Rote Sauce

tomato ketchup

Was ist ein „halber Hahn“? Die meisten Deutschen werden hier zunächst an ein halbes Brathähnchen (in Ostdeutschland „Broiler“) denken. Wer jedoch in Köln einen „Halven Hahn“ bestellt, bekommt ein Roggenbrötchen mit einer fingerdicken Scheibe Gouda serviert. Doch nicht nur im Deutschen gibt es Ausdrücke, die nicht das sind, was sie vorgeben.

Die englische Sprache wird oft unterschätzt. Wer sie lernt, macht anfangs oft rasch Fortschritte, da die Grundregeln ihrer Grammatik leicht zu erlernen sind. Hat man jedoch ein gewisses Niveau erreicht, ist das Englische ebenso komplex und facettenreich wie andere Sprachen. Es kann durchaus verwirrend sein – sowohl phonetisch als auch semantisch. Die folgenden Wörter beispielsweise werden im Britischen gleich ausgesprochen: torque und talk, pair und pear, shake und sheikh. Dahingegen werden nachfolgende Wörter je nach Kontext und Bedeutung jeweils unterschiedlich ausgesprochen: read, wound, tear. Und dann gibt es noch die Wörter, meist Eigennamen, die viel zu viele (also stumme) Buchstaben haben: Worcester, Leicester, Warwick.

Für Außenstehende ist es vollkommen unlogisch, dass Privatschulen in England public schools heißen, dass marmalade ausschließlich aus Zitrusfrüchten gemacht werden darf und dass die wichtigsten Spiele des Nationalsports Cricket sich test matches nennen. Manche Engländer sagen dinner und meinen das Mittagessen, manche sagen tea und meinen das Abendessen. Und das, was wir (und die Amerikaner und wahrscheinlich alle anderen Völker der Welt) schlicht „Ketchup“ nennen, betiteln die Briten oft als red sauce oder tomato sauce. Und dann gibt es noch brown sauce, eine würzige Tinktur, die in so gut wie jedem englischen Vorratsschrank zu finden ist – ähnlich beliebt wie Maggi im deutschen Durchschnittshaushalt. Überhaupt ist alles Mögliche sauce, was in anderen Sprachen niemals so genannt würde. Außer Bratensauce, die heißt gravy.

Als wir vor einiger Zeit mit unserer englischen Familie im Urlaub waren, fragte Auntie Sylvie meine dreijährige Tochter, auf die Ketchup-Flasche zeigend, wie red sauce auf Deutsch heiße. Das Kind sah sie völlig ungläubig an. Man konnte ihm beim Denken zusehen: „Ist das eine Fangfrage oder bist du wirklich so doof, dass du das nicht weißt?“ Es entschied sich für letztere Variante und sagte mit bevormundender Fassungslosigkeit: „Ketchup!“ Tante Sylvie und alle Anderen, die ein elaboriertes deutsches Wort erwartet hatten, schüttelten sich vor Lachen.

Wusstet ihr übrigens, dass die englische Sprache mehr als eine Million Wörter hat?

Natürlich hat das Deutsche auch sehr, sehr viele Wörter. Und was die Deutschen „englisch“ nennen und umgekehrt, erfahrt ihr nächste Woche!

Der Pommes-Buddha sagt: Would you like some black pudding for dessert?

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Big business

2015-KW34 Loo

Last week, we visited the bathroom. It’s only a small step further to a facility that lends itself to extensive cultural studies. In many Asian countries, the sounds produced by a person using a WC are considered very private and shouldn’t be witnessed by other people under any circumstances. Therefore, lavatories are often equipped with sound machines imitating the flush to mask any possibly embarrassing noise (replacing the use of the actual flush, which had led to an exorbitant waste of water). So what about Germany? Here’s a bit of German loo etiquette.

As many of you globetrotters will know (for one will reliably bump into a German in even the remotest corner of this earth), Germans are embarrassed by hardly anything. While individuals from other cultural backgrounds go to great length to conceal or play down whatever they create – in every sense of the word – Germans are proud and boastful with regard to both national and personal output. The Swiss don’t call us Kannich (‘I can do it!’) for nothing! As you’ve learned, we show every last wrinkle of our bodies to total strangers at sauna spas. And that’s only the beginning. (Attention! German explicitness alert!)

