The Awful German Language (2023)

Mark Twain

from A Tramp Abroad

A little learning makes the whole world kin.
--Proverbs xxxii, 7.

I went often to look at the collection of curiosities in HeidelbergCastle, and one day I surprised the keeper of it with my German. I spokeentirely in that language. He was greatly interested; and after I hadtalked a while he said my German was very rare, possibly a "unique"; andwanted to add it to his museum.

If he had known what it had cost me to acquire my art, he would alsohave known that it would break any collector to buy it. Harris and I hadbeen hard at work on our German during several weeks at that time, andalthough we had made good progress, it had been accomplished under greatdifficulty and annoyance, for three of our teachers had died in the meantime. A person who has not studied German can form no idea of what aperplexing language it is.

Surely there is not another language that is so slipshod andsystemless, and so slippery and elusive to the grasp. One is washed aboutin it, hither and thither, in the most helpless way; and when at last hethinks he has captured a rule which offers firm ground to take a rest onamid the general rage and turmoil of the ten parts of speech, he turnsover the page and reads, "Let the pupil make careful note of the followingEXCEPTIONS." He runs his eye down and finds that there are more exceptionsto the rule than instances of it. So overboard he goes again, to hunt foranother Ararat and find another quicksand. Such has been, and continuesto be, my experience. Every time I think I have got one of these fourconfusing "cases" where I am master of it, a seemingly insignificantpreposition intrudes itself into my sentence, clothed with an awful andunsuspected power, and crumbles the ground from under me. For instance,my book inquires after a certain bird--(it is always inquiring afterthings which are of no sort of no consequence to anybody): "Where is thebird?" Now the answer to this question--according to the book--is that thebird is waiting in the blacksmith shop on account of the rain. Of courseno bird would do that, but then you must stick to the book. Very well, Ibegin to cipher out the German for that answer. I begin at the wrong end,necessarily, for that is the German idea. I say to myself, "REGEN (rain)is masculine--or maybe it is feminine--or possibly neuter--it is too muchtrouble to look now. Therefore, it is either DER (the) Regen, or DIE(the) Regen, or DAS (the) Regen, according to which gender it may turn outto be when I look. In the interest of science, I will cipher it out onthe hypothesis that it is masculine. Very well--then THE rain is DERRegen, if it is simply in the quiescent state of being MENTIONED, withoutenlargement or discussion--Nominative case; but if this rain is lyingaround, in a kind of a general way on the ground, it is then definitelylocated, it is DOING SOMETHING--that is, RESTING (which is one of theGerman grammar's ideas of doing something), and this throws the rain intothe Dative case, and makes it DEM Regen. However, this rain is notresting, but is doing something ACTIVELY,--it is falling--to interferewith the bird, likely--and this indicates MOVEMENT, which has the effectof sliding it into the Accusative case and changing DEM Regen into DENRegen." Having completed the grammatical horoscope of this matter, Ianswer up confidently and state in German that the bird is staying in theblacksmith shop "wegen (on account of) DEN Regen." Then the teacher letsme softly down with the remark that whenever the word "wegen" drops into asentence, it ALWAYS throws that subject into the GENITIVE case, regardlessof consequences--and therefore this bird stayed in the blacksmith shop"wegen DES Regens."

N.B.--I was informed, later, by a higher authority, that there was an"exception" which permits one to say "wegen DEN Regen" in certain peculiarand complex circumstances, but that this exception is not extended toanything BUT rain.

There are ten parts of speech, and they are all troublesome. Anaverage sentence, in a German newspaper, is a sublime and impressivecuriosity; it occupies a quarter of a column; it contains all the tenparts of speech--not in regular order, but mixed; it is built mainly ofcompound words constructed by the writer on the spot, and not to be foundin any dictionary--six or seven words compacted into one, without joint orseam--that is, without hyphens; it treats of fourteen or fifteen differentsubjects, each enclosed in a parenthesis of its own, with here and thereextra parentheses, making pens with pens: finally, all the parentheses andreparentheses are massed together between a couple of king-parentheses,one of which is placed in the first line of the majestic sentence and theother in the middle of the last line of it--AFTER WHICH COMES THE VERB,and you find out for the first time what the man has been talking about;and after the verb--merely by way of ornament, as far as I can makeout--the writer shovels in "HABEN SIND GEWESEN GEHABT HAVEN GEWORDENSEIN," or words to that effect, and the monument is finished. I supposethat this closing hurrah is in the nature of the flourish to a man'ssignature--not necessary, but pretty. German books are easy enough toread when you hold them before the looking-glass or stand on your head--soas to reverse the construction--but I think that to learn to read andunderstand a German newspaper is a thing which must always remain animpossibility to a foreigner.

Yet even the German books are not entirely free from attacks of theParenthesis distemper--though they are usually so mild as to cover only afew lines, and therefore when you at last get down to the verb it carriessome meaning to your mind because you are able to remember a good deal ofwhat has gone before. Now here is a sentence from a popular and excellentGerman novel--which a slight parenthesis in it. I will make a perfectlyliteral translation, and throw in the parenthesis-marks and some hyphensfor the assistance of the reader--though in the original there are noparenthesis-marks or hyphens, and the reader is left to flounder throughto the remote verb the best way he can:

"But when he, upon the street, the (in-satin-and-silk-covered-now-very-unconstrained-after-the-newest-fashioned-dressed) governmentcounselor's wife MET," etc., etc. [1]

That is from THE OLD MAMSELLE'S SECRET, by Mrs. Marlitt. And thatsentence is constructed upon the most approved German model. You observehow far that verb is from the reader's base of operations; well, in aGerman newspaper they put their verb away over on the next page; and Ihave heard that sometimes after stringing along the exciting preliminariesand parentheses for a column or two, they get in a hurry and have to go topress without getting to the verb at all. Of course, then, the reader isleft in a very exhausted and ignorant state.

