Gendering German


It’s not easy to be English these days. First the Brexit shock, then being kicked out of EURO 2016 by a country that previously didn’t even exist on the European football map. Now you poor lads and lasses really have to take a lot of grief from your German and Icelandic friends. But cheer up! After the match is before the match, as Sepp Herberger once remarked. So let’s keep playing and look at a particular linguistic oddity in football.

German has many words that foreigners find hard to understand. Frauenmannschaft is one of my English husband’s favourites. It refers to an all-female sports team, which seems odd, as the German word for ‘team’ (Mannschaft) is based on the word ‘man.’ How can women be men at the same time? If you’ve ever seen the Cologne Christopher Street Day Parade you wouldn’t even ask this question. If not, here’s what I think.

Unbeknownst to the average German, the German language is secretly the most sociologically advanced language. See, we don’t even consider men and women any different from one another, so women can be men any time they please.

But wait a minute, I can sense a tad of injustice manifesting itself here … What about men who want to be women? Unfortunately, our poor male national football squad don’t have the option of being a Frauschaft. But I’m sure if they took a unanimous vote the German language would be open for suggestions.

Seriously, now. The crux of German is that gendering is so bloody awkward – if not outright impossible. As a result, time and again some important officials come up with ridiculous official names for groups of people, such as Studierende instead of Studenten because the latter excludes Studentinnen.

The thing is, if you want to write correct German, you cannot be politically correct and reader-friendly at the same time. Plus there is no agreed form of gendered language. You are spoilt for choice between the rather old-fashioned slash (“Sehr geehrte/r Herr/Frau X”), the brackets (“Liebe(r) Freund(e)”), the Binnen-I (“Wir wünschen allen KundInnen ein frohes Fest!”), the asterisk (“Partner*innen”) and, of course, using the long forms of everything (“Wir bitten jede Abonnentin und jeden Abonnenten, sich mit ihrem bzw. seinem vollen Namen anzumelden.”).

So, don’t try too hard. It’s impossible to get it right. Just enjoy Schland for what it is.

And next time, we’ll take trip to a faraway land …

The Pommes Buddha says: Manu, put on your hand shoes and save us into the final!

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German disease

Doctors Hospital Corridor Nurse Pushing Gurney Stretcher Bed

My husband and his colleagues often discuss how strange the German language is to them. They find it amusingly logical that gloves are called ‘hand shoes’, love the fact that the end of a working day is called ‘celebration night’ and wonder why women’s football teams are called Mannschaft (literally: ‘manship’ – the related matter of sexism in the German language will have to be discussed in a separate entry). Another one of those peculiar words is Krankenhaus.

‘Why would you want to go to a “sick house” to give birth?’ one colleague observed. True. For the same reason, the former Krankenschwester (‘nurse’; literally: ‘sick people’s sister’) is now officially called ‘Gesundheits- und Krankenpflegerin’ (‘health and sick people’s carer’), which is even more ludicrous as not only is it awkwardly long but it also unfittingly combines an abstract noun and a concrete noun. Our health insurance companies, however, are still called Krankenkassen (‘sick people’s funds’). Well, we Germans are known for our propensity to go see the doctor and for an obsession with our own ailments.

This talk about the health sector reminds me of a so-called ‘false friend’, a word that seems to be identical in two languages, but isn’t. The German Klinik (or Klinikum) has a distinctly different meaning from the English ‘clinic’. The German word usually refers to a specialised hospital or medical centre or is sometimes simply a synonym of Krankenhaus. The English word, on the other hand, denotes something usually of smaller scale and restricted to outpatient treatment. Depending on the context, it may be translated, among others, as Praxis, Ambulanz or even Sprechstunde, but rarely as Klinik.

Next time you go see your doctor, be a proper German and ask for your Krankenschein, will you? Meanwhile, the Pommes Buddha will be dealing with a different kind of incompatibility.

The Pommes Buddha says: When your Hexenschuss plagues you, sick people’s gymnastics is the way.

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