When poor, unsuspecting Mr K, paper in hand and anticipating some pleasant reading time, first used a proper German toilet (they are a dying species now but can still be found) for Number Two (or ‘big business’ [‘das große Geschäft’] in German), he found himself propelled into a chemical warfare scenario. The paper was misappropriated for hectic fanning. ‘Proper’ German toilets, you see, have a sort of open-air ledge where all your hard day’s work will sit patiently for inspection and approval by the rightful owner (or whatever other suitable purpose one can think up). The fact that, at this point, there is no water to absorb any untoward odours, catches many a guileless foreigner by ugly surprise. Or, to be more graphic, let’s just say, you had no idea what yours really smells like … (Though my husband says the worst is the burning sensation in your eyes.)

Of course, one needs mind-blowing water power to persuade the purposefully-perched bundle of processed food to so much as consider moving in the rough direction of the sewer. Be warned: the flush is deafening!

Ironically, we dub the toilet ‘the silent place’ (‘das stille Örtchen’). If you think that’s weird, read next week how screwed up some English names for things can be!

The Pommes Buddha says: My own smells alright …

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The land of tailor-made terms

Car Air Freshener

One of the many reasons I love the English language is that it allows for almost unlimited interchangeable usage of word classes. You can turn a noun into a verb (‘to pool’) and vice versa (‘mix-up’) – and even combine the two! (While this is grammatically true for my native language, German is far less tolerant of neologisms.) Here are some examples of inspiring English ‘noun-adjectives’ …

noseblind – It may be a marketing stunt by a famous ‘home care’ giant, but it aptly describes what happens when your sense of smell gets used to a particular odour. How else can people stand working at Lush??? Some people are obviously noseblind with regard to their own BO or the perfume they use (in chemical-warfare-related quantities). And according to the group’s website, their products are ‘consumer-preferred.’

gun-shy – The one and only time I heard this expression was to describe a dog’s unsuitability for hunting. Apparently, it can also be used figuratively in the sense of ‘suspicious’.

streetwise – My husband is a moderate man. He doesn’t despise many things apart from Margaret Thatcher and The Pet Shop Boys. But when it comes to potentially dangerous situations, he can be outright anal (to use one of my favourite colloquialisms). For example, he says one should never go and see a flat offered on the property market on one’s own. It may be a set-up and one may end up being mugged or worse! And he always tells me to hide my purse when builders come. He calls it streetwise, I call it nuts. He calls it growing up in South-East London, I call it drinking from the paranoia cup. (My husband insists that the only reason I’m so unreasonable is that I’ve clearly never lived in South-East London.)

And finally, a known ice-cream brand used the borderline-wank-word expression ‘gelateria-inspired’ in a TV commercial – whatever that may mean. (Is it ice-cream that’s prepared in the same way as ice-cream?) It seems that advertising is a field with a particular propensity for such compounds. At least, the word inspires the creation of more such terms (‘a Portaloo®-evoking interior design’, ‘an OAP-riddled pub’, ‘a tosser-informed decision’ … the sky’s the limit!).

Next week, let’s take a closer look at Britain-inspired houses, and one room in particular …

The Pommes Buddha says: Beware of nerd-induced ear bleeding!

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The foodie trap

risotto with wild mushrooms

As you may have guessed, the realm of culinary delight is an area I am fond to delve into. But like in any other field, there are countless ‘unknowns.’ As an interpreter, one often has to translate restaurant menus ‒ a bloody minefield! I can’t tell sole from plaice even in my native language to start with. Here are some other examples of food-related pitfalls.

A good 20 years ago, my family and I visited the Channel island of Jersey. At a restaurant there, my dad was asked how he’d like his meat. He hesitated. He likes his meat rare, which, in German, is called ‘englisch’. He was quick-witted enough to know it can’t be ‘English’ in English. So he laughed apologetically and simply said, ‘Bloody!’ The waiter understood, laughed, and explained politely for future use that the correct term would be ‘rare’. (Funnily enough, when my English husband was recently asked, in England, how he’d like his steak, he said ‘English, please!’ without hesitation – yet another token of successful Germanisation.)

