Those literal Germans

This post was inspired by a conversation I had with Linda of Expat Eye on Germany on her blog. It’s been buzzing around in my head for a while, and now I’m finally getting around to writing it.

We all know that Germans like to shove words together to form new ones, often resulting in crazily long constructions that seem to exist for the sole purpose of putting off learners. One example has been going round on Facebook… a photo of a Fussbodenschleifmaschinenverleih with the caption “The reason Germans don’t play Scrabble…” (here it is). If you break the word down into its component parts, it actually makes perfect sense: Fussboden = floor, schleifen = to grind or sand, Maschine = machine (Schleifmaschine = sanding machine) and Verlei = rental service. So it’s a floor sanding machine rental service. Where English uses five words, the Germans stick them all together to create one giant word. This can be done with almost any combination of words – Musik + Schule = Musikschule (music school), Plastik + Tüte = Plastiktüte (plastic bag), Schwarz + Tee = Schwarztee (black tea – what we Brits would simply call “tea”) Woll + Mütze = Wollmütze (wooly hat), Holz + Kiste = Holzkiste (wooden box/crate).

Even when it's got milk in, it's "Schwarztee"
Even when it’s got milk in, it’s “Schwarztee”

The examples above would still make sense if you exchanged some of their parts – they’re mostly just used as descriptions. So instead of a Musikschule you might have a Kunstschule (art school) and if your box was made of cardboard, it would be a Pappkiste.  In other cases, two words are put together to form an entirely new word, which can be a lot of fun when you stop to consider what the individual words mean! (And also useful for learners who can work out the translation from the very literal German word). Here are a few of my favourites:

Der Handschuh (literally hand shoe) = glove

Die Nacktschnecke (literally naked snail) = slug

Der Selbstmord (literally self murder) = suicide

Der Fingerhut (literally finger hat) = thimble (and also Foxglove, as in the plant – presumably because the flowers look a bit like thimbles)

Der Büstenhalter (literally bust holder) = bra

Der Kühlschrank (literally cool(ing) cupboard) = fridge

Der Staubsauger (literally dust sucker) = hoover/vaccuum cleaner

Das Katzenklo (literally cat toilet/loo – I always imagine a tiny flushable toilet for cats) = cat’s litter tray

Das Stinktier (literally stinky animal) = skunk

Das Zahnfleisch (literally tooth meat) = gums

And finally, my absolute favourite: der Vorschlaghammer. It means sledgehammer, but the component parts are der Vorschlag, meaning suggestion, and der Hammer, which means exactly what you think it means. That’s one hell of a suggestion…

Do you have any favourite literal words, in German or any other language? Let me know in the comments.

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The best (or worst?) of Denglish

Denglish, according to Wikpedia, is a term “used in all German-speaking countries to refer to the increasingly strong influx of English or pseudo-English vocabulary into German.” In its simplest form, Denglish involves replacing some German words with their English equivalents, so someone might say “Ich habe die Files gedownloadet” instead of “Ich habe die Dateien heruntergeladen”. Here, there are perfectly good German words, the speaker just chooses not to use them for some reason.

In other cases, either an English word has replaced the original German to such an extent that most people don’t even know the real German word any more or there never was a German word in the fist place (e.g. der Browser for an Internet broswer) – usually this occurs with new technology that exists in an English-speaking country before it ever comes to Germany. Sometimes (as with the technologies), Denglish involves real English words, used in their correct context. Other times the words Germans use may sound English, but nobody really knows where they came from… or English words have been taken and used in an entirely different context. Mostly, this practice is harmless (although it can get confusing when a German starts speaking to an English native speaker using Denglish words!), but sometimes this practice of insisting on using English words at all costs can be very, very amusing. Here are some Denglish words and phrases that you may hear if you happen to find yourself in Germany…

Handy
We’ll start with the most common. In German, a Handy (pronounced Hendy) is a mobile phone. While a small, portable phone is admittedly pretty handy, I’ve no idea how the phrase came about! I have, however, been asked in English “Do you have a handy?”. Needless to say, if I didn’t actually speak German I would have had no idea what they wanted! And just to make things even more confusing, the Swiss don’t use the word Handy! (Their word for mobile phone is Natel).