We have the Parenthesis disease in our literature, too; and one may seecases of it every day in our books and newspapers: but with us it is themark and sign of an unpracticed writer or a cloudy intellect, whereas withthe Germans it is doubtless the mark and sign of a practiced pen and ofthe presence of that sort of luminous intellectual fog which stands forclearness among these people. For surely it is NOT clearness--itnecessarily can't be clearness. Even a jury would have penetration enoughto discover that. A writer's ideas must be a good deal confused, a gooddeal out of line and sequence, when he starts out to say that a man met acounselor's wife in the street, and then right in the midst of this sosimple undertaking halts these approaching people and makes them standstill until he jots down an inventory of the woman's dress. That ismanifestly absurd. It reminds a person of those dentists who secure yourinstant and breathless interest in a tooth by taking a grip on it with theforceps, and then stand there and drawl through a tedious anecdote beforethey give the dreaded jerk. Parentheses in literature and dentistry arein bad taste.

The Germans have another kind of parenthesis, which they make bysplitting a verb in two and putting half of it at the beginning of anexciting chapter and the OTHER HALF at the end of it. Can any oneconceive of anything more confusing than that? These things are called"separable verbs." The German grammar is blistered all over with separableverbs; and the wider the two portions of one of them are spread apart, thebetter the author of the crime is pleased with his performance. Afavorite one is REISTE AB--which means departed. Here is an example whichI culled from a novel and reduced to English:

"The trunks being now ready, he DE- after kissing his mother andsisters, and once more pressing to his bosom his adored Gretchen, who,dressed in simple white muslin, with a single tuberose in the ample foldsof her rich brown hair, had tottered feebly down the stairs, still palefrom the terror and excitement of the past evening, but longing to lay herpoor aching head yet once again upon the breast of him whom she loved moredearly than life itself, PARTED."

However, it is not well to dwell too much on the separable verbs. Oneis sure to lose his temper early; and if he sticks to the subject, andwill not be warned, it will at last either soften his brain or petrify it. Personal pronouns and adjectives are a fruitful nuisance in this language,and should have been left out. For instance, the same sound, SIE, meansYOU, and it means SHE, and it means HER, and it means IT, and it meansTHEY, and it means THEM. Think of the ragged poverty of a language whichhas to make one word do the work of six--and a poor little weak thing ofonly three letters at that. But mainly, think of the exasperation ofnever knowing which of these meanings the speaker is trying to convey. This explains why, whenever a person says SIE to me, I generally try tokill him, if a stranger.

Now observe the Adjective. Here was a case where simplicity would havebeen an advantage; therefore, for no other reason, the inventor of thislanguage complicated it all he could. When we wish to speak of our "goodfriend or friends," in our enlightened tongue, we stick to the one formand have no trouble or hard feeling about it; but with the German tongueit is different. When a German gets his hands on an adjective, hedeclines it, and keeps on declining it until the common sense is alldeclined out of it. It is as bad as Latin. He says, for instance:


Nominative--Mein gutER Freund, my good friend.
Genitives--MeinES GutEN FreundES, of my good friend.
Dative--MeinEM gutEN Freund, to my good friend.
Accusative--MeinEN gutEN Freund, my good friend.

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N.--MeinE gutEN FreundE, my good friends. G.--MeinER gutENFreundE, of my good friends. D.--MeinEN gutEN FreundEN,to my good friends. A.--MeinE gutEN FreundE, my good friends.

Now let the candidate for the asylum try to memorizethose variations, and see how soon he will be elected. One might better go without friends in Germany than takeall this trouble about them. I have shown what a botherit is to decline a good (male) friend; well this isonly a third of the work, for there is a variety of newdistortions of the adjective to be learned when the objectis feminine, and still another when the object is neuter. Now there are more adjectives in this language than thereare black cats in Switzerland, and they must all be aselaborately declined as the examples above suggested. Difficult?--troublesome?--these words cannot describe it. I heard a Californian student in Heidelberg say, in one ofhis calmest moods, that he would rather decline two drinksthan one German adjective.

The inventor of the language seems to have taken pleasurein complicating it in every way he could think of. For instance, if one is casually referring to a house,HAUS, or a horse, PFERD, or a dog, HUND, he spells thesewords as I have indicated; but if he is referring to themin the Dative case, he sticks on a foolish and unnecessaryE and spells them HAUSE, PFERDE, HUNDE. So, as an addedE often signifies the plural, as the S does with us,the new student is likely to go on for a month makingtwins out of a Dative dog before he discovers his mistake;and on the other hand, many a new student who could illafford loss, has bought and paid for two dogs and onlygot one of them, because he ignorantly bought that dogin the Dative singular when he really supposed he wastalking plural--which left the law on the seller's side,of course, by the strict rules of grammar, and thereforea suit for recovery could not lie.

In German, all the Nouns begin with a capital letter. Now that is a good idea; and a good idea, in this language,is necessarily conspicuous from its lonesomeness. I considerthis capitalizing of nouns a good idea, because by reasonof it you are almost always able to tell a noun the minuteyou see it. You fall into error occasionally, because youmistake the name of a person for the name of a thing,and waste a good deal of time trying to dig a meaningout of it. German names almost always do mean something,and this helps to deceive the student. I translateda passage one day, which said that "the infuriated tigressbroke loose and utterly ate up the unfortunate fir forest"(Tannenwald). When I was girding up my loins to doubt this,I found out that Tannenwald in this instance was aman's name.