A couple of years ago, a kind of mushroom caused quite a stir. We were at a chamber music festival with some family and friends. During the interval, we wanted to pre-order food at a local restaurant. I translated the menu for my husband, just to realise that I had no clue what Steinpilze are in English. So we all offered expansive explanations … It’s a type of mushroom … In German, we say ‘stone mushrooms’ … (blank face) ‘rock mushrooms?’ … (blank face) They are big long mushrooms with a white stem and a brown top … (blank face) … They are used a lot in Italian cuisine … (blank face) … In Italian they are called ‘porcini’. ‘Ah,’ exclaimed Mr K, ‘porcini mushrooms!’ Sometimes the answer is staring you right in the face …

Another bottomless pit are the often adventurous translations of menus at holiday destinations. Entire books have been written about this. I remember Axel Hacke’s favourite example of ‘Zwiebel ruft an’ for ‘onion rings’ (a literal translation in the sense of an onion using the telephone). But even renowned hotels like The Kempinski in Berlin do not seem to attach too much importance to a proper version of their food offerings for English-speaking guests (see photo below, from a lunch during an interpreting job).


Next week, let’s move from pitfalls to potholes.

The Pommes-Buddha says: Would you like an Asiatic dough sack with that?

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The Pout

gelangweilter Mann

Every culture has gestures or facial expressions that have a meaning even without words. Every person brought up in a particular culture (or having spent a sufficient amount of time in it) will understand them. For example, Italians are particularly renowned for underlining their utterances by countless gestures (please find examples here). However, in a foreign culture, one will at times encounter non-verbal communication one can’t quite locate …

If he were asked to make the most German gesture he can think of, my husband would doubtless do The Pout. Germans use The Pout a lot. They use it when they listen carefully (along with The Squint and The Frown – we might call it ‘The PSF’; it looks fierce but is just a Germanic way of saying ‘I’m taking what you are saying seriously’). They use it when they are weighing up the pros and cons of something. They use (or maintain) it when they intend to qualify their ‘Yes’. In fact, The Pout can put a little tag on anything. A tag saying, ‘Why not?’ A tag saying, ‘It could be worse’ (for example, when asked how things are going). A tag saying, ‘It could be better’ (for example, when asked how things are going).

So The Pout is big. Any self-respecting German has it in her box of tricks. In fact, I’m sure I heard that it has recently been included in a newly-introduced practical part of the Einbürgerungstest (‘Demonstrieren Sie drei typisch deutsche Gesten’).

The other day, Mr K and I were sitting at our dinner table. I asked him if he’d like a yogurt. And there it was! I couldn’t believe it. He pouted, and then said ‘Yes’. At that moment I knew that, even without an Einbürgerungstest, he was properly naturalised. Above his head a blinking yellow sign said, ‘Germanisation completed’. It was an ‘Oi!’ moment. (You know, when Charlotte in Sex and the City, in the process of converting to Judaism, said her first ‘Oi!’) I was so proud.

Next week, we’ll revisit gestures and learn what fingers can tell you.

The Pommes Buddha says: When in doubt, use The Pout.

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Haare außer Kontrolle

Man with crazy expression and puffy hair

Manchmal kommt einfach alles auf einmal. Es ist ein ungewöhnlich kalter, verregneter Junitag, man wacht mit einem steifen Nacken auf, hat verschlafen, der Kaffee ist aus, die Kinder heulen – und so setzt sich der Tag fort. Am liebsten wäre man im Bett geblieben. So ein richtiger Pechtag … Gibt’s das auf Englisch auch?

Klar! Und im Englischen findet sich dafür die bildhafte Beschreibung „bad hair day“ – also wörtlich ein Tag, an dem die Frisur so gar nicht sitzt (auch: „man nicht gut im Haar liegt“ oder „die Haare nicht schön hat“). Entgegen landläufiger Meinung wird dieser Ausdruck heute allerdings fast ausschließlich im übertragenen Sinne verwendet, also in Bezug auf einen „schlechten Tag“ (auf Englisch auch „one of those days“). Mit Haaren hat das, wenn überhaupt, nur entfernt zu tun. Wenn euch also eine Englischmuttersprachlerin fragt: „Bad hair day?“, fasst euch nicht gleich an den Kopf!

Wenn alles auf einmal schiefgeht, nennen das die Amerikaner auch gerne illuster „clusterfuck“ („cluster“ = „Ansammlung“). Auf Deutsch fällt mir in diesem Sprachregister die „Arschkarte“ ein, obgleich der Kontext sich hier leicht verschiebt. „Du hast die Arschkarte“ bedeutet, dass die angesprochene Person in einer bestimmten Situation am schlechtesten wegkommt. Hier befinden wir uns im unerschöpflichen Reich der Fußballanalogien. Die Arschkarte ist die Karte, die der Schiri aus der Gesäßtasche zieht, also die Rote Karte.

