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?