The Awful German Language - Wikipedia

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the comet theory had been greatly exaggerated.

(Mark Twain, however,allowed his name to be used only by the original league, which reconstituteditself in 1905.) The reformist labor lieutenants of the bourgeoisie dutifullyfollowed the lead of these bourgeois liberals, their shameful silence onthe rape of the Philippines and genocide in the Congo signifying acceptanceof the rule of the bourgeoisie.

However, it is not well to dwell too much on the separable verbs. One issure to lose his temper early; and if he sticks to the subject, and will notbe warned, it will at last either soften his brain or petrify it. Personalpronouns and adjectives are a fruitful nuisance in this language, and shouldhave been left out. For instance, the same sound, sie, means you, and it means she, and it means her, and it means it, and it means they, and it means them. Think of theragged poverty of a language which has to make one word do the work of six --and a poor little weak thing of only three letters at that. But mainly, thinkof the exasperation of never knowing which of these meanings the speaker istrying to convey. This explains why, whenever a person says sie to me,I generally try to kill him, if a stranger.

In the German it is true that by some oversight of the inventor of thelanguage, a Woman is a female; but a Wife (Weib) is not -- which isunfortunate. A Wife, here, has no sex; she is neuter; so, according to thegrammar, a fish is he, his scales are she, but a fishwife isneither. To describe a wife as sexless may be called under-description; thatis bad enough, but over-description is surely worse. A German speaks of anEnglishman as the Engländer; to change the sex, he addsinn, and that stands for Englishwoman -- Engländerinn. Thatseems descriptive enough, but still it is not exact enough for a German; so heprecedes the word with that article which indicates that the creature tofollow is feminine, and writes it down thus: "dieEngländerinn," -- which means "the she-Englishwoman." Iconsider that that person is over-described.

“But it’s all Mark Twain … What I have to do is pull it from letters and essays and various sources of the material.

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 the markand sign of an unpracticed writer or a cloudy intellect, whereas with theGermans it is doubtless the mark and sign of a practiced pen and of thepresence of that sort of luminous intellectual fog which stands for clearnessamong these people. For surely it is not clearness -- it necessarilycan't be clearness. Even a jury would have penetration enough to discoverthat. A writer's ideas must be a good deal confused, a good deal out of lineand sequence, when he starts out to say that a man met a counselor's wife inthe street, and then right in the midst of this so simple undertaking haltsthese approaching people and makes them stand still until he jots down aninventory of the woman's dress. That is manifestly absurd. It reminds aperson of those dentists who secure your instant and breathless interest in atooth by taking a grip on it with the forceps, and then stand there and drawlthrough a tedious anecdote before they give the dreaded jerk. Parentheses inliterature and dentistry are in bad taste.

Mark Twain and the Onset of the Imperialist Period

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 the markand sign of an unpracticed writer or a cloudy intellect, whereas with theGermans it is doubtless the mark and sign of a practiced pen and of thepresence of that sort of luminous intellectual fog which stands for clearnessamong these people. For surely it is not clearness -- it necessarilycan't be clearness. Even a jury would have penetration enough to discoverthat. A writer's ideas must be a good deal confused, a good deal out of lineand sequence, when he starts out to say that a man met a counselor's wife inthe street, and then right in the midst of this so simple undertaking haltsthese approaching people and makes them stand still until he jots down aninventory of the woman's dress. That is manifestly absurd. It reminds aperson of those dentists who secure your instant and breathless interest in atooth by taking a grip on it with the forceps, and then stand there and drawlthrough a tedious anecdote before they give the dreaded jerk. Parentheses inliterature and dentistry are in bad taste.

Literary stars: Mark Twain and The Awful German Language

Mark Twain, considered America’s greatest writer, was far more than a humorist

And in 1899, just after the Spanish-American War, the United States wasindeed determined to become conqueror of the Philippines. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Mark Twain was livingin Austria, and was only able to summon a fuzzy picture of its causes.

The Awful German Language by Mark Twain - Loyal …

The first encounter with the German language can be a disorientating experience. English speakers find it hard to decide which of three genders a German noun possesses, especially as many nouns have a gender which defies logic. The disentangling of the precise meaning of lengthy compound nouns requires training, and the chains of genitives stretching ever onwards in official documents can bring the beginner to despair.