Haben wir dann die haarige Situation, die man auf Englisch übrigens auch „hairy“ nennen kann, unbeschadet überstanden, können wir uns zurücklehnen und alle Anspannung ablegen. „Let your hair down“ sagt da der Anglophone, wie in dem gleichnamigen Lied von Corinne Bailey Rae. Das hat nichts mit Rapunzel zu tun. Es heißt einfach, dass man sein Haar nicht streng zum Dutt frisiert trägt, sondern locker-flockig offen schwingen lässt.

Also, ihr Lieben, wenn euch demnächst etwas missfällt, sucht doch nicht das Haar in der Suppe, sondern tragt euer Haar offen! Keine Schnute ziehen – aber dazu mehr nächste Woche.

Der Pommes-Buddha sagt: Zuë Haare sind auch keine Lösung!

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Sizzling efficiency

steak with flames on grill with rosemary

Germans are renowned for their efficiency. We don’t ‘fart-arse around’, as my English husband would say. We get things done. The same is true for our language. Often, my husband asks something like, ‘What’s this word in English?’ (‘this word’ being anything from ‘Ausfahrt’ to ‘Zollstock’). Having got past the first obstacle (the initial reply any translator will offer, i.e. ‘It depends on the context’), he is frequently surprised to find that there is not a clear-cut, one-word English equivalent. Let’s look at another example …

Here’s what a German may ask you these days, ‘Hast du schon angegrillt?’ ‘Angrillen’. What a cool word! Nine letters. And what does it mean? It means ‘to have the first barbecue of the year’. ‘Grillen’ means ‘to barbecue’, and ‘an‑’ is a prefix stating (in this particular context) that something is just beginning. Accordingly, ‘abgrillen’ refers to the last barbecue of the year. So by changing one letter, you can change the meaning from ‘first’ to ‘last’. Now, that’s what we call efficient.

Some Germans take efficiency to a completely different level, though. I once saw a documentary on a bunch of guys who had a BBQ every single day of the year, eating outdoors even in the snow. ‘Wir grillen am 1. Januar an und am 31. Dezember ab’, they said. That’s one whopper of a Grillsaison!

In Cologne, like in many German cities, people like to meet friends in parks and have a barbie (Australian abbreviation). Unlike in Australia and the USA, there are not many designated BBQ areas (US-American abbreviation, always pronounced as the full word [ˈbɑrbɪˌkjuː]), let alone permanent BBQs for anyone’s use. So we bring along our own little barbecues and coal. This type of public food-preparation is not officially allowed, but most municipalities will tolerate it. In some very big parks or hiking areas, you may even stumble upon a Grillhütte, a wooden hut with a permanent barbecue inside. Those normally need to be officially rented from the local council, though. In the UK, most barbecuing is done in private gardens, as it’s not allowed in parks.

Next week, we’ll come back to the epitome of Englishness.

The Pommes Buddha says: Every Ken likes a barbie.

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What a load of buzz


The other day I witnessed an incident or, shall we say, an ‘act of communication’ that made me think of a certain type of office game. I was sitting in a café in Cologne when a group of businesspeople walked in. As they had turned up late, the table they had booked had been given away. This prompted one of the ‘suits’ to ask whether it was still possible to find room for six. Only, he didn’t say ‘possible’.

He said – and I am deeply sorry for those who don’t speak German, as this is untranslatable: ‘Ist das darstellbar?’ ‘Darstellbar’ is one of those smoke-screen words that are used excessively by many businesspeople to make what they really mean sound fancier, such as ‘lean in’ or ‘own the room’. I believe the correct technical term for such expressions is ‘wank words’. So my gut association was with the fine game invented to make boring meetings (here, the astute reader will notice a clear case of pleonasm – not to be confused with ‘neoplasm’, as Wikipedia kindly points out) more exciting. Of course, I’m talking about Wank Word Bingo (in American English, as well as German: ‘Bullshit Bingo’).

In its embosomed tradition of verbing, American English boasts the uniquely graphic word ‘bullshitting’, which Germans would usually refer to as ‘Scheiße labern’, equally graphic. In British English, however, as far as I’m aware, ‘wanking’ really only denotes the self-manipulation of male genitalia, as opposed to the manipulation of language. ‘Bullshitting’ in England is ‘to be full of shit’ (careful, dear non-native speakers, ‘shit’ in Britain is much more vulgar than in Germany – so use shit sparingly), or ‘to talk rubbish’ if you wish to be less offensive.

