The following is some blurb from MarkTwain
which is usually cited when someone form the US wants to insult a German or demonstrates how superior English is, compared to a language like German.
What people who cite MarkTwain
actually demonstrate is their limited education in terms of languages and non-english linguistic concepts, and their limited ability to deal with another culture. It's part of AmericanCulturalAssumption
Do no other nations/cultures poke occasional fun at others? I seem to recall a great many MontyPython jokes at the expense of the French, Germans, and others? MyHovercraftIsFullOfEels? leaps to mind, as does TheKillerJoke?.
- Hmm, or are you leaping to conclusions without knowing anything whatsoever about the topic? Well, that would be so very rare on the net, but yes, yes, that just might be it. Twain spoke German. He spoke German before a German audience, and said humorous things about the German language to a German audience.
- Thai and Lao people are at eachother's throats on a fairly regular basis despite having strongly similar languages and a descent from the same original stock. If they can't get along, then there's no hope for anyone else. (And I meant that.) -- TheerasakPhotha
Actually the HovercraftFullofEels?
item related to a bogus dictionary publisher, and didn't really mock foreigners at all (unless I was missing something too subtle for me). While we are on the subject though, while living in Germany a few years back, I asked my (German) colleagues if they had any nicknames for foreigners - preferably insulting. They seemed a little bemused by the quesion - the best they could come up with was 'Tommy' for the English, which is not the most caustic comment that I can think of. Perhaps this is something peculiar to the English speaking peoples of this world? -- AndyDoddington
Have you asked any World War II veterans from over there?
The French have many insulting names for foreign people. For example, Rosbif for the Brits. So insulting names are not peculiar to anglophones.
- 'Rosbif' is one of those expressions which etymologically ought to be complimentary, since it reflects the fact that good-quaity meat was much cheaper in Britian than elsewhere, so even servants and soldiers could eat beef - the origin, too, of the nickname "Beefeaters", which originally had similar connotations to references to union pay from the US right-wing. The connection to lousy cooking didn't come until later, during one of the low points of British cuisine.
Hmmm - I'm intrigued - do tell more ;-) Following this thread a bit more closely however, I was amused when working in Germany to hear German forms of English verbs, e.g. "es hat gekrasht", or "es ist gedebugt" - though of course the latter form does not really exist in any language... (incidentally, the spelling is pure guesswork)
. -- AndyDoddington
Comments on both of this: there are
more than enough derogatory terms for foreigners in German, maybe those people were either angels or not willing to name those terms. On anglicisms in the German IT community, you do have forms like "gecrasht" and "debuggt" (ge
debuggt is nothing a sane person would use), but in many cases people prefer to use local slang like "abgenudelt", or translations like "abgestürzt" (crashed).
Aaaah - to think, I walked with Angels, sigh...
Let's be fair to MarkTwain
. He knew languages other than English, and he was just trying to point out the particular difficulties German offers to the foreign student. He spoke of an American student in Stuttgart who would "rather decline two drinks than one German adjective." People have had their jabs at English too (see http://www.wordsmith.org/awad/english1.html
the author, apparently, was Dutch) but we don't accuse them of imperialism of any sort.
In the "TurnaboutIsFairPlay?" department, here's a fractured-English warning sign (based on a fractured-German poster that has been circulating since at least 1959):
- ATTENTION: This room is fullfilled mit special electronische equippment. Fingergrabbing and pressing the cnoeppkes from the computers is allowed for die experts only! So all the "lefthanders" stay away and do not disturben the brainstorming von here working intelligencies. Otherwise you will be out thrown and kicked anderswhere! Also: please keep still and only watchen astaunished the blinkenlights.
The original was (see Jargon File):
ACHTUNG! ALLES LOOKENSPEEPERS! Das
computermachine ist nicht fuer gefingerpoken und mittengrabben.
Ist easy schnappen der springenwerk, blowenfusen und poppencorken
mit spitzensparken. Ist nicht fuer gewerken bei das dumpkopfen.
Das rubbernecken sichtseeren keepen das cotten-pickenen hans in
das pockets muss; relaxen und watchen das blinkenlichten
It has me deeply touched, my gentlemen, here so hospitably received
to be. From colleagues out of my own profession, in this from my own
home so far distant land. My heart is full of gratitude, but my poverty of
German words forces me to greater economy of expression. Excuse
you, my gentlemen, that I read off, what I you say will. [But he didn't
The German language speak I not good, but have numerous
connoisseurs me assured that I her write like an angel. Maybe --
maybe -- I know not. Have till now no acquaintance with the angels
had. That comes later -- when it the dear God please -- it has no hurry.
Since long, my gentlemen, have I the passionate longing nursed a
speech on German to hold, but one has me not permitted. Men, who
no feeling for the art had, laid me ever hindrance in the way and made
naught my desire -- sometimes by excuses, often by force. Always said
these men to me: "Keep you still, your Highness! Silence! For God's
sake seek another way and means yourself obnoxious to make."
