I commend to you Howard Rheingold's book, They Have a Word for It (1988), which is not just another word-book. Rheingold focuses on
Korinthenkacker (core-IN-ten-COCK-er) – a person overly concerned with trivial details
The Korinthenkacker is the guy whose desk has every item perfectly in place, neatly aligned. The Korinthenkacker is the guy who insists on figuring the precise to-the-penny amount (plus tax) owed by each of six people who have dined together at a restaurant. The Korinthenkacker, says Rheingold, is "anyone who couldn't find a forest because he or she is too busy applying a magnifying glass to an inspection of the bark of one tree."
The LEO German-English dictionary suggests: nitpicker. Works for me. You could also describe such a person in US English as being anal (from the Freudian term) or an A-type personality.
—Ceci n'est pas un seing.
But z, the same source also suggests nitpicker as the translation of Erbsenzähler, thus suggesting that the two German terms are not (necessarily) equivalent. In other words, "nitpicker" is the best available match in English, but perhaps German expresses a distinction of meaning that English can't match without a more extensive explanation.
Yes, Erbsenzähler 'pea-counter' (cf. English bean-counter') is also given. And, you know how I feel about this whole "untranslatability" question (I don't). Just because Korinthenkacker 'dried-currants-pooper' has a literal and a figurative meaning, doesn't mean that English nitpicker isn't close enough. In a sense all foreign words are untranslatable, in that there are only approximations of their meaning in another language. There was nothing in Rheingold's cited text that made me think that nitpicker was a good enough translation. Sorry.
[Edited gloss.]This message has been edited. Last edited by: zmježd,
—Ceci n'est pas un seing.
(Since I wrote the stuff below, I see that some intervening posts cover some of the same ground -- but IMHO not enough to render my contribution superfluous. :-)
It might interest members to know what Korinthenkacker literally means, namely "shitter of teeny raisins" (Korinthen are Corinthians, raisins made from a very small grape) -- and what that means, metaphorically, can be appreciated by thinking of our (somewhat) related term "bean counter".
There are some English words that actually come fairly close: fussbudget (or fusspot), nitpicker, perfectionist, detail freak.
Of course, no term is untranslatable -- not even the infamous Gemütlichkeit -- so I take the concept to mean, here, that there's no single-word dictionary translation, and that a multi-word phrase would have to be used, e.g.: Schadenfreude > joy at someone else's misfortune. Or a neologism coined (see below).
BTW, my favorite German word for which there is no English equivalent dictionary word is: Wagenburg. (My unabridged Langenscheidt German-English gives "corral" as a translation, but that seems wrong to me, probably a misunderstanding.)
This one is so neat because it refers to something that has never existed in Germany (or even Europe) but which was once very common in the American West -- at least according to the Westerns I grew up watching: it is the noun for what you get when the wagonmaster shouts: "Draw the wagons into a circle!" -- i.e. Wagenburg > wagon-fort.
So why would the Germans have a word that American English doesn't for something they don't have but Americans did? Because the Germans were once passionately interested in the American West, and they had their own Zane Grey, namely Karl May. May's lack of specific knowledge about the American West was compensated by his vivid and prolific imagination, which makes his novels at times pretty hilarious to American readers. Not that Zane Grey would be considered a paragon of historical accuracy either, of course, but he didn't get basic knowledge wrong. I don't have a concrete example to hand, but it's as if May were to describe a pistol as a "seven-shooter". Plus, to say that his view of the West was romanticized is an understatement, and it was romanticization with a uniquely Teutonic twist, so that the value system that underlies his character's actions is at times puzzling to American readers.
Actually, I'd be willing to bet that Karl May coined the word himself. Google found several instances in his novels, but I can't find proof that he was the first. (Amusingly, an automatic translator rendered Wagenburg as "car castle".)
How wonderful to have someone from Costa Rica. Now, please stay with us here, and thanks for that non-superfluous post!
(My unabridged Langenscheidt German-English gives "corral" as a translation, but that seems wrong to me, probably a misunderstanding.)
The things I learn looking things up in a dictionary. For instance, corral in the OED yields three major meanings: "(a) an enclosure or pen for horses, cattle, etc.; a fold; a stockage. (b) an enclosure formed of wagons for an encampment, for defence against attack. (c) an enclosure for capturing wild animals." In other words, the gloss for Wagenburg in Langenscheidt's and LEO is correct. The term for wagons drawn into a circle to provide an enclosure for the safety of animals and goods during the night for a wagon train is corral. Corral was even used as a verb in the sense of drawing up wagons into a circle in 1845 or there-abouts.
—Ceci n'est pas un seing.
Regarding David Fogg's post:
Feierabend – festive frame of mind at the end of the working day
Literally, "celebration evening. The euphoric feeling of work is over and it's time to relax, enjoy a beer at the pub, or put your feet up before the fire with your newspaper and slippers.
