Tag Archives: Bible

A crackin’ good evening

Today I was at a Stammtisch whose reason for being is speaking English. You may remember Stamm  (in the form of der Stammbaum) from the post Are We Related? Noticing the similarity between these two words, der Stammbaum and der Stammtisch, led me to poke around on dict.cc because “trunk table” didn’t really feel like a good match for der Stammtisch. And indeed, Stamm not only has the meaning “stem” or “trunk” but also is a prefix with the meaning “regular.”  This made me rather curious about the root of der Stammbaum, could it be a combination of “regular” and “tree?” To check on this, I thought I’d look at another volume in the Duden series, namely Duden 7 Das Herkunftswörterbuch which is subtitled Etymologie der deutschen Sprache.

Let’s unpack that title a bit before checking up on der Stammbaum. As I dissected die Herkunft, it appeared that •Kunft is not a word on its own, however it does appear in a number of words that gave me another set of insights into the way compounding can work in German:

Ankunft – “arrival”
Zukunft – “future”
Abkunft – “descent” or “parentage”
Auskunft – “information”
Heimkunft – “homecoming”
Unterkunft – “accommodation” in the sense of shelter
Herabkunft– “descent of the Holy Spirit”

It seems that there are quite a few meanings for die Herkunft: “origin” or “source” or “provenance” or “descent” or “ancestry” and “background” (as in “ethic background,” for instance).  Her gets translated by dict.cc as “fro,” which tends only to appear in English in the phrase “to and fro” – hin und her.  (In the lovely synchronicity that is writing and research, I came across the verb herstammen whose meaning is given as “to originate” or with von “to hail from” or “to spring from.”)

It would seem that der Stammbaum springs from Isaiah (Jesaja), 11:1 as a translation of a word from Middle Latin (mittellateinisch): arbor consanguinitatis, Wurzel Jesse. 

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. – New International Version

This left me unsatisfied but fairly certain that the “stem” or “trunk” were more likely than “regular” to be the basis for the der Stammbaum compound . Duden 7 didn’t offer an entry for Stammtisch, however. Ever persistent, I kept looking and learned that there is an English word that supposedly means Stammtisch and that word is…”cracker-barrel.” Yes, dict.cc tells me that “cracker-barrel” is a translation of (der) Stammtisch!  The other meaning given is the “regulars’ table” which fits with the meaning of Stamm as a prefix described above and the regular meetings that any self-respecting Stammtisch will have. Having a bit of trouble seeing what was in common between your average Crackerbarrel restaurant and your average German Stammtisch, I did a search for the origins of “cracker-barrel.” The online Merriam-Webster entry me helped to see why the restaurant name might have been chosen: “Origin of the word cracker-barrel – from the cracker barrel in country stores around which customers lounged for informal conversation.”

Perhaps a box of saltines is in order to honor this connection at my next Stammtisch outing?

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What’s in a Name?

After spending yesterday with das Glück, I became a bit curious about the name of the street where I live – Gluckstrasse – because to the non-native ear this sounds like it might be Glückstrasse. Instead, it is named for the composer Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck (1714-1787). One contextual clue that Gluck rather than Glück was involved, is that to get to Gluckstrasse you make a turn off Wagnerstrasse. Now it could be der Wagner, the “cartwright” or “wainwright” but I’m guessing it isn’t because even in 1881 Wagner (Wilhelm Richard, 1913-1883) was better known as a composer than as a profession! (In fact, this site claims that he is the most influential composer who ever lived.)

This led me to do a bit of research on my own family name, Hirs(c)h, which happens to be German. I found several interesting origins in the Duden Lexicon der Familiennamen: Herkunft unde Bedeutung von 20 000 Nachnamen (and no, I’m not getting a commission but perhaps I should look into this…). The first entry indicates that the name comes as a result of being a hunter by profession. From what I can understand of the additional information given, the deer is considered both curious and equipped with secret knowledge (for more on the deer as a symbol see this site on “the sacred hart”). I’m not sure hunter is a good fit for me, but if I think about hunting in the metaphorical sense and then add to it this bit about curiosity and secret knowledge, then I do see a resemblance. The second entry suggests that the name dates back to 1304 when a Bürger from Worms called Jacobus took this name. Which in a roundabout way is related to the third entry which offers what is most likely the source of my name, the Bible.

Der Hirsch appears in Genesis 49:21, one verse in the Blessings of the Sons of Jacob:

“Naphtali is a deer let loose;
He uses beautiful words.” – New King James Version

Naphthali ist ein schneller Hirsch
und gibt schöne Rede. – Luther Bible 1912

As a writer, I like the reference to words here (especially coupled with the curiosity and secret knowledge from above!). According to this Jewish encyclopedia site, there are a number of variations on Naphtali: Cerf, Harris, Harrison, Hart, Herschell, Hershkovitz, Hertz, Hertzen, Hertzl, Herz, Herzl, Hirsch, Hirschel, Hirschkovitsch, Huzka, Zewi. I wonder if my grandfather had had this encyclopedia to hand when he was searching for a name change in order to appear less German (his metal-plating factory did 100% war work in WWII), he might have chosen Harrison or Hart?

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