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!
and this will give him a moment's chance to think of the
needful word. 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."
In my note-book I find this entry:
July 1.--In the hospital yesterday, a word of thirteen
syllables was successfully removed from a patient--a
North German from near Hamburg; but as most unfortunately
the surgeons had opened him in the wrong place, under the
impression that he contained a panorama, he died.
The sad event has cast a gloom over the whole community.
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
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.
"Freundshaftsbezeigungen" seems to be "Friendship
which is only a foolish and clumsy way of saying "demonstrations
of friendship." "Unabhaengigkeitserklaerungen" seems
to be "Independencedeclarations," which is no improvement
upon "Declarations of Independence," so far as I can see.
"Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen" seems to be
"General-statesrepresentativesmeetings," as nearly as I
can get at it--a mere rhythmical, gushy euphuism for
"meetings of the legislature," I judge. 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.
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." This saves neither time nor ink,
and has an awkward sound besides. One often sees a remark
like this in our papers: "MRS. Assistant District Attorney
Johnson returned to her city residence yesterday for the season."
That is a case of really unjustifiable compounding;
because it not only saves no time or trouble, but confers
a title on Mrs. 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:
"In the daybeforeyesterdayshortlyaftereleveno'clock Night,
the inthistownstandingtavern called 'The Wagoner' was downburnt.
When the fire to the onthedownburninghouseresting Stork's
Nest reached, flew the parent Storks away. But when
the bytheraging, firesurrounded Nest ITSELF caught Fire,
straightway plunged the quickreturning Mother-Stork into
the Flames and died, her Wings over her young ones outspread."
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.
"ALSO!" If I had not shown that the German is a
difficult language, I have at least intended to do so.
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. I have worked
at it hard for three level months, and all I have got
to show for it is one solitary German phrase--'ZWEI GLAS'"
(two glasses of beer). 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;  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
3. It merely means, in its general sense, "herewith."
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; they 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. Would any man want to die in a
battle which was called by so tame a term as a SCHLACHT?
Or would not a comsumptive 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.
The German word for hell--Ho"lle--sounds more like HELLY
than anything else; therefore, how necessary chipper,
frivolous, and unimpressive it is. 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?" we should be obliged to reply,
"Nobody can tell what it spells when you set if off by itself;
you can only tell by referring to the context and finding
out what it signifies--whether it is a thing to shoot
arrows with, or a nod of one's head, or the forward end of a
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, respose, 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. they repeat it several times,
if they choose. 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
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. 4
4. "Verdammt," and its variations and enlargements,
are words which have plenty of meaning, but the SOUNDS
are so mild and ineffectual that German ladies can use
them without sin. German ladies who could not be induced
to commit a sin by any persuasion or compulsion, promptly rip
out one of these harmless little words when they tear their
dresses or don't like the soup. It sounds about as wicked
as our "My gracious." German ladies are constantly saying,
"Ach! Gott!" "Mein Gott!" "Gott in Himmel!" "Herr Gott"
"Der Herr Jesus!" etc. They think our ladies have the
same custom, perhaps; for I once heard a gentle and lovely
old German lady say to a sweet young American girl:
"The two languages are so alike--how pleasant that is;
we say 'Ach! Gott!' you say 'Goddamn.'"
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 "haven sind gewesen
gehabt haben geworden seins" 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
Seventhly, I would discard the Parenthesis. Also the
the re-reparenthesis, and the re-re-re-re-re-reparentheses,
and likewise the final wide-reaching all-enclosing
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.
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.
A FOURTH OF JULY ORATION IN THE GERMAN TONGUE, DELIVERED AT
A BANQUET OF THE ANGLO-AMERICAN CLUB OF STUDENTS BY THE
AUTHOR OF THIS BOOK
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.
Also! Es freut mich dass dies so ist, denn es muss,
in ein haupts:achlich degree, h:oflich sein, dass man
auf ein occasion like this, sein Rede in die Sprache des
Landes worin he boards, aussprechen soll. Daf:ur habe ich,
aus reinische Verlegenheit--no, Vergangenheit--no, I
mean Hoflichkeit--aus reinishe Hoflichkeit habe ich
resolved to tackle this business in the German language,
um Gottes willen! Also! Sie mu"ssen so freundlich sein,
und verzeih mich die interlarding von ein oder zwei
Englischer Worte, hie und da, denn ich finde dass die
deutsche is not a very copious language, and so when
you've really got anything to say, you've got to draw
on a language that can stand the strain.
Wenn haber man kann nicht meinem Rede Verstehen, so werde
ich ihm sp:ater dasselbe :ubersetz, wenn er solche Dienst
verlangen wollen haben werden sollen sein h:atte. (I don't
know what wollen haben werden sollen sein ha"tte means,
but I notice they always put it at the end of a German
sentence--merely for general literary gorgeousness,
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, meinEN FreundEN--meinES FreundES--well,
take your choice, they're all the same price; I don't
know which one is right--also! ich habe gehabt haben
worden gewesen sein, as Goethe says in his Paradise
Lost--ich--ich--that is to say--ich--but let us change cars.
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? Can the terse German tongue rise to the expression of
this impulse? Is it Freundschaftsbezeigungenstadtverordneten-
o nein! This is a crisp and noble word, but it fails
to pierce the marrow of the impulse which has gathered
this friendly meeting and produced diese Anblick--eine
Anblich welche ist gut zu sehen--gut fu"r die Augen
in a foreign land and a far country--eine Anblick solche
als in die gew:ohnliche Heidelberger phrase nennt man ein
"scho"nes Aussicht!" Ja, freilich natu"rlich wahrscheinlich
ebensowohl! Also! Die Aussicht auf dem K:onigsstuhl
mehr gr:osser ist, aber geistlische sprechend nicht so
scho"n, lob' Gott! Because sie sind hier zusammengetroffen,
in Bruderlichem concord, ein grossen Tag zu feirn,
whose high benefits were not for one land and one locality,
but have conferred a measure of good upon all lands
that know liberty today, and love it. Hundert Jahre
voru"ber, waren die Engla"nder und die Amerikaner Feinde;
aber heut sind sie herzlichen Freunde, Gott sei Dank!
May this good-fellowship endure; may these banners here
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