Every noun has a gender, and there is no sense or systemin the distribution; so the gender of each must belearned separately and by heart. There is no other way. To do this one has to have a memory like a memorandum-book.In German, a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has. Think what overwrought reverence that shows for the turnip,and what callous disrespect for the girl. See how itlooks in print--I translate this from a conversationin one of the best of the German Sunday-school books:

"Gretchen. Wilhelm, where is the turnip?

"Wilhelm. She has gone to the kitchen.

"Gretchen. Where is the accomplished and beautiful Englishmaiden?

Wilhelm. It has gone to the opera."

To continue with the German genders: a tree is male, its budsare female, its leaves are neuter; horses are sexless,dogs are male, cats are female--tomcats included, of course;a person's mouth, neck, bosom, elbows, fingers, nails, feet,and body are of the male sex, and his head is maleor neuter according to the word selected to signify it,and NOT according to the sex of the individual who wearsit--for in Germany all the women either male heads orsexless ones; a person's nose, lips, shoulders, breast,hands, and toes are of the female sex; and his hair,ears, eyes, chin, legs, knees, heart, and consciencehaven't any sex at all. The inventor of the languageprobably got what he knew about a conscience from hearsay.

Now, by the above dissection, the reader will see that inGermany a man may THINK he is a man, but when he comes to lookinto the matter closely, he is bound to have his doubts;he finds that in sober truth he is a most ridiculous mixture;and if he ends by trying to comfort himself with thethought that he can at least depend on a third of thismess as being manly and masculine, the humiliating secondthought will quickly remind him that in this respecthe is no better off than any woman or cow in the land.

In the German it is true that by some oversight of the inventorof the language, a Woman is a female; but a Wife (Weib)is not--which is unfortunate. A Wife, here, has no sex;she is neuter; so, according to the grammar, a fishis HE, his scales are SHE, but a fishwife is neither. To describe a wife as sexless may be called under-description;that is bad enough, but over-description is surely worse. A German speaks of an Englishman as the ENGLÄNDER; to changethe sex, he adds INN, and that stands for Englishwoman--ENGLÄNDERINN. That seems descriptive enough, but stillit is not exact enough for a German; so he precedes theword with that article which indicates that the creatureto follow is feminine, and writes it down thus: "dieEngländerinn,"--which means "the she-Englishwoman."I consider that that person is over-described.

Well, after the student has learned the sex of a greatnumber of nouns, he is still in a difficulty, because hefinds it impossible to persuade his tongue to referto things as "he" and "she," and "him" and "her," whichit has been always accustomed to refer to it as "it."When he even frames a German sentence in his mind,with the hims and hers in the right places, and then worksup his courage to the utterance-point, it is no use--the moment he begins to speak his tongue files the trackand all those labored males and females come out as "its."And even when he is reading German to himself, he alwayscalls those things "it," where as he ought to read in this way:


It is a bleak Day. Hear the Rain, how he pours, and the Hail,how he rattles; and see the Snow, how he drifts along,and of the Mud, how deep he is! Ah the poor Fishwife,it is stuck fast in the Mire; it has dropped its Basketof Fishes; and its Hands have been cut by the Scalesas it seized some of the falling Creatures; and one Scalehas even got into its Eye. and it cannot get her out. It opens its Mouth to cry for Help; but if any Sound comesout of him, alas he is drowned by the raging of the Storm. And now a Tomcat has got one of the Fishes and shewill surely escape with him. No, she bites off a Fin,she holds her in her Mouth--will she swallow her? No,the Fishwife's brave Mother-dog deserts his Puppies andrescues the Fin--which he eats, himself, as his Reward. O, horror, the Lightning has struck the Fish-basket;he sets him on Fire; see the Flame, how she licks thedoomed Utensil with her red and angry Tongue; now sheattacks the helpless Fishwife's Foot--she burns him up,all but the big Toe, and even SHE is partly consumed;and still she spreads, still she waves her fiery Tongues;she attacks the Fishwife's Leg and destroys IT; she attacksits Hand and destroys HER also; she attacks the Fishwife's Legand destroys HER also; she attacks its Body and consumes HIM;she wreathes herself about its Heart and IT is consumed;next about its Breast, and in a Moment SHE is a Cinder;now she reaches its Neck--He goes; now its Chin--IT goes; now its Nose--SHE goes. In another Moment,except Help come, the Fishwife will be no more. Time presses--is there none to succor and save? Yes! Joy,joy, with flying Feet the she-Englishwoman comes! But alas,the generous she-Female is too late: where now isthe fated Fishwife? It has ceased from its Sufferings,it has gone to a better Land; all that is left of itfor its loved Ones to lament over, is this poor smolderingAsh-heap. Ah, woeful, woeful Ash-heap! Let us take himup tenderly, reverently, upon the lowly Shovel, and bearhim to his long Rest, with the Prayer that when he risesagain it will be a Realm where he will have one good squareresponsible Sex, and have it all to himself, instead ofhaving a mangy lot of assorted Sexes scattered all over himin Spots.

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There, now, the reader can see for himself that this pronounbusiness is a very awkward thing for the unaccustomed tongue. I suppose that in all languages the similarities of lookand sound between words which have no similarity in meaningare a fruitful source of perplexity to the foreigner. It is so in our tongue, and it is notably the case inthe German. Now there is that troublesome word VERMÄHLT:to me it has so close a resemblance--either real orfancied--to three or four other words, that I never knowwhether it means despised, painted, suspected, or married;until I look in the dictionary, and then I find it meansthe latter. There are lots of such words and they area great torment. To increase the difficulty there arewords which SEEM to resemble each other, and yet do not;but they make just as much trouble as if they did. For instance, there is the word VERMIETHEN (to let,to lease, to hire); and the word VERHEIRATHEN (another wayof saying to marry). I heard of an Englishman who knockedat a man's door in Heidelberg and proposed, in the bestGerman he could command, to "verheirathen" that house. Then there are some words which mean one thing when youemphasize the first syllable, but mean something verydifferent if you throw the emphasis on the last syllable. For instance, there is a word which means a runaway,or the act of glancing through a book, according to theplacing of the emphasis; and another word which signifiesto ASSOCIATE with a man, or to AVOID him, according towhere you put the emphasis--and you can generally dependon putting it in the wrong place and getting into trouble.