Beamer
This was one of the first Denglish words I heard when I came to Germany, and I had no idea what they were talking about. From the context, it was clear that they didn’t mean a car which would be spelled Beemer anyway), but what did they mean? After being shown the object in question, it all became clear. A Beamer is a projector! I suppose it does beam images onto a screen, so it makes sense in a way…

Despite the scary sounding name, it won't ACTUALLY peel all your skin off...
Despite the scary sounding name, it won’t ACTUALLY peel all your skin off…
Peeling
Nope, not what you do with an orange. Shower scrub or body scrub. I really, really hope this doesn’t do what it says on the tin…

die City
To English speakers, a city is a large town… London, Paris, Rome, Sydney… all cities. (Well, in certain circles London is The City, but that’s irrelevant here). Not so in Germany… here “die City” is merely part of a large town. The bit that we would call the city centre, or down town. So don’t be confused if you see signs pointing you towards “City” when you think you’ve already entered the city you were aiming for. It’s just the Germans messing with English again! (For fairness’ sake, I should add that lots of places do still use the German words Zentrum (centre) or Stadtmitte (town/city centre) on their official signs.)

"Public viewing" at the 2014 world cup final... I promise there were no bodies in sight!
“Public viewing” at the 2014 world cup final… I promise there were no bodies in sight!

Public Viewing
While Germans used to get together to watch sporting events “auf Großleinwand” (on a big screen), in recent years the term Public Viewing has become more popular. This year, Karlsruhe even had Public Viewing at the football stadium for Germany matches! The only problem is that, in British English at least, public viewing traditionally refers to the practice of leaving a deceased person in an open coffin during the wake, so that the public could come and have alook/pay their last respects (this is also known as lying in state and was done when the Queen Mother died, for example).

Bodybag
This one technically goes back to a brand name, but I had to include it because it’s just too amusing! I’m sure well all know that an English body bag is something used for storing and transporting corpses. In Germany, meanwhile, since the mid-90s the term Bodybag has been used to refer to a type of bag that’s worn on the back with a strap going diagonally across the front. (A messenger bag is a type of “Bodybag”, but I’ve also seen some that look like a backpack but with only one strap). Somebody at whichever company started this trend obviously didn’t do their research properly…

There are, of course, other Denglish expressions, but these are the only ones I’m going to go into for now. If you have a favourite Denglish expression (or even something similar in another language) please feel free to let me know in the comments!

So you want to learn German?

As someone who has been living in Germany for slightly longer than most of the expats I bump into, on more than one occasion, I’ve found myself giving tips on learning German to my fellow non-native speakers (especially the interns that come to my work for their semester abroad!).  I know there are a few people out there in bloggy land who are living in Germany and striggling to learn the language, so I thought I’d gather some of my tips in one place. You never know – it might be useful to someone! Please note, these are coming from an English-speaking perspective, so any notes on pronunciation come from the English way of pronouncing such things and are more “close enough” than “absolutely 100% right”.