The fact that many sentence structures place the verb right at the end of the clause means that the listener often has to wait like a frustrated commuter for the meaning of the clause to come along. It also renders the task of simultaneous translation a particularly tricky one. French writer Madame de Stael once complained that it was impossible to have a good conversation in Germany because the grammatical construction of the language always put the meaning at the end of the sentence and thus made impossible "the pleasure of interrupting, which makes discussion so animated in France."

All of these complaints and many more were famously gathered together by the American author in his essay . It appears as an appendix to his travel book A Tramp Abroad (1880), which chronicles a journey through Europe which Twain undertook between April 1878 and September 1879. Below you can read a selection of the many points that Mark Twain had to make about the German language not only in this essay, but also from comments in his other printed works and notebooks:

"In early times some sufferer had to sit up with a toothache, and he put in the time inventing the German language."

"It is easier for a cannibal to enter the Kingdom of Heaven through the eye of a rich man's needle that it is for any other foreigner to read the terrible German script."

"It's awful undermining to the intellect, German is; you want to take it in small doses, or first you know your brains all run together, and you feel them flapping around in your head same as so much drawn butter."

"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."


Mark Twain quotations - German

declared it over. Mark Twain arrived in New York in October 1900, and at once announcedhis anti-imperialism in several newspaper interviews, which were widelyreprinted.

7/13/2012 · Mark Twain and The Awful German Language ..

"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."

"Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth."

"The German grammar is blistered all over with separable verbs; and the wider the two portions of one of them are spread apart, the better the author of the crime is pleased with his performance. A favorite one is reiste ab -- which means departed. Here is an example which I culled from a novel and reduced to English:
The trunks being now ready, he after kissing his mother and sisters, and once more pressing to his bosom his adored Gretchen, who, dressed in simple white muslin, with a single tuberose in the ample folds of her rich brown hair, had tottered feebly down the stairs, still pale from the terror and excitement of the past evening, but longing to lay her poor aching head yet once again upon the breast of him whom she loved more dearly than life itself, ."

"An average sentence, in a German newspaper, is a sublime and impressive curiosity; it occupies a quarter of a column; it contains all the ten parts of speech -- not in regular order, but mixed; it is built mainly of compound words constructed by the writer on the spot, and not to be found in any dictionary -- six or seven words compacted into one, without joint or seam -- that is, without hyphens; it treats of fourteen or fifteen different subjects, each inclosed in a parenthesis of its own, with here and there extra parentheses which reinclose three or four of the minor parentheses, making pens within pens: finally, all the parentheses and reparentheses are massed together between a couple of king-parentheses, one of which is placed in the first line of the majestic sentence and the other 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 make out -- the writer shovels in "haben sind gewesen gehabt haben geworden sein," or words to that effect, and the monument is finished."

"It is not like studying German, where you mull along, in a groping, uncertain way, for thirty years; and at last, just as you think you've got it, they spring the subjunctive on you, and there you are. No--and I see now plainly enough, that the great pity about the German language is, that you can't fall off it and hurt yourself. There is nothing like that feature to make you attend strictly to business."

"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."

In a speech given in Vienna in March 1899, Twain imparted to the audience an 95 letter word which he claimed had recently been sent to him in a telegram from Linz:
"Personaleinkommensteuerschätzungskommissionsmitgliedsreisekostenrechnungsergänzungsrevisionsfund".
Twain added: "If I could get a similar word engraved upon my tombstone I should sleep beneath it in peace."


A love-hate relationship
For all of Twain's witticisms at the expense of German, his fascination for the language is evident both in the above quotations and the amount of time that he spent doggedly trying to learn it. After all, if it was as off-putting as he seems to suggest, he would simply have given up when confronted with his first German sentence. Instead, Twain's love-hate relationship with "The Awful German Language" meant that he was in for the long haul, as he stated in his notebooks: "Never knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German."

And his linguistic perseverance was such that in a speech in 1897, he felt able to state: "I don't speak German well but several experts have assured me that I write it like an angel. Maybe so, maybe so--I don't know. I've not yet made any acquaintances among the angels. That comes later, whenever it please the Deity. I'm not in any hurry."