There are some exceedingly useful words in this language. SCHLAG, for example; and ZUG. There are three-quartersof a column of SCHLAGS in the dictonary, and a columnand a half of ZUGS. The word SCHLAG means Blow, Stroke,Dash, Hit, Shock, Clap, Slap, Time, Bar, Coin, Stamp, Kind,Sort, Manner, Way, Apoplexy, Wood-cutting, Enclosure,Field, Forest-clearing. This is its simple and EXACTmeaning--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 pleaseto 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 meansbilge-water--and including SCHLAG-MUTTER, which meansmother-in-law.

Just the same with ZUG. Strictly speaking, ZUG means Pull,Tug, Draught, Procession, March, Progress, Flight, Direction,Expedition, Train, Caravan, Passage, Stroke, Touch, Line,Flourish, Trait of Character, Feature, Lineament, Chess-move,Organ-stop, Team, Whiff, Bias, Drawer, Propensity, Inhalation,Disposition: but that thing which it does NOT mean--whenall its legitimate pennants have been hung on, has not beendiscovered yet.

One cannot overestimate the usefulness of SCHLAG and ZUG. Armed just with these two, and the word ALSO, what cannotthe foreigner on German soil accomplish? The German wordALSO is the equivalent of the English phrase "You know,"and does not mean anything at all--in TALK, though itsometimes does in print. Every time a German opens hismouth an ALSO falls out; and every time he shuts it he bitesone 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 intothe 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 theneedful word. In Germany, when you load your conversationalgun it is always best to throw in a SCHLAG or two and a ZUGor two, because it doesn't make any difference how muchthe rest of the charge may scatter, you are bound to bagsomething with THEM. Then you blandly say ALSO, and loadup again. Nothing gives such an air of grace and eleganceand unconstraint to a German or an English conversationas 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 thirteensyllables was successfully removed from a patient--aNorth German from near Hamburg; but as most unfortunatelythe surgeons had opened him in the wrong place, under theimpression 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 aboutone of the most curious and notable features of mysubject--the length of German words. Some German wordsare so long that they have a perspective. Observe theseexamples:




These things are not words, they are alphabetical processions. And they are not rare; one can open a German newspaperat any time and see them marching majestically acrossthe page--and if he has any imagination he can seethe banners and hear the music, too. They imparta martial thrill to the meekest subject. I take agreat interest in these curiosities. Whenever I comeacross 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 raresome specimens which I lately bought at an auction saleof the effects of a bankrupt bric-a-brac hunter:





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Of course when one of these grand mountain ranges goesstretching across the printed page, it adorns and ennoblesthat literary landscape--but at the same time it is a greatdistress to the new student, for it blocks up his way;he cannot crawl under it, or climb over it, or tunnelthrough it. So he resorts to the dictionary for help,but there is no help there. The dictionary must drawthe line somewhere--so it leaves this sort of words out. And it is right, because these long things are hardlylegitimate 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 huntthe materials out, one by one, and get at the meaningat last, but it is a tedious and harassing business. I have tried this process upon some of the above examples. "Freundshaftsbezeigungen" seems to be "Friendshipdemonstrations,"which is only a foolish and clumsy way of saying "demonstrationsof friendship." "Unabhaengigkeitserklaerungen" seemsto be "Independencedeclarations," which is no improvementupon "Declarations of Independence," so far as I can see. "Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen" seems to be"General-statesrepresentativesmeetings," as nearly as Ican get at it--a mere rhythmical, gushy euphuism for"meetings of the legislature," I judge. We used to havea 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 crampingit into the simple and sufficient word "memorable" and thengoing calmly about our business as if nothing had happened. In those days we were not content to embalm the thingand bury it decently, we wanted to build a monument over it.

But in our newspapers the compounding-disease lingersa 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 anddistrict courts, was in town yesterday," the new form putit thus: "Clerk of the County and District Courts Simmonswas in town yesterday." This saves neither time nor ink,and has an awkward sound besides. One often sees a remarklike this in our papers: "MRS. Assistant District AttorneyJohnson 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 confersa title on Mrs. Johnson which she has no right to. But these little instances are trifles indeed, contrastedwith the ponderous and dismal German system of pilingjumbled compounds together. I wish to submit the followinglocal 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'sNest reached, flew the parent Storks away. But whenthe bytheraging, firesurrounded Nest ITSELF caught Fire,straightway plunged the quickreturning Mother-Stork intothe Flames and died, her Wings over her young ones outspread."

Even the cumbersome German construction is not able totake the pathos out of that picture--indeed, it somehowseems to strengthen it. This item is dated away backyonder months ago. I could have used it sooner, but Iwas waiting to hear from the Father-stork. I am still waiting.