To me – and this is personal only – Feierabend differ in two senses from "Thank God It's Friday". The latter applies only one day a week, and more importantly, has the sense of relief from the "bad hours" rather than relish of the "good hours".
Perhaps this old pop-song by The Vogues conveys the feeling, especially in with last line?
I gotta fight my way through the hustling mob.
Sounds of the city pounding in my brain
While another day goes down the drain.
But it's a five o'clock world when the whistle blows
No one owns a piece of my time
And there's a five o'clock me inside my clothes
Thinking that the world looks fine.
This poem was written as a protest against the land enclosures of the 16th Century which allocated land to private owners and meant that many poorer people thus had nowhere to graze their animals.
An incidental result of the enclosures was the "rolling English road" (libelously attributed, by G K Chesterton, to the "rolling English drunkard") which was thereby forced to go around the boundaries of the newly enclosed fields.
(Re: Enclosure Movement) -- That's right, of course, Richard, and this reverse Robin-Hooding is happening again today, as the megacorps expropriate and/or destroy the larger commons of our global environment -- but I drift off topic. <FLAME OFF>
Regarding Feierabend (or, pronounced causally, more like "Feirom"), I've heard it used, in German movies and TV shows in a context that makes it essentially synonymous with "quittin' time" -- e.g. someone saying "Bald ist Feierabend, Gottseidank!" (Thank God it's almost quitting time!) around 1630 hours.
causally > casually. Gak!
fisselig – flustered into incompetence because a critical person is watching
I think of a state of incompetent "stage fright", whether in the theater itself or under the eye of a critical boss or professor.
Rheingold says, "flustered to the point of incompetence," but then adds that flustered or jittery" are inexact because "neither … puts any blame on the unwanted supervisorial attention that brings on this nervousness and disintegration of composure. I have tried to put this together into a brief definition. Any correction or confirmation is appreciated.
Wordcrafter, is "fisselig" a modifier or a noun?
I just happen to have a database/glossary of German words I find interesting or amusing or unusual in some way or other, and this includes some sogenannte (so-called) untranslatables.
Bear in mind that some of these are dialect (i.e. not Hochdeutsch), and that some have obviously been coined with humor aforethought.
I've also taken the liberty of adding a couple that are not all that untranslatable, but so delightful that I couldn't resist including them.
If shoveling so many all at once (instead of doling them out singly -- and thus increasing my posting count on my way out of novice memberhood) is counter to the spirit of this thread, I apologize.
wurmklopfen V. - Driving earthworms to the surface with electricity
verschlimmbessern V. - making things worse by not leaving well enough alone
Schlaglochsuchgerät N. - Post-WWII nickname for the VW, also known as the Käfer (Beetle); it means "pothole seeking device", of which there were many in the early postwar years.
Nullgruhlhausen N. - A town so small it didn't even have one (Null) pretty girl (Gruhl); -hausen is a common town-name suffix, like -burg. I guess our closest equivalent would be one-horse town or whistlestop.
Noagerlschlucker N. - One who goes around a beer hall drinking the dregs left the mugs of departed guests.
OkuhilaOliba N. - This one is actually an acronym, but slang acronyms are quite popular in German. It's a teen hair style name: short in front, long in back, mustache (Oben kurz, hinten lang, Oberlippenbart)
Himmiherrgottzaggramentzefixallelujamilextamarschscheißglumpfaregtz! - The ultimate Bavarian swearword. It starts off religious, segues into coprophagy, and winds up incomprehensible, at least to non-Bavarians.
Most words ending in -ig are modifiers, like our -y (moody). Usually, -ig by itself will be an adverb, and if there's -e, -er, -en, -es, -em after that, it's an adjective with a declination ending.
Anyone who has been married will understand today's word.
Drachenfutter – peace offering to one's wife (chocolate, flowers, etc.) when one has behaved badly: a late night of poker with the boys, etc.
Literally (oh, this is lovely!) "dragon fodder". An attempt to propitiate the goddess in her wrath.
Such gifts were so customary and common that the Germans coined a word for them. Rheingold reports, "At one point it was common in Germany to see men drinking in bars of cafés on Saturday afternoons with their Drachenfutter already bought and wrapped in anticipation of the night ahead."
propitiate – to appease; to gain or regain the favor of
A related word (tho hardly untranslatable) is Studentenfutter which we know as GORP, i.e. "Good Ole Raisins & Peanuts", hikers' trail mix.
Germans like to distinguish between animals & humans when it comes to food & eating, so "essen" is humans eating and "fressen" is animals eating. There are many insults built on this word: "Halt die Fresse" (Shut your yap); Frass (yucky food; we might say "hog slops") -- and my favorite, tho not an insult: "Ich fress einen Besen!" (Well, I'll be hornswoggled!), I'll eat a broom! (like I guess a donkey or a goat might actually do)
Quote: "German ... 'essen' is humans eating and 'fressen' is animals eating."
Interesting. In Yiddish, 'fressen' means to eat a lot, or to eat noisely and quickly. You could think of either sense as "to eat like an animal".