  • In German, the letter “z” is always pronounced the same way as the “z” in pizza… so like a ts rather than the sound a bee makes. For example, zu (meaning to) is pronounced like, tsu not zoo!
  • Meanwhile, the letter s sometimes is pronounced like the sound a bee makes. So the word zusammen (together) is pronounced “tsoo-zammen”. Double s is pronounced the same way as in English.
  • Articles are confusing! Even after more than 7 years here, I find it impossible to guess whether a word should be der, die or das. But here’s one small tip… most two-syllable words that end in the letter e are feminine, for example die Kerze (candle), die Sonne (sun) and die Sahne (cream). When I told this rule to a bunch of Germans, they spent all night trying to come up with exceptions and ended up finding exactly two: der Käse (cheese) and der Name (name). So when in doubt, go with die! It’s pronounced dee, by the way, nothing to do with ceasing to live 😉
  • A potential exception to the above rule is animals. Here, the article is based on actual physical gender, so der Löwe (lion) is not feminine because a lion is male (a lioness would be die Löwin). Die Kuh (cow), on the other hand, is feminine because a male cow would be der Stier/der Bulle (bull) – by the way, Bulle is also an impolite colloquial word . The same goes for people… der Kunde (customer) is masculine because one assumes a customer to be male (if you want to make clear that a customer is female, use die Kundin).
  • Words ending in -chen are diminitives and therefore take the neutral article das. This is why it’s das Mädchen (the girl), even though girls are clearly female! In case you’re wondering, it comes from die Magd (maid or maiden), so a girl in German is basically a “little maiden”. Hmm.
  • Nouns ending in -ung, -heit, -keit and -tät are feminine. Examples: die Bedeutung (meaning), die Dummheit (stupidity), die Schwierigkeit (difficulty) die Universität (university). There are no exceptions that I’m aware of.
  • Nouns ending in -ion are also always feminine, and all the letters are mostly pronounced. So die Religion is rell-i-gee-ohn and die Situation is zit-you-att-see-ohn
  • Again with the feminine… all nouns ending in -ik are die, and the -ik is pronounced eek, not ick. die Logik (logic) = loh-geek, die Mathematik (mathematics… yup, it’s singular in Germany) = ma-tuh-ma-teek
  • Most German rivers are feminine… die Donau (the Danube), die Mosel, die Elbe. But because this is German we’re talking about, there natually have to be exceptions, so it’s der Rhein (the Rhine) and der Main.
The deutsches Eck in Koblenz, where die Mosel und der Rhein meet.
The deutsches Eck in Koblenz, where die Mosel and der Rhein meet.

 

  • There are two ways to pronounce the -ch ending in German – voiced and unvoiced (yeah, it’s a technical term. Don’t  ask me!).
    1. If the ch is preceded by an o,  an a, a u or an au, it’s pronounced the same way as in the Scottish “loch”. Examples: auch (also/too), noch (still/yet), nach (after, to, according to), das Buch (book)
    2. Otherwise, the ch is always pronounced a bit like the h in huge. Try doing the Muttley laugh (say “hehehe” sort of breathlessly). That sound where the “ee” ends and the next “h” starts is the sound of a German -ch. Examples: ich (I), mich (me), die Milch (milk). The ch at the beginning or in the middle of words  is usually also pronounced like this (for example in die Chemie (chemistry) or das Märchen (fairy tale, myth)), but in some exceptional cases it’s more like a K. The ones I can think of are das Chaos (chaos), der Chor (choir), das Orchester (orchestra) and names beginning with Ch, like Christoph, Christian and Christina (so Christina and Kristina are pronounced the same).
  • Sch is always pronounced sh, so das Schiff (ship) is pronounced shiff, schottisch (Scottish) is pronounced shottish and der Tisch (table) is tish.
  • Qu is pronounced like kv, so die Quittung (receipt) is a kvittung. You will often hear Germans talk about die Kveen… that’s Queen Elizabeth II, to you and me.
  • The letter e at the end of a word is pronounced, so the name Christine is kris-tee-nuh, not kris-teen and die Linie (line) is lin-ee-uh.

OK, that’s all for now because 1) I don’t want to bore you (yeah, I know… too late) and 2) I can’t think of any others right now (also, that’s 13 tips and I like the number 13). And please don’t ask me how to pronounce a German r or what the difference in pronunciation between u and ü is because I can’t help you there! (What I can tell you is that e and ä are pronounced basically the same… some Germans say they’re not, but plenty of others can’t actually hear the difference, so you’re perfectly safe pronouncing der Käse as if the ä in the middle were an e…)

Are you learning German? Have any tips for fellow learners? Leave a comment and help the rest of us out!

Fun with DuoLingo 2

You’re probably all pretty sick of hearing about my wisdom teeth operation now – I know I’m sick of posting about it! But when you’re stuck in the house ill, nothing blogworthy tends to happen… so I thought it was time to share some more odd Duolingo sentences with you. To see my first round, click here.