"ALSO!" If I had not shown that the German is adifficult language, I have at least intended to do so. I have heard of an American student who was asked how hewas getting along with his German, and who answeredpromptly: "I am not getting along at all. I have workedat it hard for three level months, and all I have gotto 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 harassingand infuriating study, my execution has been at fault,and not my intent. I heard lately of a worn and sorelytried American student who used to fly to a certain Germanword for relief when he could bear up under his aggravationsno longer--the only word whose sound was sweet andprecious to his ear and healing to his lacerated spirit. This was the word DAMIT. It was only the SOUND thathelped him, not the meaning; [3] and so, at last, when helearned that the emphasis was not on the first syllable,his only stay and support was gone, and he faded awayand 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 sucha deep, strong, resonant sound, while their Germanequivalents 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 magnitudeof sound befitting the things which they describe. But their German equivalents would be ever so nice to singthe children to sleep with, or else my awe-inspiring earswere made for display and not for superior usefulnessin analyzing sounds. Would any man want to die in abattle 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 employedto describe? And observe the strongest of the severalGerman equivalents for explosion--AUSBRUCH. Our wordToothbrush is more powerful than that. It seems to methat the Germans could do worse than import it into theirlanguage to describe particularly tremendous explosions with. The German word for hell--Hölle--sounds more like HELLYthan anything else; therefore, how necessary chipper,frivolous, and unimpressive it is. If a man were toldin German to go there, could he really rise to theedignity of feeling insulted?

Having pointed out, in detail, the several vices ofthis language, I now come to the brief and pleasant taskof pointing out its virtues. The capitalizing of the nounsI have already mentioned. But far before this virtue standsanother--that of spelling a word according to the sound of it. After one short lesson in the alphabet, the student can tellhow 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 findingout what it signifies--whether it is a thing to shootarrows with, or a nod of one's head, or the forward end of aboat."

There are some German words which are singularlyand powerfully effective. For instance, those whichdescribe lowly, peaceful, and affectionate home life;those which deal with love, in any and all forms,from mere kindly feeling and honest good will towardthe passing stranger, clear up to courtship; those whichdeal with outdoor Nature, in its softest and loveliestaspects--with meadows and forests, and birds and flowers,the fragrance and sunshine of summer, and the moonlightof peaceful winter nights; in a word, those which deal withany and all forms of rest, respose, and peace; those alsowhich 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 areGerman songs which can make a stranger to the language cry. That shows that the SOUND of the words is correct--itinterprets 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 wordwhen it is the right one. they repeat it several times,if they choose. That is wise. But in English, when wehave used a word a couple of times in a paragraph,we imagine we are growing tautological, and so we are weakenough to exchange it for some other word which onlyapproximates exactness, to escape what we wrongly fancyis a greater blemish. Repetition may be bad, but surelyinexactness is worse.

There are people in the world who will take a greatdeal of trouble to point out the faults in a religionor a language, and then go blandly about their businesswithout suggesting any remedy. I am not that kindof person. I have shown that the German languageneeds 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 Ihave devoted upward of nine full weeks, first and last,to a careful and critical study of this tongue, and thushave acquired a confidence in my ability to reform itwhich no mere superficial culture could have conferredupon me.

In the first place, I would leave out the Dative case. It confuses the plurals; and, besides, nobody ever knowswhen he is in the Dative case, except he discover itby accident--and then he does not know when or where itwas 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 caseis but an ornamental folly--it is better to discard it.

In the next place, I would move the Verb further upto the front. You may load up with ever so good a Verb,but I notice that you never really bring down a subjectwith it at the present German range--you only cripple it. So I insist that this important part of speech should bebrought forward to a position where it may be easily seenwith the naked eye.

Thirdly, I would import some strong words from the Englishtongue--to swear with, and also to use in describingall sorts of vigorous things in a vigorous ways. [4]

(Video) The Awful German Language Full Audiobook by Mark TWAIN by Humorous Fiction

Fourthly, I would reorganizes the sexes, and distributethem accordingly to the will of the creator. This asa tribute of respect, if nothing else.

Fifthly, I would do away with those great longcompounded words; or require the speaker to deliverthem in sections, with intermissions for refreshments. To wholly do away with them would be best, for ideas aremore easily received and digested when they come one ata time than when they come in bulk. Intellectual foodis like any other; it is pleasanter and more beneficialto 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 gewesengehabt haben geworden seins" to the end of his oration. This sort of gewgaws undignify a speech, instead of addinga grace. They are, therefore, an offense, and shouldbe discarded.

Seventhly, I would discard the Parenthesis. Also thereparenthesis,the re-reparenthesis, and the re-re-re-re-re-reparentheses,and likewise the final wide-reaching all-enclosingking-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 necessaryand important changes. These are perhaps all I couldbe expected to name for nothing; but there are othersuggestions which I can and will make in case my proposedapplication shall result in my being formally employedby the government in the work of reforming the language.

My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted personought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing)in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and Germanin thirty years. It seems manifest, then, that thelatter tongue ought to be trimmed down and repaired. If it is to remain as it is, it ought to be gentlyand reverently set aside among the dead languages,for only the dead have time to learn it.


Gentlemen: Since I arrived, a month ago, in thisold wonderland, this vast garden of Germany, my Englishtongue has so often proved a useless piece of baggageto me, and so troublesome to carry around, in a countrywhere they haven't the checking system for luggage, that Ifinally 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 manauf ein occasion like this, sein Rede in die Sprache desLandes worin he boards, aussprechen soll. Daf:ur habe ich,aus reinische Verlegenheit--no, Vergangenheit--no, Imean Hoflichkeit--aus reinishe Hoflichkeit habe ichresolved to tackle this business in the German language,um Gottes willen! Also! Sie müssen so freundlich sein,und verzeih mich die interlarding von ein oder zweiEnglischer Worte, hie und da, denn ich finde dass diedeutsche is not a very copious language, and so whenyou've really got anything to say, you've got to drawon a language that can stand the strain.

Wenn haber man kann nicht meinem Rede Verstehen, so werdeich ihm sp:ater dasselbe :ubersetz, wenn er solche Dienstverlangen wollen haben werden sollen sein h:atte. (I don'tknow what wollen haben werden sollen sein hätte means,but I notice they always put it at the end of a Germansentence--merely for general literary gorgeousness,I suppose.)

