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There are three-quarters of a column of Schlag s in the dictionary, and a column and a half of Zug s. This is its simple and exact meaning -- that is to say, its restricted, its fettered meaning; but there are ways by which you can set it free, so that it can soar away, as on the wings of the morning, and never be at rest. You can hang any word you please to its tail, and make it mean anything you want to. You can begin with Schlag-ader , which means artery, and you can hang on the whole dictionary, word by word, clear through the alphabet to Schlag-wasser , which means bilge-water -- and including Schlag-mutter , which means mother-in-law.

Just the same with Zug. One cannot overestimate the usefulness of Schlag and Zug. Armed just with these two, and the word also , what cannot the foreigner on German soil accomplish? The German word also is the equivalent of the English phrase "You know," and does not mean anything at all -- in talk , though it sometimes does in print. Every time a German opens his mouth an also falls out; and every time he shuts it he bites one in two that was trying to get out.

Now, the foreigner, equipped with these three noble words, is master of the situation. Let him talk right along, fearlessly; let him pour his indifferent German forth, and when he lacks for a word, let him heave a Schlag into the vacuum; all the chances are that it fits it like a plug, but if it doesn't let him promptly heave a Zug after it; the two together can hardly fail to bung the hole; but if, by a miracle, they should fail, let him simply say also!

In Germany, when you load your conversational gun it is always best to throw in a Schlag or two and a Zug or two, because it doesn't make any difference how much the rest of the charge may scatter, you are bound to bag something with them. Then you blandly say also , and load up again. Nothing gives such an air of grace and elegance and unconstraint to a German or an English conversation as to scatter it full of "Also's" or "You knows.


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That paragraph furnishes a text for a few remarks about one of the most curious and notable features of my subject -- the length of German words. Some German words are so long that they have a perspective. Observe these examples:. These things are not words, they are alphabetical processions. And they are not rare; one can open a German newspaper at any time and see them marching majestically across the page -- and if he has any imagination he can see the banners and hear the music, too. They impart a martial thrill to the meekest subject.

I take a great interest in these curiosities. Whenever I come across a good one, I stuff it and put it in my museum. In this way I have made quite a valuable collection. When I get duplicates, I exchange with other collectors, and thus increase the variety of my stock. Here rare some specimens which I lately bought at an auction sale of the effects of a bankrupt bric-a-brac hunter:. Of course when one of these grand mountain ranges goes stretching across the printed page, it adorns and ennobles that literary landscape -- but at the same time it is a great distress to the new student, for it blocks up his way; he cannot crawl under it, or climb over it, or tunnel through it.

So he resorts to the dictionary for help, but there is no help there. The dictionary must draw the line somewhere -- so it leaves this sort of words out. And it is right, because these long things are hardly legitimate words, but are rather combinations of words, and the inventor of them ought to have been killed.

They are compound words with the hyphens left out. The various words used in building them are in the dictionary, but in a very scattered condition; so you can hunt the materials out, one by one, and get at the meaning at last, but it is a tedious and harassing business. I have tried this process upon some of the above examples. We used to have a good deal of this sort of crime in our literature, but it has gone out now.

We used to speak of a things as a "never-to-be-forgotten" circumstance, instead of cramping it into the simple and sufficient word "memorable" and then going calmly about our business as if nothing had happened.

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In those days we were not content to embalm the thing and bury it decently, we wanted to build a monument over it. But in our newspapers the compounding-disease lingers a little to the present day, but with the hyphens left out, in the German fashion. This is the shape it takes: instead of saying "Mr. Simmons, clerk of the county and district courts, was in town yesterday," the new form put it thus: "Clerk of the County and District Courts Simmons was in town yesterday.

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One often sees a remark like this in our papers: " Mrs. Assistant District Attorney Johnson returned to her city residence yesterday for the season. Johnson which she has no right to. But these little instances are trifles indeed, contrasted with the ponderous and dismal German system of piling jumbled compounds together. I wish to submit the following local item, from a Mannheim journal, by way of illustration:.