DuoLingo is a free language learning website. The basic idea is that you sign up and the site has you translate sentences to practice various areas of grammar and vocabulary, starting with basics and moving on through things like food, animals and adjectives. I’ve been collecting the ones that I found particularly strange or amusing, and now I have enough for a whole blog post again. Here they are… enjoy!

  1. Papa Smurf
    Papa Smurf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Der Hund isst den Vogel – The dog eats the bird (Because it wants to be a cat?)

  2. Sie kennt die komplette Feuerwehr – She knows the entire fire brigade (Is she an arsonist… or does she just have a thing for firemen?)
  3. Das sind keine normalen Äpfel! – Those are not normal apples! (I bet Snow White wishes someone had said that to her…)
  4. Eure Kuh ist schön – Your cow is nice (Just making small talk…)
  5. Der Bär trägt Ihre Kleider – The bear is wearing your clothes* (… and now they will never fit you again!)
  6. Ein roter Hund trägt weiße Kleider – A red dog is wearing white clothes (A red dog, you say?)
  7. Ich bin der Bär – I am the bear (And you can talk…)
  8. Der gesamte Kopf ist blau – The entire head is blue (It’s a Smurf!)
  9. Die öffentlichen Toiletten sind normal – The public toilets are normal (Well, that’s a relief…)
  10. Ich danke einer Katze – I thank a cat (It’s only polite, after all…)

That’s all for today. I hope you got some amusement out of them…

*Assuming the bear is female this could also translate as “The bear is wearing her clothes”, but the translation here is the first one that came to my mind and was accepted as correct. *edited to add* As someone pointed out in the comments, it only means “your” if Ihre is capitalised, but when it’s being read out there’s no way to tell whether they mean “ihre” or “Ihre”.

Fun with DuoLingo

www.duolingo.com (appen) är min nya lilla hobby.
The Duolingo owl (Photo credit: Emanuel Hallklint)

A while ago, I read another blogger’s review of a free-language learning website called Duolingo (I believe that blogger was Sherbet and Sparkles). I was on the look out for a new resource for learning Spanish, so I decided to check it out. I signed myself up for Spanish and, after a bit of thought, decided to use it for German as well – my German is good, but by no means perfect and I thought a few grammar lessons would do me some good.

In Spanish, I’m still at a fairly low level, so the software still has me working on basic sentences like “Él escribe libros” (He writes books). But as I progressed through the levels in German, I started to notice some fantastic, amusing, or just plain weird sentences cropping up. Naturally, my immediate reaction was to start collecting them, and now I have enough for a whole blog post. So here – in no particular order (because arranging them would involve effort) – are my top ten favourite sentences that Duolingo has made me translate.

  1. Sie schläft in seinem Bett – She sleeps in his bed. (Ooooh, the intrigue.)
  2. Sie ersetzt das Baby durch einen schwarzen Hund – She replaces the baby with a black dog. (She… what?!)
  3. Natürlich bin ich besser als du – Of course I am better than you. (And soooo modest as well!)
  4. Meine Frau ist nicht schön, aber sie ist reich – My wife is not pretty, but she is rich. (Oh well, that’s ok then…)
  5. Der Grossvater isst den Vogel – The grandfather eats the bird (I am picturing him biting the head off a live bird! :-/)
  6. Wir schwimmen, falls es Regen gibt – We will swim if it rains (How much rain are you expecting?)
  7. Er isst Menschen – He eats people. (Wow… thanks for the warning Duolingo!)
  8. Weiß man je, wohin man geht? – Does one ever know where one is going? (Oooh, very philosophical!)
  9. Ich will nicht gegen dich aussagen – I don’t want to testify against you. (Well, I’m glad to hear that!)
  10. Wo sind die Hosen des Jungen? – Where are the boy’s trousers? (That’s a very good question…)

One thing’s for sure, sentences like these will stick in your mind forever! Although I sincerely hope I never need to use the phrase “I don’t want to testify against you” in German…

The incorrect multiple choice answers can be pretty amusing too...
The incorrect multiple choice answers can be pretty amusing too…