This is a great and justly honored day--a day which isworthy of the veneration in which it is held by the truepatriots of all climes and nationalities--a day whichoffers a fruitful theme for thought and speech; und meinemFreunde--no, meinEN FreundEN--meinES FreundES--well,take your choice, they're all the same price; I don'tknow which one is right--also! ich habe gehabt habenworden gewesen sein, as Goethe says in his ParadiseLost--ich--ich--that is to say--ich--but let us change cars.

Also! Die Anblich so viele Grossbrittanischer und Amerikanischerhier zusammengetroffen in Bruderliche concord, ist zwara welcome and inspiriting spectacle. And what has moved youto it? Can the terse German tongue rise to the expression ofthis impulse? Is it Freundschaftsbezeigungenstadtverordneten-versammlungenfamilieneigenth:umlichkeiten? Nein,o nein! This is a crisp and noble word, but it failsto pierce the marrow of the impulse which has gatheredthis friendly meeting and produced diese Anblick--eineAnblich welche ist gut zu sehen--gut für die Augenin a foreign land and a far country--eine Anblick solcheals in die gew:ohnliche Heidelberger phrase nennt man ein"schönes Aussicht!" Ja, freilich natürlich wahrscheinlichebensowohl! Also! Die Aussicht auf dem Konigsstuhlmehr gr:osser ist, aber geistlische sprechend nicht soschön, 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 landsthat know liberty today, and love it. Hundert Jahrevor¨ber, waren die Engländer und die Amerikaner Feinde;aber heut sind sie herzlichen Freunde, Gott sei Dank!May this good-fellowship endure; may these banners hereblended in amity so remain; may they never any more waveover opposing hosts, or be stained with blood whichwas kindred, is kindred, and always will be kindred,until a line drawn upon a map shall be able to say:"THIS bars the ancestral blood from flowing in the veinsof the descendant!"


1. Wenn er aber auf der Strasse der in Sammt und Seidegehüllten jetz sehr ungenirt nach der neusten modegekleideten Regierungsrathin begegnet.

2. I capitalize the nouns, in the German (and ancientEnglish) fashion.

3. It merely means, in its general sense, "herewith."

4. "Verdammt," and its variations and enlargements, are wordswhich have plenty of meaning, but the SOUNDS are so mild andineffectual that German ladies can use them without sin. Germanladies who could not be induced to commit a sin by any persuasionor compulsion, promptly rip out one of these harmless littlewords when they tear their dresses or don't like the soup. Itsounds about as wicked as our "My gracious." German ladies areconstantly saying, "Ach! Gott!" "Mein Gott!" "Gott in Himmel!""Herr Gott" "Der Herr Jesus!" etc. They think our ladies havethe same custom, perhaps; for I once heard a gentle and lovelyold German lady say to a sweet young American girl: "The twolanguages are so alike--how pleasant that is; we say 'Ach! Gott!'you say 'Goddamn.'"

(Video) The Awful German Language by Mark TWAIN read by Rainer | Full Audio Book


What did Mark Twain say about the German language? ›

“In German, a young lady [das Mädchen] has no sex, but a turnip [die Rübe] has.” American writer Mark Twain hit the nail on the head when he highlighted the peculiarities of the language.

Did Mark Twain know German? ›

Answer and Explanation: Mark Twain spoke English and knew some German. Clemens wrote all of his works in English including his most popular pieces The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Why German words are so harsh? ›

So what exactly makes a language “harsh”? There is no singular defining element, but the languages that English natives tend to view as harsh, including German, Dutch, and Russian, incorporate many noises made at the back of the throat –– these are called uvular fricatives.

What is the longest word in German? ›

The longest word in the standard German dictionary is Kraftfahrzeug-Haftpflichtversicherung – which is the word for motor vehicle liability insurance. But at 36 letters, it's rather puny. Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften, a touch longer at 39 letters, is the language's longest non-dictionary word.

How did Einstein feel about Germany? ›

After World War II ended, and the Nazis were removed from power, Einstein refused to associate with Germany. Einstein refused several honors bestowed upon him by Germany, as he could not forgive the Germans for the Holocaust, where six million of his fellow Jews were murdered.

What did Churchill say about Germany? ›

One is Churchill's 1943 remark after Germany surrendered in North Africa: “The Hun is always either at your throat or your feet.” Another is attributed to Churchill's wartime aide Lord Ismay, who was later Secretary General of NATO, whose purpose he explained was to “keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the ...

Are Prussians Polish or German? ›

Prussia, German Preussen, Polish Prusy, in European history, any of certain areas of eastern and central Europe, respectively (1) the land of the Prussians on the southeastern coast of the Baltic Sea, which came under Polish and German rule in the Middle Ages, (2) the kingdom ruled from 1701 by the German Hohenzollern ...

Does Leonardo DiCaprio know German? ›

Leonardo DiCaprio

He might be an iconic American star now, but, thanks to his background, Leonardo DiCaprio can speak foreign languages namely English, German, and Italian. In fact, he often spent time with his maternal grandparents in Germany.

What did German evolve from? ›

It has strong and weak verbs. The majority of its vocabulary derives from the ancient Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family, while a smaller share is partly derived from Latin and Greek, along with fewer words borrowed from French and Modern English.

Do Germans not like small talk? ›

In some countries – like the USA – you often find yourself having frequent informal chats that mean absolutely nothing with complete strangers. But in Germany, small talk just isn't a big part of society.

What is the hardest German word to say? ›

1. Eichhörnchen (Squirrel) Also a difficult one in English, this is a classic when it comes to difficult German words to pronounce.