Leo Rosten reports that this sign was seen in a restaurant in Mexico City:
Pastrami (Double Decker) por Grandes Fressers ................. 15 pesos
Pastrami (Triple Decker) por Grandísimo Fressers ............... 20 pesos
Quote: "German ... 'essen' is humans eating and 'fressen' is animals eating."
Interesting. In Yiddish, 'fressen' means to eat a lot, or to eat noisely and quickly. You could think of either
Other members interested in learning more about Yiddish can check out the utterly delectable, often hilarious, book the above anecdote came from: The (New) Joys of Yiddish. In the "New" edition, it can be found on p. 108.
Radfahrer – colloquial: one who flatters superiors and brow-beats subordinates
This sort of two-faced person has been given a name that literally means "cyclist": after toadying to his bosses, he turns around and abuses subordinates. This despicable type is distinct from the sycophant, who merely toadies.
Come to think of it, does English have a word for the boss who terrorizes those who work for him? 'Martinet' comes to mind, but it means a strict disciplinarian, a stickler for the rules. It does not necessarily imply terror. Conversely, I would think that part of the terror of a Radfahrer is that, without clear standards, one never knows what may set him off.
The following is sailor Jacob Nagle's account of a mutiny aboard H.M.S. Blanche on Jan 7,1797. The dispute centered around the appointment of a new Captain whose reputation as a strict disciplinarian preceeded him aboard:
"He (Hotham) came on board, had the officers armed on the quarterdeck and all hands turned aft to hear his commission read at the capstan head. They all cried 'No, No, No.' He asked what they had to say against. One of the petty officers replied that his ship's company informed us that he was a damned tartar and we would not have him and we went forward and turned the two forecastle guns aft with cannister shot."
(The mutiny was soon mediated and settled by Lord Nelson.) see www.nelson.society.org.uk/html/body_unrest_and_mutiny.htm
My Canadian Oxford says: "tartar: A violent or intractable person." That seems to go beyond "disciplinarian".
(Not someone I'd like to work for!)
Schlimmbesserung – a so-called improvement that makes things worse
Surely readers can provide examples, and I'm providing a thread here to share them. Rheingold's example is the bus-only lanes on a highway: lanes that are empty most of the time, while the entire traffic load must cram into the lanes remaining.
And who'd have expected a purple-prose example in the world of body-building?
– Julian Schmidt, Flex [Magazine], April, 2002
marmoreal – like marble (emphasizing either smoothness or hardness)
Isn't "rad" the German word for "wheel?" If so, it's interesting that both German and English used "wheel" to connote a bicycle during its vogue in the late 1800s to early 1900s. In 1880 an organization was formed in the USA to promote paved roads throughout the country. NOT the Auto Club, but the League of American Wheelmen, a bicyclist's organization. This led to the Good Roads Movement, then with the advent of the cheap automobile, to the "...sorry mess of automobiles," or so said Lewis Mumford.
I'd always known the word as Verschlimmbesserung.
As for Radfahrer, yes 'Rad' is wheel; the full word for bicycle is Fahrrad, travel wheel. There's a funny slang term for it, too: Drahtesel, wire donkey.
Motorrad is motorcycle, and its slang term is Feuerstuhl, fire chair.
Continuing with Radfahrer, I explain it to myself this way: a cyclist is bent forward, with head bent up to look ahead, perfect arse-kissing posture; meanwhile, the lower body is trampling on the pedals, the subordinates.
Papierkrieg – obsessively complicated paperwork, seemingly (or actually) designed to make you give up frustration
Can anyone comment on how this is related to Bürokratismus?
Rheingold defines Papierkrieg as "complicated paperwork connected with making a complaint" that, unlike 'red tape', is a obstacle created deliberately to derail you. However, this web-example shows that Papierkrieg is not be limited to "complaint" forms.
That sounds like the perfect definition of both diplomacy and bureaucracy - war with paper!
Hmmm, my detective work on where you are from has failed miserably. With your comment about Powell's Book Store, I thought sure you were from the west coast here in the U.S. But that "arse" comment adds a bit of confusion!
Kalleh, as to my provenance: the 'arse' is just one example of my frequent and shameless borrowing from other dialects, slangs, argots, 'pigeons' of English; plus, I'm a hopeless Britophile.
Born in New Orleans, raised in Puerto Rico, lived in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Brownsville (TX), Boston, New Brunswick (NJ), Chicago, lastly in Portland (OR) before moving to Costa Rica. Attended Rice University, Rutgers, University of Houston and Portland State University.
Pidgins and creoles are fascinating. This excerpt from a Cambridge University Press book on pidgins and creoles is well worth a read. Sample texts are given in phonological transcription.
—Ceci n'est pas un seing.
Zmj, that was fascinating, especially the sample texts.
Froesch, that is quite a history! Please log in with us on our Wordcraft chat this Saturday (at noon Central time; there will be a reminder in Community). I'd love to hear about your time in Chicago.