Last week, we looked at ‘squeaky bum time’ as a potential candidate for a loan word in German. The beautiful German word ‘Mogelpackung’ would be an excellent choice for a loan word in other languages. What exactly is a Mogelpackung and what does it have to do with citrus fruit?
Recently, I heard a programme on BBC Radio 4 about excessive packaging of ordered goods. One customer complained, for example, that she had been sent one bottle of nail varnish in a box that was big enough to accommodate a large TV set. ‘The Germans,’ said one of the presenting journalists, ‘have invented a nice word for it: Mogelpackung. It means “deceptive packaging.”’
According to the German spelling bible Duden, the word ‘Mogelpackung’ refers to feigning a larger quantity of content than the package actually contains. This is commonly used for product packaging on supermarket shelves. So the term may also refer to hoodwinking customers into paying more for a product.
Along with schummeln, mogeln is a somewhat old-fashioned verb meaning ‘to cheat.’ When we were children, my nan used to warn us against mogeln or schummeln during a nice round of Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht, the godmother of German board games.
At any rate, Mogelpackung is a wonderful word. You can also use it in a figurative sense, for example if government reforms or bills don’t live up to the electorate’s expectations – or even in personal relationships (‘Der Typ war ‘ne echte Mogelpackung!’).
There is another German expression for the same phenomenon. You can say ‘Außen hui, innen pfui’ – meaning something is ‘wow!’ on the outside and ‘phooey!’ (American English ‘yuck!’) on the inside.
The first English expression that came to my mind in this context was ‘bad apple.’ It equally denotes something that turns out to be lousy without showing any sign of lousiness at first sight. However, ‘bad apple’ contains a rather comprehensive and general devaluation, similar to a schwarzes Schaf (‘black sheep’) in German.
And then there’s the lemon. ‘Lemons’, however, are more specific and often refer to cars with hidden faults.
A search for Mogelpackung on dict.cc yields paraphrases such as ‘bluff package,’ ‘misleading packaging’ or the above-mentioned ‘deceptive packaging.’ But there is no true equivalent in English. So, dear Brits, how about the German Mogelpackung?
To those of you who would like to know more about German loan words in other languages, I recommend the diverting blog From Auspuff to Zeitgeist by my dear colleague Birte Priebe.
Next time, let’s find some good apples for a change.
The Pommes Buddha says: When life deals you lemons, make lemonade.