Meetings, though, are the same the world over. This is why WWB is such a success. And now for some practical application: I found this lovely ‘Bullshit-o-mat’ to generate your own manager phrases in German. Enjoy!

Next week, let’s go back to Cornwall for a little while …

The Pommes Buddha says: Vom Learning her hab’ ich einiges mitgenommen.

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Berrying 101

Sprig with fresh ripe blueberries in summer.

Yes, Sir, I can berry. Well, at least if I’m a speaker of US American English. Intriguingly, the Americans can transform anything into a verb (this process is called ‘verbing’). So Yanks can breakfast, they can shower and they can berry (aka ‘pick berries’). Even though they can’t berry, the Brits, just like the Americans, love blueberry muffins. (By the way, can you ‘blueberry-muffin’? ‘What did you do during the coffee break?’ – ‘I blueberry-muffined. Yummie!’) Let’s find out what the deal is with Germans and blueberries …

In the German language, the issue of the blueberry is not a straightforward one. Yes, one can find the obvious Blaubeere (if one berries hard enough). However, this is but one of many names for the tiny fruit in question. Heidelbeere is, I’d think, the most widely used word. But even Waldbeere, in addition to its general meaning of ‘berry from the woods’, may refer to the same plant (Vaccinium myrtillus in Latin). And don’t get me started on the regional varieties …

Apparently, according to Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary, the name ‘blueberry’ has no synonyms in the English language. How lucky you Americans are! Instead, you have berries that no German or Brit has ever heard of. It was in an American ice-cream shop nearly twenty years ago that I first read the name ‘boysenberry’. (At the time I thought it was simply a taste of assorted woodland berries, which those crazy Americans named after the French word for ‘forest’ [‘bois’], changing the spelling so the name would seem more ‘funky’ or something.) Also, we don’t have loganberries. And cranberries are an utterly complex subject in themselves., in contrast, says there are quite a few synonyms of ‘blueberry’ (‘huckleberry’, ‘whinberry’, ‘whortleberry’ and ‘bilberry’ are some of them). However, I have no idea how widely used these really are.

But now to the best part: I found a page with blueberry recipes on the BBC website (also featuring other berries). In the United States, blueberries seem to have acquired a status similar to knighthood (or damehood? Are berries male or female? In Italian, the tree is male and the fruit is female. So I suppose it must be ‘Dame Blueberry’.). In any case, they have their own ‘U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council’, whose website advertises the blue fruit’s multitudinous merits and applications.

After this mouth-watering experience, let’s continue on the path of culinary delights next week …

The Pommes Buddha says: I berry, you berry, he/she/it berries.

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Fucking hell

Glass of beer and bottle against wheat field and sunset

I’m terribly sorry if this title offends you, but, in my defence, it is not what you think it is. This week’s story, which is related to a subject discussed here in all seriousness before, starts in a village in Austria situated 33 kilometres north of Salzburg. Just like a considerable number of other places in Bavaria and Austria, its name ends in –ing. Can you guess what the first part is?

‘Fuck’, yes! (Again, no expletive.) Indeed, the place is called Fucking. In case you were wondering, it is pronounced with a closed ‘u’ /ʊ/, as in ‘put’. Obviously, due to its similarity with a tremendously rude English word, the place has gained some fame in English-speaking countries. The poor inhabitants of Fucking, of course, can’t help it.

But if they had a really wicked sense of self-deprecating humour, they would have done what a German company did in 2010: they went to court and won the right to name a beer ‘Fucking hell’. ‘Hell’ is the equivalent of ‘pale’ – ‘ein Helles’ is the common expression for a light lager as opposed to a dark beer. So in German it makes perfect sense to call a beer from Fucking ‘Fucking hell’. The court obviously agreed. Never mind that Fucking has no brewery (yet) … So there you go.

During my research for this blog entry, I came across an Austrian film called ‘Bad Fucking’. ‘Bad’ in German means ‘bath’ or ‘bathroom’ and in names of towns and villages is a relic referring to the fact that there are some types of, usually thermal, springs in the area (as in ‘Bad Saarow’ – highly recommended for a weekend away). So these places are historic spa places. There is no real place called ‘Bad Fucking’ – but there might as well be.

So next time you’ve had a bad day in the Salzburg area, why not think To hell with it … and have a Fucking hell for substantiation? Sounds effing splendid!

Next week, we’ll deal with a much more cultured form of pastime. (Did I hear someone say ‘Boooring!’?)

The Pommes Buddha says: Let’s call a Fucking a Fucking.

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