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Ich weiß nicht was soll es bedeuten *

11/09/2012

Inevitably, most of the examples listed here are English solecisms. After all, the cornerstone of the blog is that English is (at least for the time being) the global language of finance, commerce and the interwebs. If you, Mr. Albania, are selling to you, Ms. Uruguay or Mr. Nepal, you are more than likely to be doing it in English. Mistakes can get expensive.

Very unusually, I am a bit of ‘ein deutschsprachiger Engländer.’ In one of my very earliest posts, I replayed a joke popular in the Nordic countries:

What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
Bilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks three languages?
Trilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks just one language?
British.

The English tend to believe that all foreigners are deaf, and they will all eventually understand if shouted at, loudly enough, in English. An Englishman who can speak ‘foreign’ will probably speak French. After that, it’s likely to be Spanish or Italian – depending on where the holiday home is.

Hardly any of us over here on Inselaffen (Monkey Island; yes, that’s our nickname.) speak German nowadays, which is a cultural tragedy because, before the two brief interludes of unpleasantness in the early 20th century, we really were cousins. As many people from here went to study at Heidelberg, Berlin or Tübingen as came from Germany to study at our universities (not only the great ones, but also Cambridge).

German is easy because, as you would expect, it is completely logical. It is an entirely phonetic language. The compound nouns are at all not silly, but logical and expressive. Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaft really was the Danube Steamship Company (and occasionally shortened to DDSG!), while Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänsmütze – meaning the DDSG captain’s peaked cap – is semantically logical but sadly fake!

Ah no, come to think of it, German isn’t easy at all. The reliable Teutonic logic falls apart when it comes to the syntax, which makes learning it a nucking fightmare. I used to tell my German clients that theirs could easily become the world language if only they would ditch the three genders (“der die das, den die das, dem der dem”) and just use one, as we use “the”. The four cases (nominative, accusative, genitive and dative) are equally redundant; context provides sense. The Goethe Institute could have the whole world speaking German as its second language in no time.

That’s all just a long way to introduce a delightful ‘guest’ piece of German stupidity. When the US finally found and killed Osama (not Obama. See the 28 August post!) bin Laden last year, the news channel N24 was discussing the secretive SEAL Team Six. To illustrate the item because,  (as the caption says) “Photos are not to published” – they used the team’s emblem:

N24 on 2.5.2011

Anchor Mick Locher described the training, equipment and skills of the SEALs, and said, “They don’t have that skull in their emblem for nothing”. Yes they do, actually, because if you look closely you’ll see that it’s a Klingon skull, framed by three ceremonial bat’leth swords (Look, I had to research this. It’s simply not the sort of thing I would know!). The eagle is clutching not only a trident but also a phaser. Yes, some dozy researcher (or one with a wicked sense of humour)  found the emblem on a Star Trek ‘fruitcake’ fan site, Maquis Forces International. You’ll find the story confirmed here.

It has subsequently been confirmed that Star Trek‘s 24th century Maquis, who fought so valiantly against Cardassia in the Former Federation colonies (or so I’m told), had not participated in the hunt for bin Laden.

* Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten,
Daß ich so traurig bin,
Ein Märchen aus uralten Zeiten,
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.

I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean,
That I am so very sad,
A story from the ancient times
That I can’t get out of my mind.
First lines of Die Lorelei (Heinrich Heine)

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