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Posts Tagged ‘language

Why is swearing in German so damn hard?

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The new Wonderella comic actually manages to get German swearing right. Consider me impressed. It’s only one word, but seeing how many non-German writers ever manage anything close, it is quite an achievement.

I always wondered about that: Not really that many people seem to know even the most basic swear words in German, even though everybody knows some in Spanish or French. Which is even worse because Germans are… well… potty-mouthed would be lacking as a description.

We hardly go by in any talk without using words that would cause an uproar in American media.¹ I guess there is a bit of a cultural thing going on here, together with some linguistical quirk. You know, swear words are not swearing in German. So even from a deeply Christian point of view (which often is used against it in English speaking countries, the “No Swearing” commandment in the Bible) if we are using foul language it’s not actually touching any religious feelings in most cases. There are some words like “gottverdammt” (god damn it) which would be, but those hardly are the morst poignant or popular ones. They actually are considered quite mild.

Of course it is the most deeply catholic part of Germany (southern Bavaria) which loves to use these words in speech. On the other hand this is considered ethnical identity nowadays (everybody EXPECTS them to behave like that), so they actually get free passes on insult charges if they use those. Seriously. Using bad language is part of the Bavarian national identity.

So, why is it actually so hard to get a few words right? We swear all the time. And yet every time there are some aggravated Germans in any medium it’s always “Schweinhund”. Even worse writers don’t seem to notice that this the word is not even grammatically correct. (it would be “Schweinehund”). But yeah, I know… German is hard

No, that word is not really used in German that much. Actually, it’s not used at all. One could say it’s one of the aforementioned Bavarian quirks. It could be used to insult, but generally it’s more used as an endearment.

Yes. I know how weird that sounds.

I might sound strange but sometimes I just wish people would take one or two minutes to actually research their stuff. It’s not that hard! the thing is just, every single time “Germans” appear on the screen in foreign media they might be presented badly, they might be assholes and Nazis (and for some strange reason they’re also all blonde), but I just can’t see them as Germans. I’m not even insulted by presentations of Germans anymore. I don’t understand the most basic sentences they wharrgarrbl on the screen (because it is so hard to find any German to write you a few basic sentences for your multi-million dollar script…), I don’t even recognize their most basic utterances. They are from some mythical quasi-European country with a language that sounds sorta like Dutch.

Just without any proper “ch” in there…


¹ to be fair: America is a nation that STILL talks about seeing one nipple for a split-second SIX YEARS AGO,but they do have the world’s largest porn industry

Written by G. Neuner

27. February 2010 at 6:35 pm

Posted in Odd

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Phrasebook Misery

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Anna Etmanska from the Transparent Language Polish Blog in her latest post points out some facts that have bugged me as well for a long time:

Take any random phrasebook (any language will do) and look inside. You will see a whole bunch of very useful expressions that, no doubt, are essential to your survival in a foreign land. Phrases such as: “Where is the national museum?” (Yeah right, like you are really going to understand the answer. A lot easier to look up the museum on google maps before you leave home) or “Can I have it in red, please?” (at H&M you can find it yourself, and if you’re the type who frequents high end stores, chances are the staff will speak some English, even in France) or “I’d like to exchange these traveler’s checks” (just use a bank card, will you?).

So it’s not only me! Other people ask those questions as well! What audience are all those sentences in phrasebooks (not only Polish ones but all of them) actually for?! In any of those books there will be loads of sentences which might be important in everyday communication, but you basically can’t use them. Because you won’t understand the answer the other person will b giving you. The way to the museum might be shown with hands and feet if nothing else helps, but ask the lady at the ticket counter when and where the bus is going from and you will have a problem.

I remember one Polish phrasebook in particular that had a page on relationships. Phrases were going from: “Do you want to go out with me?” up to “Do you want to marry me?” and my personal favorite in this list “I think it doesn’t work with us two anymore!”. A whole relationship condensed onto one single page. Only: who will ever need that?

I mean, what are you even doing in a relationship where you have to break the bad news in a language you don’t even speak? I mean, how did you talk to each other before?!

Written by G. Neuner

9. June 2009 at 1:23 pm

Posted in Travel

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