In the present case, as usual it is me difficult become, for me the
permission to obtain. The committee sorrowed deeply, but could me
the permission not grant on account of a law which from the Concordia
demands she shall the German language protect. Du liebe Zeit! How
so had one to me this say could -- might -- dared -- should? I am
indeed the truest friend of the German language -- and not only now,
but from long since -- yes, before twenty years already. And never
have I the desire had the noble language to hurt; to the contrary, only
wished she to improve -- I would her only reform. It is the dream of my
life been. I have already visits by the various German governments
paid and for contracts prayed. I am now to Austria in the same task
come. I would only some changes effect. I would only the language
method -- the luxurious, elaborate construction compress, the eternal
parenthesis suppress, do away with, annihilate; the introduction of
more than thirteen subjects in one sentence forbid; the verb so far to
the front pull that one it without a telescope discover can. With one
word, my gentlemen, I would your beloved language simplify so that,
my gentlemen, when you her for prayer need, One her yonder-up
I beseech you, from me yourself counsel to let, execute these
mentioned reforms. Then will you an elegant language possess, and
afterward, when you some thing say will, will you at least yourself
understand what you said had. But often nowadays, when you a
mile-long sentence from you given and you yourself somewhat have
rested, then must you have a touching inquisitiveness have yourself to
determine what you actually spoken have. Before several days has the
correspondent of a local paper a sentence constructed which hundred
and twelve words contain, and therein were seven parentheses
smuggled in, and the subject seven times changed. Think you only, my
gentlemen, in the course of the voyage of a single sentence must the
poor, persecuted, fatigued subject seven times change position!
Now, when we the mentioned reforms execute, will it no longer so bad
be. Doch noch eins. I might gladly the separable verb also a little bit
reform. I might none do let what Schiller did: he has the whole history
of the Thirty Years' War between the two members of a separable verb
in-pushed. That has even Germany itself aroused, and one has Schiller
the permission refused the History of the Hundred Years' War to
compose -- God be it thanked! After all these reforms established be
will, will the German language the noblest and the prettiest on the
Since to you now, my gentlemen, the character of my mission known is,
beseech I you so friendly to be and to me your valuable help grant. Mr.
Potzl has the public believed make would that I to Vienna come am in
order the bridges to clog up and the traffic to hinder, while I
observations gather and note. Allow you yourselves but not from him
deceived. My frequent presence on the bridges has an entirely
innocent ground. Yonder gives it the necessary space, yonder can one
a noble long German sentence elaborate, the bridge-railing along, and
his whole contents with one glance overlook. On the one end of the
railing pasted I the first member of a separable verb and the final
member cleave I to the other end -- then spread the body of the
sentence between it out! Usually are for my purposes the bridges of
the city long enough; when I but P�tzl's writings study will I ride out
and use the glorious endless imperial bridge. But this is a calumny;
P�tzl writes the prettiest German. Perhaps not so pliable as the mine,
but in many details much better. Excuse you these flatteries. These are
Now I my speech execute -- no, I would say I bring her to the close. I
am a foreigner -- but here, under you, have I it entirely forgotten. And
so again and yet again proffer I you my heartiest thanks. -- MarkTwain
One of the main difficulties for English speakers is the inverted word order, in which the verb of the subordinate clause is pushed to the end. This kind of nesting actually causes problems for native speakers too, if the nesting is too deep. Pendants often do this, but for clarity striving writers their subordinate clauses not to nest are accustomed.
Turkish has a similar inverted word order and native speakers of Turkish sometimes report similar difficulties with the deep nesting referred to immediately above.
On a sidenote, I had severe difficulties reading (understanding) the above text, although I'm a German native speaker. This is probably due to the text being written in a foreign language (from my point of view) with there-inexact grammatical constructs. -- PhilipBusch
Not entirely, I think it's also that the above is just botched. Try this instead: http://eserver.org/langs/the-awful-german-language.txt
No... these are English words with impressively exact German grammar. If you translate every word to German literally, you get grammatically correct German sentences. Complicated grammar and idiomatic German, I might add. This is the work of a foreigner with VERY good knowledge of German.
I'm not sure if this is the right place for this -- if not delete or move. One of the funniest things I ever saw in my many years living in Germany (I'm an American) was in the zoo in Saarbrücken. They had a "multilingual" trash can. First came the German inscription, "Abfall hier" (Garbage here). Then followed the (correct) French translation, "Ici poubelles". And then the English version: "Here falling off". Nearly died laughing! -- JohnWebber
Being a citizen of Saarbrücken, I had a good laugh right now. Not so because someone wonders why we print irritating multilingual messages on our garbage cans (which, I suppose, is funny enough... wonder what might happen if we labeled them "free chewing gums here") rather than because it's really funny to stumble across the name of my hometown on a wiki mostly run by Americans - most Germans wouldn't know where to locate Saarbrücken on a map. -- PhilipBusch
Gee, Philip, I think you're underplaying the significance of Saarbrücken. After all, it's a state capital (even if the Saarland is one of the smallest states). And the home of Oskar Lafontaine, who surely is familiar to most Germans. -- JohnWebber
watching he has been. - Yoda
See also WordOrder