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28-Feb-2008 18:16
A telephone conversation I had today reminds me of one of my favourite quotes about the English language:

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.


My mother tongue isn't as promiscuous, but we do like to borrow, too. Sometimes these things happen in weird ways, like with Keks, our word for biscuits, which we got by adapting the English plural cakes. The word Biskuit is something slightly different; it's what we call a sponge (cake). Then again, the English word biscuit is French in origin and the French got it through Latin (panis) bis coctus which is (bread) twice-baked. In German, we just translated the expression and eat Zwieback and it is a special kind of sweet and hard biscuit (baked twice of course!).

But that's not what the telephone conversation was about. You see, we like to borrow from English and that can lead to problems, especially when you use English words for the name of your business, like in this example. So, I've got a student on work experience with a photographer. I called to arrange a visit and spoke to the owner's mother-in-law. She told me that my student was out on assignment photographing babies and toddlers in a big shop where they sell prams and cots and toys and baby clothes and so on. If I wanted to I could visit my student there tomorrow. She gave me the name of the place and I heard it as Baby Wann, as in the German word for when and in German the W is pronounced like an English v (which you all know thanks to "Vee are ze Gestapo. Vee ask ze questions").
I assumed that Wann was the name of the owners and yes, baby is another word we borrowed, but as we've been using it since the 19th century, it's become totally unremarkable and doesn't strike anyone as foreign.
Grandma couldn't tell me the address of the shop, so I decided to make sure that I knew how to spell it and asked "Is that Wann with a W?". "No", she said, "it starts with an O, it's ohne without the h". It took me a while to figure it out, but then it clicked: That shop is called Baby One.

Even though I've got the name sorted out now, I still think I'm going to give that place a miss and visit my student next week.
girl
Comments 
28-Feb-2008 20:53 (UTC)
And the Italians have
biscotti
too - also twice-baked. Did you realise that what the British call
biscuits
are what Americans call
cookies
, though, and what they call
biscuits
are more like our plain scones? Funny things, words.

"Vee are ze Gestapo. Vee ask ze questions".


We also have "Vee haf vays of making you talk." - you see, we have a whole range of outdated stereotypes to call on at need!
29-Feb-2008 13:58 (UTC)

I left out the biscotti because this was all getting a bit too long, but I really should've mentioned the cookies which I assume the Americans learned from the Dutch and again we've got Kuchen which is our word for (larger) baked goods of the sweet variety.

It gets confusing for me though to distinguish between Torte which is related to your tart and Kuchen, because Kuchen can be used as a general term or hypernym, but is also a word for a 'dry' cake as opposed to something that is filled with cream etc., so you can have Schokoladenkuchen and Schokoladentorte. See, once you start, there's no stopping!

29-Feb-2008 20:26 (UTC)
When it comes to German torten and kuchen I see no need to stop. Yum!
28-Feb-2008 20:56 (UTC)
Excellent quote.

I've had similar difficulties... most recently when a waitress suggested a "smudy" (das musst du jetzt lesen als wärs in Deutsch) to me in a café and it took me a while to realize that she mean a smoothie!

And I never realized that Keks comes from cakes but it does make sense.
29-Feb-2008 14:03 (UTC)
Heee, a "smudy"!

The old Leibniz packaging and signs used to have the Leibniz Cakes spelling:

28-Feb-2008 21:34 (UTC)
We've got "cake", "biscuit", and "koekjes" or "koekies".
The first one is made with eggs, flour, sugar and butter. The second is sponge cake. And the third are well cookies. "Koek" can also be used for certain kinds of pie, (but those are generaly known as "taart") and the rolls you eat in the morning: "koffiekoeken". You are not fooling me the Germans don't eat Kaffeekuchen. Or is that a Dutchism?
And then I haven't even mentioned "gâteau" and "vlaai". ;-)

"Ve are ze Gestapo."
I use those clichés to pronounce my songlyrics: all the w's are v, all the v's are f...
And to be honest, my dentist did talk like that. Think "retainer" in German and you're spot on.

Baby Wann... It's the opposite of the French way of writing the w. Can you pronounce this one? ouebmaster
29-Feb-2008 14:10 (UTC)

Hmmm, we get Dutch Frühstückskuchen in our shops, but we usually call it Honigkuchen but we wouldn't it eat for breakfast and it doesn't look like a roll:



Yes, but the v=f is a bit deceptive, because while we've got our Vogel-Vau in words like Vogel, it's not always pronounced like that, for example in Vase.

Think "retainer" in German... Huh?
29-Feb-2008 19:59 (UTC)
But that's indeed a "honingkoek". Another variant of it that doesn't use honey is "peperkoek". We don't even at it at breakfast, but in between meals. So it's not what we call "Koffiekoeken". Those are Schokoladenkuchen etc.

For your question: I've got a retainer behind my teeth to keep them straight in line. The dentist was explaining how plaque builds up there (dentists like to explain stuff), and he pronounced the word "retainer" like only a German would. No offence intended, but he sounded like Herr Flick.
01-Mar-2008 11:42 (UTC)

Ah, now I understand! We don't need the 'Koffie' in front - but when we invite someone over for an afternoon indulgence in baked goods we invite them for "Kaffee und Kuchen".

Oh, I also laugh at the atrocious accents of German people on international television, so not offended!
01-Mar-2008 14:11 (UTC)
"Koffiekoeken" is something I usualy say for rolls in the morning. In the afternoon it's just "koffie drinken" or "koffie en taart". (And look: it's time for coffee!)
29-Feb-2008 20:01 (UTC)
Oh, and talking about pronunciation of the German language: we've been having discussions for weeks in choir practice on how to pronounce Cymbel in a song by Schubert.
01-Mar-2008 12:03 (UTC)
Hmm, that's a tricky one. Most Germans would have difficulties with it too, because it's such a rare word and this is the oldfashioned spelling. Today we write it as Zimbel and they've got an mp3 of how to pronounce it here. (Just click on the info symbol that's next to the definition and then choose the pronunciation help.)
01-Mar-2008 14:09 (UTC)
We came at a point where the teacher said: "I don't mind if you mispronounce it, as long as you all mispronounce it in the same way." So we decided on Zümbel (like you'd pronounce the y in Egypte).
01-Mar-2008 14:21 (UTC)

As long as the Z isn't soft, but more like a ts-sound it's close enough.
01-Mar-2008 14:25 (UTC)
Err, yeah that was written in German spelling.

Am also singing a song with the lovely word "Princessin".
And there's this one phrase I end up mixing into a word soup: "wholaufundwholab". Gah, singing in German... You always have to make sure all the words are seperate. French is so much easier then: just link them all together.
02-Mar-2008 19:36 (UTC)

German isn't really the nicest language to be singing in - there are some beautiful songs written for it, but it's all about enunciating clearly and separating the individual sounds.

I feel for you!
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