Friday, December 9, 2011

Grief Bacon

I first saw this a few months ago, and it's definitely worth it: 15 words we should have. But yeah. Kummerspeck, or grief bacon. It's brilliant. It's just an inherently hilarious term. Thing is, that's not quite how it translates in German, even literally. Firstly, 'Kummer' isn't exactly 'grief' - more sort of troubles, or cares, or chronic woes. It's pretty sad, but it's not quite grief - definitely the verb 'kümmern' is far more like 'care' or 'take care of' than it is to 'grieve'. Secondly 'Speck', although it's literally bacon, there is a figurative use of it to mean fat, or flab, or something superfluous, and this figurative use is just as common. The titter you get from 'bacon' doesn't quite work for German. Germans see their overhanging belly and think 'bacon' as a matter of habit. And 'Kummer' doesn't have such melodramatic overtones that sound funny next to 'bacon'.

A more accurate literal translation would be trouble-flab, but obviously that's not funny. There's no real way to get this right. So here it's important to remember why we're reading about bacon in the first place. It's funny. It also fits in both the word and it's root. Which is an advantage too, because it's funnier than explaining it. What the writer has probably done is gone on LEO and picked out the funniest translation. "Grief Bacon" has become something of a meme, but not because it's a clever bit of observational humour in German, mainly because it's a really funny translation and one really apt for its function.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Chally Tooner

Via Roots Manuva, and at least ten years late, I just discovered Chali 2na. I heard his name before I read it. This is important.

Ok, so aside from the pitiful middle-class objection to the number-letters (especially because I say "tyoona"), what seemed to me to be odd about his name was the 'Chali'. I panicked a little bit when I didn't see the 'r'. To me, it's essential - it makes the 'a' long like 'ma' instead of short like 'mad'. Spelling it that way, instead of being cool and phonetic, to me, takes it further away from how the word sounds. All it does is lengthen the vowel, right?

Well, that's because I'm English, and non-rhotic. If I was American, Scottish, Irish, from the West Country, I would actually say the 'r'. Well, if I was White and American I probably would. If I was an AAVE speaker I probably wouldn't.

So to us contented cheese-on-toast munchers, his rhymes on '-or' and '-ear' sound normal. To your average White Yankee, it sounds like a missing letter - like how many Britons would consider the glottal stop a "dropped t". You see this in American transcriptions of Black speech - "'Mo' Money Mo' Problems" and the nasty little bit of Jim Crow "Massa'". But, as with the first, it's often AAVE speakers writing their own speech. Non-rhotic spelling is an assertion of identity, if maybe a problematic one.

Now we start to see Chali's thinking. The 'r' is as superfluous to him as it is to me, but it's not to the standard, largely White English he wants to distinguish his speech from. Just look at the distinction that can be drawn between the n-word with '-er' and with '-a'. Rhotic abuse said by Whites, non-rhotic solidarity from other African-Americans. But sat here dreaming of living in a place with nice weather, the difference has usually been lost to me.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

German Wimps

One thing in particular that I envy the Germans for is, instead of sitting round wondering if the collective noun for baboons is a troop or a flange, they collect and invent words for a less-than-manly man. Many of these are very, very wonderful.

The most familiar sentiments you'll see with things like
  • Turnbeutelvergesser - gym-kit-forgetter
  • Stofftiersüßfinder - cuddly-toy-cute-finder
  • Fohnbenutzer - hairdryer user
Digs at sensitive men, boys who aren't good at sports and metrosexuals. Never gets old, no matter how many of your school years you prayed it would. But look how neat the German tendency to for big long words is when it comes to making up insults.

Then there's a few more ones, ones where you start to think German conceptions of masculinity might be a little stricter than ours.
  • Handschuhschneeballwerfer - gloved snowball-thrower
  • Handbuchleser - manual reader
  • Horror-Szenen-Wegschauer - horror-scene-looker-awayer
  • Schattenparker - shade parker
  • Blasenteetrinker - blowing tea-drinker
These all seemed a bit odd to me - as they were things I thought most people did. Even a rugged slice of man-hunk like me blows on his tea if he's in a hurry or something. But the weirdest ones were
  • Warmduscher - warm-showerer
  • Süßfrühstücker - sweet-breakfast-eater
  • Sitzpinkler - sit-down-pee-er

'Sitzpinkler' especially confused me, as I'd heard just as often that it's considered massively anti-social for a man to urinate standing except at a urinal. Asking Germans what they had for breakfast (which I did quite a lot, for serious teaching-related reasons), half the time the blokes would say something involving Nutella. This made no sense to me, knowing as I did the wimpishness associated. And then one student joked, as if the idea of anyone else doing it was utterly ludicrous, about a "dirty man" peeing standing up.

Suddenly the irony clicked. Whereas with a joke like this, I would expect most Anglophones to play it fairly straight, and just make fun of the girly things that puny, sissyish men do, the Germans go one better. They add a layer of hypocrisy. They mock you for your wimpishness by accusing you of something you can safely assume they do themselves. This is by no means though, the silliest it gets:
  • Unterhosenwechsler - underpants-changer
  • Mitdemwindpisser - with-the-wind pisser
  • Partnerbefriediger - partner-pleasurer
  • Rechtsfahrer - right-hand-side-of-the-road driver (they're meant to do that there)
plus best of all
  • Fallschirmbenutzer - parachute user
For comic effect, German men project themselves as unrealistically, surreally manly while mocking each other for perceived effeminacy. The act of belittling someone's masculinity is used to reaffirm your own - Germans have become sardonically aware of this to the point where mocking it has become a popular pastime and an established part of the language. What this weird but hilarious aspect of the German language seems to say about German men's relationship to their own masculinity is that they have a strong idea of what they need to do, they will actually do a lot of it, but they also find the whole episode ever so slightly daft. For all the sarcasm English prides itself on and the stereotypes of German humour, they've definitely got us beat with this one.