re­sis­tance hero­ine knocks on his door to beg for her lover’s re­lease.

But let’s leave un­happy mem­o­ries aside and con­cen­trate on the pos­i­tive. Thanks to dear Dame Vera, we can all say Auf Wei­der­se­hen, and some of us can sing it. Posher mu­sic fans may per­haps fol­low more se­ri­ous Lieder, by Schu­bert and Schu­mann. And ev­ery car en­thu­si­ast can re­cite Vor­sprung Durch Tech­nik. Progress through tech­nol­ogy, in­deed.

Ger­man is unique in the con­struc­tion of port­man­teau words (even if port­man­teau is French), which ex­press a range of com­plex ideas or emo­tions. One of my favourites is Sch­limmbesserung. It means ‘the im­prove­ment that makes things worse’. There’s an aw­ful lot of that around, as when high street banks tell you to ‘go on­line’, since this is so much bet­ter for cus­tomer ser­vices. Ach, Sch­limmbesserung!

A poignant Ger­man com­pound word is Kin­der­lostrau­rig – sad­ness at be­ing child­less. A con­di­tion that ex­ists, as any­one fac­ing IVF cy­cles will at­test. Si­mon Ku­per writes in the Fi­nan­cial Times on Ger­man com­pen­dium words such as Lü­gen­presse (ly­ing me­dia), and new ones such as Putin­ver­ste­her (some­one who un­der­stands Putin), and Umvolkung (forced change in a pop­u­la­tion’s eth­nic group­ing).

Brex­iter or Re­mainer, we all know more Ger­man than we re­alise.

Ear­lier, his­tor­i­cal is­sues be­tween Bri­tain (or per­haps Eng­land) and con­ti­nen­tal Europe might be said to have in­volved the Ar­mada and, even then, Ire­land was not en­tirely sym­pa­thetic to Eng­land’s dif­fi­culty. In­deed, a small town in County Sligo has re­cently been awarded with an hon­orary plaque of the Or­der of Is­abel the Catholic by the cur­rent King Felipe of Spain, for its con­tri­bu­tion to con­serv­ing the Ar­mada ship­wrecks along its shore.

The wrecks oc­curred at Streedagh, North Sligo, near the town of Grange, on 21st Septem­ber 1588, when thou­sands of Spa­niards lost their lives. ‘Af­ter their bat­tles in the Chan­nel, the ships were on their way home, hav­ing sailed north and then west around Ire­land,’ says Ed­die O’gor­man, cu­ra­tor of the Grange and Ar­mada As­so­ci­a­tion. There were twenty-five Ar­mada wrecks, of which three are now con­served. Over the years, the peo­ple of North Sligo have an­nu­ally com­mem­o­rated them. The lo­cal clan lead­ers in 1588 – O’rourke of Briefne and Mac­clancy of Dartry – gave shel­ter to the Spa­niards.

A Span­ish galleon cap­tain who sur­vived, Fran­cisco De Cuél­lar, wrote about his ex­pe­ri­ences, and the Sligo as­so­ci­a­tion has pub­lished his ar­chive. A fas­ci­nat­ing small chap­ter of Ir­ish, Bri­tish and Euro­pean his­tory.

Back in old Fleet Street days, we were taught to re­spect the work of newsagents and news ven­dors. The newsagent rose at 3am to pre­pare the day’s news­pa­per sales. The ven­dor sold news­pa­pers in the streets in all weath­ers. I re­mem­ber bare­foot chil­dren sell­ing news­pa­pers in Dublin streets in the late 1950s.

In Deal, our long­stand­ing newsagent, King Street News, closed in Septem­ber, af­ter nearly sixty years serv­ing the print trade. Phil Pow­ell, the ami­able pro­pri­etor for the past two decades, says that be­ing a newsagent was a hard-work­ing life, with that 3am start. Since the 1980s, su­per­mar­kets took many a newsagent’s trade. Then came on­line read­ing.

Phil’s shop was a com­mu­nity hub. He also kept French, Ital­ian and Ir­ish news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines. Ev­ery newsagent should keep a Con­ti­nen­tal news­pa­per avail­able, but the big chains don’t see it that way. Good to see the new Mon­o­cle news­pa­per – in old-fash­ioned newsprint – that be­came avail­able in Euro­pean newsagents in Au­gust.

Phil and his part­ner Karen now run a guest house in Deal, ‘Sunny Croft’, and many of their guests are Ger­man and Dutch. The strength of the euro has been a boon in our Chan­nel ports. Ar­madas come in friend­lier forms nowa­days.

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