What do Germans say when they're mad? ›

1. Quatsch! Pronounced like “Kvatch,” this is one of the more commonly used terms when showing your angry side.

What does Ü mean German? ›

U-umlaut. A glyph, U with umlaut, appears in the German alphabet. It represents the umlauted form of u, which results in [yː] when long and [ʏ] when short. The letter is collated together with U, or as UE. In languages that have adopted German names or spellings, such as Swedish, the letter also occurs.

What is the slang name for Germans? ›

Boche (pejorative)

Pronounced [boʃ], boche is a derisive term used by the Allies during World War I, often collectively ("the Boche" meaning "the Germans"). It is a shortened form of the French slang portmanteau alboche, itself derived from Allemand ("German") and caboche ("head" or "cabbage").

Where is the purest German spoken? ›

On the other hand, Northern Germany is considered to be the region that speaks the purest Standard German, and in everyday life, little influence of dialect is heard.

What was Einstein's IQ level? ›

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist and philosopher of science whose estimated IQ scores range from 205 to 225 by different measures.

What countries was Prussia? ›

Though itself one of Germany's many states, the kingdom of Prussia was comprised of: West Prussia, East Prussia, Brandenburg (including Berlin), Saxony, Pomerania, the Rhineland, Westphalia, non-Austrian Silesia, Lusatia, Schleswig-Holstein, Hanover, and Hesse-Nassau.

Who invented nuclear bomb? ›

Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) was an American theoretical physicist. During the Manhattan Project, Oppenheimer was director of the Los Alamos Laboratory and responsible for the research and design of an atomic bomb. He is often known as the “father of the atomic bomb."

What did Gandhi say about Germany and war? ›

“My sympathies are all with the Jews,” Gandhi wrote in a 1938 article in his Harijan publication. “If there ever could be a justifiable war, in the name of and for humanity, war against Germany to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race would be completely justified.

What was Hitler's famous quote during WWII? ›

“He who would live must fight. He who doesn't wish to fight in this world, where permanent struggle is the law of life, has not the right to exist.” “Obstacles do not exist to be surrendered to, but only to be broken.”

What was Hitler's main promise? ›

Hitler pledged to restore prosperity, create civil order (by crushing industrial strikes and street demonstrations by communists and socialists), eliminate the influence of Jewish financiers, and make the fatherland once again a world power.

What do Polish call Germany? ›

Niemcy, the Polish endonym for Germans and Germany (yes, it's the same word for both) is traced back to the Proto-Slavic word *němьcь, which means 'mute'.

Was Poland a German land? ›

Virtually all of Poland remained under German occupation until the Soviet offensive into eastern Poland in the summer of 1944.

Is there still a German royal family? ›

When the Weimar Constitution entered into force on August 14, 1919, the legal privileges and titles of German nobility were abolished. Therefore, officially, there are no princes and princesses in Germany.

Does Brad Pitt speak German fluently? ›

Brad Pitt can speak German in real life, having learned the language and visited Germany multiple times out of interest in his German ancestry. Ironically, Lt. Aldo Raine never speaks German in the film.

Who is the most famous German actor? ›

Christoph Waltz

Waltz is one of the most decorated German actors, having received two Academy Awards, two British Academy Film Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and two Golden Globe Awards. Waltz's international success has even seen him host an episode of the US's primetime TV show Saturday Night Live.

Who knows the most languages in the world? ›

Powell Janulus, a Canadian who now lives in British Columbia still holds the Guinness World Records that he earned in 1985 for being fluent in 42 languages. Qualifying for the record was grueling, as he had to pass a 2-hour conversation (fluency test) with a native speaker of each of the 42 languages.

What race did the Germans descend from? ›

The German ethnicity emerged among Germanic peoples of Western and Central Europe, particularly the Franks, Frisians, Saxons, Thuringii, Alemanni and Baiuvarii. The beginnings of the German states can be traced back to the Frankish king Clovis I, who established the kingdom of Francia in the 5th century.

What was Germany called before Germany? ›

In the Late Medieval and Early Modern period, Germany and Germans were known as Almany and Almains in English, via Old French alemaigne, alemans derived from the name of the Alamanni and Alemannia.

What existed before Germany? ›

Before it was called Germany, it was called Germania. In the years A.D. 900 – 1806, Germany was part of the Holy Roman Empire. From 1949 to 1990, Germany was made up of two countries called the Federal Republic of Germany (inf. West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (inf.

What's considered rude in Germany? ›

Germans are extremely punctual and well-mannered. Showing up late, losing your cool, or raising your voice are all considered rude and thoughtless. If you step out of line, don't be surprised or offended if someone corrects your behavior, as this is very common in the German culture.

Is it rude to stare in Germany? ›

Once the shock of people staring a little longer than expected wears off, it becomes clear that staring in Germany is actually a sign of politeness in certain circumstances. Staring into the eyes of others is an important part of saying 'prost' (cheers) before drinking a beer or a glass of wine.

Do Germans avoid eye contact? ›

In Germany, it's considered polite to maintain eye contact almost all the time while talking to another person. This is especially important during business meetings. Eye contact is a sign of attentiveness, and you don't need to be afraid of threatening someone with this.

What is the most offensive German word? ›

die Sau/das Schwein

While die Sau is already very offensive, das Schwein is one of the worst German insults.

What is the coolest German word? ›

10 beautiful and memorable German words
  1. Sehnsucht. Amid different definitions, which vary from yearning, desire and/or craving, Sehnsucht is a feeling of longing for something unknown and indefinite. ...
  2. Weltschmerz. ...
  3. Torschlusspanik. ...
  4. Fernweh. ...
  5. Zweisamkeit. ...
  6. Backpfeifengesicht. ...
  7. Feierabend. ...
  8. Reisefieber.
9 Feb 2021

How does a German guy flirt? ›

Flirting In German: It's All In The Eyes

According to at least one Babbel insider living in Berlin, Germans have a tendency to stare and to hold intense eye contact. This doesn't mean all eye contact is sexy eye contact. It just means sexy eye contact could involve a little more “innuendo” than usual.