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Even the cumbersome German construction is not able to take the pathos out of that picture -- indeed, it somehow seems to strengthen it. This item is dated away back yonder months ago. I could have used it sooner, but I was waiting to hear from the Father-stork. I am still waiting. I have heard of an American student who was asked how he was getting along with his German, and who answered promptly: "I am not getting along at all.

He paused for a moment, reflectively; then added with feeling: "But I've got that solid! And if I have not also shown that German is a harassing and infuriating study, my execution has been at fault, and not my intent. I heard lately of a worn and sorely tried American student who used to fly to a certain German word for relief when he could bear up under his aggravations no longer -- the only word whose sound was sweet and precious to his ear and healing to his lacerated spirit. This was the word Damit. It was only the sound that helped him, not the meaning; [3] and so, at last, when he learned that the emphasis was not on the first syllable, his only stay and support was gone, and he faded away and died.

I think that a description of any loud, stirring, tumultuous episode must be tamer in German than in English. Our descriptive words of this character have such a deep, strong, resonant sound, while their German equivalents do seem so thin and mild and energyless. Boom, burst, crash, roar, storm, bellow, blow, thunder, explosion; howl, cry, shout, yell, groan; battle, hell.

These are magnificent words; the have a force and magnitude of sound befitting the things which they describe. But their German equivalents would be ever so nice to sing the children to sleep with, or else my awe-inspiring ears were made for display and not for superior usefulness in analyzing sounds.

Humor in Mark Twain’s 'The Awful German Language'

Would any man want to die in a battle which was called by so tame a term as a Schlacht? Or would not a consumptive feel too much bundled up, who was about to go out, in a shirt-collar and a seal-ring, into a storm which the bird-song word Gewitter was employed to describe? And observe the strongest of the several German equivalents for explosion -- Ausbruch.

Our word Toothbrush is more powerful than that. It seems to me that the Germans could do worse than import it into their language to describe particularly tremendous explosions with.


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  • 1. Introduction;

If a man were told in German to go there, could he really rise to thee dignity of feeling insulted? Having pointed out, in detail, the several vices of this language, I now come to the brief and pleasant task of pointing out its virtues. The capitalizing of the nouns I have already mentioned. But far before this virtue stands another -- that of spelling a word according to the sound of it. After one short lesson in the alphabet, the student can tell how any German word is pronounced without having to ask; whereas in our language if a student should inquire of us, "What does B, O, W, spell?

There are some German words which are singularly and powerfully effective. For instance, those which describe lowly, peaceful, and affectionate home life; those which deal with love, in any and all forms, from mere kindly feeling and honest good will toward the passing stranger, clear up to courtship; those which deal with outdoor Nature, in its softest and loveliest aspects -- with meadows and forests, and birds and flowers, the fragrance and sunshine of summer, and the moonlight of peaceful winter nights; in a word, those which deal with any and all forms of rest, repose, and peace; those also which deal with the creatures and marvels of fairyland; and lastly and chiefly, in those words which express pathos, is the language surpassingly rich and affective.

There are German songs which can make a stranger to the language cry. That shows that the sound of the words is correct -- it interprets the meanings with truth and with exactness; and so the ear is informed, and through the ear, the heart. The Germans do not seem to be afraid to repeat a word when it is the right one. That is wise. But in English, when we have used a word a couple of times in a paragraph, we imagine we are growing tautological, and so we are weak enough to exchange it for some other word which only approximates exactness, to escape what we wrongly fancy is a greater blemish.

