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AWADmail Issue 743A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language
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From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
From: Ed Zuckerman (edzucker mac.com)
One man’s kitsch is another man’s kunst.
Ed Zuckerman, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
From: Hope Bucher (hopebucher gmail.com)
While studying the history of the English language using lectures on CD, I learned about the set of sound relationships known as Grimm’s Law (discovered by the brothers who gave us fairy tales). While researching those sound changes, I stumbled on the word kickshaw.
Weeks later, in an art gallery in our town, the director was looking for a word to put on a sign in front of the jewelry display case and I suggested, with a smile, the term “kickshaw” since one of the definitions was “small objects displayed for their attractiveness”. She confused it with the word “kitsch” and was horrified! Even my teasing assertion that it originated from the French “quelque chose”, which means “something”, was insufficient in changing her over-reaction.
Hope Bucher, Naperville, Illinois
From: Erna Buber-deVilliers (zakerna cyberserv.co.za)
Like many other words that were once coined to be derogatory in describing art movements (e.g. Gothic, Impressionism, and Cubism), the meaning of kitsch has latterly shifted somewhat to (sometimes) denote a recognised art style (sort of) that is loved by serious artists as well as graphic designers and is represented by very expensive coffee-table books and avidly collected by fans with a love for things “so bad that it’s good”. Here’s one link.
Erna Buber-deVilliers, Vereeniging, South Africa
From: Christoph Grein (christ-usch.grein t-online.de)
There are lots of pseudo-English words in German. An extremely horrible example is Bodybag for some fancy fashion bag.
Christoph Grein, Greifenberg, Germany
From: Alex McCrae (mccrae7474 roadrunner.com)
Hmm... some mighty ugly monster ‘mug’ there! Next on the kitsch agenda... a cartoony Gertrude ‘stein’, the perfect drinking vessel for the potent potable, stout, befitting writer/ modern art aficionado Gertrude’s zaftig figure.
Composer Herr Richard Wagner loses his composure, I dare say, trying to sit through a ‘cushionless’ performance of say just one of the four über-dramatic acts that constitute the maestro’s grand opus. The Ring Cycle would understandably put a major strain on one’s derriere.
Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California
From: Nancy Cross (sunthismorning gmail.com)
When I was growing up in Iowa, this was a somewhat favored word of my father’s. Three of his grandparents could trace German ancestry, the fourth was Cornish. Dad would often announce something like “The living room is verboten”, off-limits -- meaning we should make our messes in the TV room or be rowdy outdoors. He might follow it by a joke, such as “It’s for boating”, but we knew he meant strong business when he said the word.
Nancy Cross, Hamtramc, Michigan
From: Henry Willis (hmw ssdslaw.com)
Jean Renoir’s masterpiece Grand Illusion, set in and outside a German prisoner-of-war camp in World War I, constantly reminds us how language both separates and unites us. Toward the end of the movie, Marechal, a French soldier who has found refuge on a German widow’s farm after escaping, remarks how he could never understand what his German guards were telling him, but understands everything the widow says. But that isn’t quite accurate: he always understood what the guards meant when they said “verboten”. It seems we learn words like “no” and “don’t” more readily than “yes”.
Henry Willis, Los Angeles, California
From: Joel Mabus (joel.mabus pobox.com)
“... Wagner, in designing the Festspielhaus [festival theater], had wanted exceptionally hard wooden seats to prevent the audience from treating his operas as fun.”
It has been my experience that uncomfortable seating makes for more standing ovations.
Joel Mabus, Kalamazoo, Michigan
From: Christopher Albertyn (chrisalbertyn me.com)
The reason Wagner wanted them with no padding was because the acoustics of the hall required the wooden seats and wooden floors to amplify the sound from the orchestra pit below the stage (first time for this) and from the singers on the stage. He felt cushions would muffle the quality of the sound.
In Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival, by Frederic Spotts, Yale University Press, 1994, at p.3, he writes: “Stepping inside the opera house, Wagner would find the amphitheatrical auditorium exactly as he knew it. The same thirty descending rows of seats are there, though not the original cane and wooden ones. These were sold off to Bayreuth enthusiasts in 1968 and replaced with bentwood seats, still without armrest and, I think, even more unobliging to human shape, despite the exiguous covering of upholstery. The wooden floors remain uncovered, since carpeting would absorb sound and disturb the delicate acoustical balance.”
Christopher Albertyn, Toronto, Canada
From: Glenn Glazer (gglazer ucla.edu)
Ironically, the term was never used to describe the DC comic book hero Superman aka Clark Kent. This is due to the use of the term by Nazi Germany and the wartime effort to avoid anything German sounding or sympathetic. Instead, the term was later used for names of his opponents Ubermensch and Ubermensch II.
Glenn Glazer, Felton, California
From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
In the original English version of Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, the word ubermensch is translated (by Alexander Tille, 1896) as Beyond-Man. The other linguistic oddity is the use of the archaic past perfect “spake” (for the German past tense sprach), which to my knowledge is nowhere else to be found in today’s English. Of course, it was cemented into modern parlance by the title of Richard Strauss’s eponymous tone poem that continues to be a staple in contemporary concert repertoire.
Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada
From: José Luis Palacios (jopalal gmail.com)
In high school in Spain we were taught that in the Middle Ages (XII-XIII centuries) there were two types of poetry in that country, “Mester of Clerecía” (Ministry of Clergy, or learned poetry) and “Mester de Juglaría” (Ministry of Minstrels, or popular poetry). It seems as though “clerecía”, very close to “clerisy”, was used in Spanish in early times, directly from the Latin and not via German, as English did, as late as the XIX century.
José Luis Palacios, Albuquerque, New Mexico
From: Lawrence N Crumb (lcrumb uoregon.edu)
Clerisy is a word coined by the poet-philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge. According to D.E. White, “‘Clerisy’ is Coleridge’s coinage for a learned class of (more or less) state functionaries responsible for the preservation and dissemination of the national heritage.”
Lawrence Crumb, Eugene, Oregon
From: Britta Kollberg (brkollberg yahoo.de)
What a choice of German “gifts” to the English language. Starting with “verboten” (very German indeed, not only as a word but as a perspective on life and society) and continuing deeper and deeper into Nazi language (ubermensch is what the Nazis loved to call themselves and the “Aryan race”). I guess we (I am German) deserve it. Still, it’s sad to see what specific things stuck with language memory.
Britta Kollberg, Berlin, Germany
From: Tom Hawley (t.hawley comcast.net)
Let me be among the first of probably hundreds to send you this old joke.
An American tourist in Germany with very little German was looking for directions. She happened to sneeze and a nearby police officer said “Gesundheit!” She turned to him and said “Ah, you speak English.”
Tom Hawley, Lansing, Michigan
From: Dharam Khalsa (dharamkk2 gmail.com)
Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina
From: Robert Jordan (alfiesdad ymail.com)
Robert Jordan, Lampang, Thailand
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Said his teacher, “Young Adolph, I see
To make people think he was rich,
One day he was out in his boat ‘n
The English believe it’s verboten
The Donald, a man most outspoken,
Jamie Fraser is an ubermensch.
Mayor Rob Ford was a divider,
I think it borders on heresy,
From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
Who knew you could go to a curio shop to buy kitsch’n items?
Do not launch your dinghy verboten is prohibited.
Batman and Robin were two guys ubermensch’nd in DC Comics.
I picked up my gauleiter City Hall office and she bought lunch.
“That we are all present is clerisy,” said the Nobel committee chair.
Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:In the common words we use every day, souls of past races, the thoughts and feelings of individual men stand around us, not dead, but frozen into their attitudes like the courtiers in the garden of the Sleeping Beauty. -Owen Barfield, author (1898-1997)