What does a dog say in Germany? ›

In German, the cow goes muh, the dog barks wau wau and the rooster crows kikeriki. The donkey cries iah, the horse wiehert and the cat says miau.

What do Germans call their pets? ›

Schatz is the most common German term of endearment, according to surveys. Couples all over the country call each other this pet name or one of its many cute forms, such as Schätzchen (little treasure) or Schatzi (little treasure). It's also very common to use with children.

What is ß called? ›

The German ligature (additional character): The letter ß, is also known as the "sharp S", "eszett" or "scharfes S", and is the only German letter that is not part of the Latin/Roman alphabet. The letter is pronounced (like the "s" in "see"). The ß is not used in any other language.

What is ß pronounced? ›

The double s (after a short vowel) and the ß (after a long vowel) are both pronounced like the -ss in the English word “pass”.

Do Germans say w as v? ›

The German letter w is generally pronounced like an English “v” . In words borrowed from other languages, the same sound is often written as a v. Note: the letter v is most often pronounced like an “f” .

What is a German woman called? ›

noun. ˈfrau̇ plural Frauen ˈfrau̇(-ə)n. sometimes disparaging. : a German married woman : wife.

What are German ladies called? ›

Fräulein is the diminutive form of Frau, which was previously reserved only for married women. Frau is in origin the equivalent of "My lady" or "Madam", a form of address of a noblewoman.

What do Germans call their soldiers? ›

Ami – German slang for an American soldier. Ärmelband – cuff title. Worn on the left sleeve, the title contains the name of the wearer's unit or a campaign they are part of.

Which German dialect is closest to English? ›

The closest language to English is one called Frisian, which is a Germanic language spoken by a small population of about 480,000 people. There are three separate dialects of the language, and it's only spoken at the southern fringes of the North Sea in the Netherlands and Germany.

What city speaks the best German? ›

While there are many German language courses in Germany for international students, Berlin is, without a doubt, the most common choice for intensive German language study abroad (and for good reason!).

Which German accent is the best? ›

The Bavarian dialect is Germany's best-loved accent, according to a new poll from monthly magazine Daheim in Deutschland.

Who said life is too short to learn German? ›

Oscar Wilde's famous line, 'Life is too short to learn German', still brings knowing smiles to German faces.

What is Mark Twain most famous quote? ›

  • "Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it."
  • "An uneasy conscience is a hair in the mouth."
  • "When in doubt‚ tell the truth."
  • "If you tell truth you don't have to remember anything."

Why did Franz Say Will they make them sing in German? ›

Answer: (a) When Franz wondered whether they would make even the pigeons sing in German, he meant that they had grown up using French as their language. Now, taking it away from them would be unfair and unkind. The language was as natural to them as cooing is to the pigeons.

What did Einstein said in German? ›

Well, since Einstein was German, he said a lot in that language. I'll make the assumption that you refer to the remark “God does not play dice with the universe.” The first instance of the quote is in a letter to physicist Max Born in 1926. The original (with context) is: Die Quantenmechanik ist sehr achtung-gebietend.

How long does it take to learn German 1 hour a day? ›

Language students who practice a method of complete immersion, with eight hours of practice per day, could learn German to a high level in a matter of months. Those who dedicate at least one hour per day to language learning can achieve an intermediate level within two years.

What does learning German do to your brain? ›

As you begin learning the German language, your brain starts understanding the complexity involved memorizing those words and starts developing a pattern. As your brains channel the complex words to the process of communication, you tend to develop cognitive thinking skills and carry out effective decision-making.

Can I learn German in 3 months? ›

You need more than 3 months to be fluent. But even with such a short time, if you adjust your strategy, you can actually learn German and get really close to being fluent. And I don't mean being able to say, 'I'm doing fine' in German as fast as a native speaker or being able to combine words you learned on Duolingo.

What is the most famous line of all time? ›

Famous Movie Quotes
  • “ May the Force be with you.” - Star Wars, 1977.
  • “ There's no place like home.” - The Wizard of Oz, 1939.
  • “ I'm the king of the world!” - ...
  • “ Carpe diem. ...
  • “ Elementary, my dear Watson.” - ...
  • “ It's alive! ...
  • “ My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. ...
  • “ I'll be back.” -
21 Sept 2018

What is Marilyn Monroe most famous quote? ›

"Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring."

Why Franz's name was called out? ›

Hamel called out Franz to recite the rules of participle, he was at a fix. He couldn't utter any word properly.

What did Franz feel about the pigeons with reference to the teaching of German language? ›

Franz was quite shaken on hearing the news that only German would be taught in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. When Franz wonders if the conquerors would even make the pigeons sing in German, it shows the extent of his concern regarding the loss of his native language.

What is called a thunderclap by Franz? ›

The order from Berlin was called a thunderclap by Franz because it was a shock for him to know that the study of the French language had been prohibited in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. They would henceforth start teaching German.

Was Einstein a vegan? ›

Einstein was only a strict vegetarian for the last couple years of his life, decades after many of his most important scientific breakthroughs. There are countless records of Einstein eating meat, well into adulthood.

What is the most famous quote from Einstein? ›

"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.”


1. The Awful German Language by Mark Twain - Audiobook
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2. THE AWFUL GERMAN LANGUAGE - Full AudioBook - Mark Twain
3. The Awful German Language Audiobook
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