Repetition may be bad, but surely inexactness is worse. There are people in the world who will take a great deal of trouble to point out the faults in a religion or a language, and then go blandly about their business without suggesting any remedy. I am not that kind of person. I have shown that the German language needs reforming. Very well, I am ready to reform it. At least I am ready to make the proper suggestions. Such a course as this might be immodest in another; but I have devoted upward of nine full weeks, first and last, to a careful and critical study of this tongue, and thus have acquired a confidence in my ability to reform it which no mere superficial culture could have conferred upon me.

In the first place, I would leave out the Dative case. It confuses the plurals; and, besides, nobody ever knows when he is in the Dative case, except he discover it by accident -- and then he does not know when or where it was that he got into it, or how long he has been in it, or how he is going to get out of it again. The Dative case is but an ornamental folly -- it is better to discard it. In the next place, I would move the Verb further up to the front.

You may load up with ever so good a Verb, but I notice that you never really bring down a subject with it at the present German range -- you only cripple it. So I insist that this important part of speech should be brought forward to a position where it may be easily seen with the naked eye. Thirdly, I would import some strong words from the English tongue -- to swear with, and also to use in describing all sorts of vigorous things in a vigorous ways. Fourthly, I would reorganizes the sexes, and distribute them accordingly to the will of the creator.

This as a tribute of respect, if nothing else. Fifthly, I would do away with those great long compounded words; or require the speaker to deliver them in sections, with intermissions for refreshments. To wholly do away with them would be best, for ideas are more easily received and digested when they come one at a time than when they come in bulk.

Intellectual food is like any other; it is pleasanter and more beneficial to take it with a spoon than with a shovel. Sixthly, I would require a speaker to stop when he is done, and not hang a string of those useless " haben sind gewesen gehabt haben geworden sein s" to the end of his oration. This sort of gewgaws undignify a speech, instead of adding a grace. They are, therefore, an offense, and should be discarded. Seventhly, I would discard the Parenthesis.

Also the reparenthesis, the re-reparenthesis, and the re-re-re-re-re-reparentheses, and likewise the final wide-reaching all-inclosing king-parenthesis. I would require every individual, be he high or low, to unfold a plain straightforward tale, or else coil it and sit on it and hold his peace.

Infractions of this law should be punishable with death. And eighthly, and last, I would retain Zug and Schlag , with their pendants, and discard the rest of the vocabulary. This would simplify the language.

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I have now named what I regard as the most necessary and important changes. These are perhaps all I could be expected to name for nothing; but there are other suggestions which I can and will make in case my proposed application shall result in my being formally employed by the government in the work of reforming the language.

My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English barring spelling and pronouncing in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years. It seems manifest, then, that the latter tongue ought to be trimmed down and repaired. If it is to remain as it is, it ought to be gently and reverently set aside among the dead languages, for only the dead have time to learn it. Gentlemen: Since I arrived, a month ago, in this old wonderland, this vast garden of Germany, my English tongue has so often proved a useless piece of baggage to me, and so troublesome to carry around, in a country where they haven't the checking system for luggage, that I finally set to work, and learned the German language.

This is a great and justly honored day -- a day which is worthy of the veneration in which it is held by the true patriots of all climes and nationalities -- a day which offers a fruitful theme for thought and speech; und meinem Freunde -- no, mein en Freund en -- mein es Freund es -- well, take your choice, they're all the same price; I don't know which one is right -- also! Die Anblich so viele Grossbrittanischer und Amerikanischer hier zusammengetroffen in Bruderliche concord, ist zwar a welcome and inspiriting spectacle.

And what has moved you to it? Return to Book Page. Therein, Twain uses humor as an instrument to criticize the German language. Without its witty and diversified character the essay would be a provocative and mean accusation. Moreover, I will go into detail about the essay structure to illustrate its critical character and effect. The large amount of stylistic devices that make the essay particularly impressive and remarkable will be parsed and discussed in addition.

In doing so, the sustainability of this piece will be explained. Get A Copy. Kindle Edition , 24 pages. More Details Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. Sort order. Mar 29, Mel rated it it was amazing. A super read that only Mark Twain could have written.