FGF 1/6/12: “The Awful German Language”

Today is another holiday here in Germany. Stores are closed, streets are quiet, and the cable-pulley buckets carrying cement behind our apartment building are still.

It’s known as Three Kings Day or Dreikönigstag.

January 6th is the day Germans designate as the last day of Christmas. Another way of putting it is ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ ended with traditions of family feasts and sprinkling of holy water over doorways. It’s the day some say the three wise men arrived in Bethlehem which is why children dress up as kings and carol and collect money for the poor. And it’s usually the day the German’s take down their Christmas trees (they traditionally don’t put them up until Christmas Day).

You can read more about Three King’s Day here, but it’s the word “Dreikönigstag” that reminded me why I have had the German language on my list of Favorite German Finds.

You may be wondering why I call the language “awful” and still list it as my “favorite” find so I’ll explain… and then explain some more.

1. I didn’t call it “awful” first; Mark Twain did. He spent a lot of time in this area and said much on the subject of speaking German that I find hilarious.

2. The German language is listed on my favorites because it is the best example to me of this country’s contradictions. These contradictions are part of the adventure after the culture shock wears off.

One contradiction case in point is the view we have in our neighborhood. A first-time view upon entering Leimen from the West would be: Field, beautiful field, field ready to harvest, quaint village, vineyards, starting up a mountain, evergreens, sky scrapers, more trees, mountain… Wait. Skyscrapers? It just doesn’t make sense at first.

And now to das sprechen von Deutsch or–the speaking of German.

In my feeble attempt to learn a wee bit of the language, I find that when a rule is explained to me it makes perfect, logical sense. And then the Sister Missionaries (they get to teach us) say, “Except in the case of…”

There are so many of those exceptions I want to throw my hands up in surrender. Which is why I haven’t learned to speak it. It’s too hard, I say. The truth is, I haven’t felt the necessity to master it with church in English, my daily association with Americans, and there’s that part about us only living here for a year. I’m sorry that my attitude holds me back, but so it is.

I actually understand a little. I can even pronounce most things correctly. I just don’t often know what I’m saying. Carrying on a conversation consisting of more than two short lines? Forget it.

Here is one thing I do like about the language, however. To save space and maybe time, they put several words together to make one. Take, for example, the word “Dreikönigstag”. Drei means “three”, königs means “king’s” and tag is “day”. And then there’s the word “Herzkreislaufwiederbelebung”; literal translation is “heart-circle-run-again-enlivenment” (I nabbed it from here.)

The English version of this word is C.P.R.

Now, let’s talk about the word for Christmas. I have a confession to make… If anyone that knows a bit of German received my Christmas card in the mail or saw my slide show/video, they would know that I made a big oops. I didn’t write the correct German word for “Christmas”; I wrote the word for “Wine Eight-en”. To my knowledge, there is no such thing. I left out the “h” in Weihnachten.

Just for kicks and giggles, I’m going to break the correct word down and illustrate the awfulness and humor of the language.

Weih (viy)/nacht (nockt)/en (‘n)

Weih = “dedicate” or “consecrate”

nacht = “night”

-en = turns it into an action word

Put ’em together and what have you got? A consecrated night.

You’ve also got a  mouthful that an American will stumble over for centuries and at least one will misspell.

What confuses my English bred brain has nothing to do with my making a mistake. My mistake is based on the way the word is spoken. They sound identical (if you ask me). The confusing part is the fact that “Christus”–the German word for “Christ”–is nowhere in their version of “Merry Christmas”. When you ask anyone what “Frohe Weihnacten” means, they say “Merry Christmas”. I say, nuh-uh.

In my eyes, the German’s have mastered the beauty of celebrating Christmas. So many of the carols and traditions I grew up with as an American and a Christian make so much more sense now that I have lived here and learned a little of the language. I just can’t figure out why they left out the most important word.

Oh well. I’ll just laugh and sympathize with Mark Twain’s perspective, “Never knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German.”

But I have a suggestion for the Germans. They should change their phrase to, “Frohe Fest Christigeborenwurde!”

The translation (according to me and translate.google.com) = Merry Celebration of Jesus Christ was born!

Besides the rules making sense and then not, there is one more reason the German language is a contradiction to me. I want to love it, but I just don’t want to.


For Mark Twain’s essay entitled, “The Awful German Language” go here

3 thoughts on “FGF 1/6/12: “The Awful German Language”

  1. English is a descendent of German, which is why it is a devilishly difficult language to learn, with all of its exceptions! I have a son who loves German, and all things German. He wants to serve his mission there. My husband’s grandfather was brought from Germany to the US as a baby. Our last name is a very old Prussian name and there was a German TV celebrity in years with the same name.

    • That is very neat to have such a heritage, Rozy! I hope your son gets to serve here. I know; we have German to thank for our English heritage, don’t we?

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