Tag Archives: sound-alike

Something wickedly clever this way slinks

Shouldn’t Schlauch and schlau be related? And indeed it turns out that, as unlikely as it first seems, according to Duden online, both der Schlauch – “the hose” – and schlau – “smart” or “shrewd” – are related to schlüpfen – “to slip” or “to hatch” or “to emerge.” The specific forms appear have different origins, however. Der Schlauch comes from Middle High German and is related to die Hülle – which seems to make the most sense translated as “the hull” or “the shell” – and schlau comes from Low German and is related to schleichend –  the past participle of “to prowl” or “to slink” or “to crawl” and also, as an adjective, “insidious.” Who knows, this latter relationship might have a role to play in the phrase auf leisen Sohlen schleichend – “sure-footed?!”

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Treading lightly

I recently learned the word der Vertreter with the meaning of a person who is substituting or replacing someone who’s absent or unavailable. Vertreter sounds to me very much like the English word “traitor,” which of course meant I had to learn what the German word for “traitor” is. Turns out it also sounds quite a bit like “traitor” – Verräter. I turned next to canoo.net to understand a bit about the morphology of these two German words. What jumped out before I even got that far, though, was that both were instances of words indicating something about a person’s character:

  • der Vertreter – guter Charakter (the synonym given here is der Verfechter – “the advocate”)
  • der Verräter – schlechter Charakter

This intriguing piece of information recorded, I discovered that Vertreter comes from treten and Verräter comes from raten, both with ver-, a buddy of our old friend ent-, tacked on at the front. Interestingly, given I learned the word der Vertreter in the context of someone subbing for someone else, one meaning of treten is “to step” (“to tread” is betreten) and substitutes are often said to be “stepping in” for someone else. Traitor’s parents raten – “to advise” or “to guess” – and verraten – “to betray” or “to reveal” – to my ears both sound a bit “rotten.”

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Clean and unclear

I walked on a doormat today that reads Immer schön SauBär and has a picture of a bear with a pig’s nose. Now, doormats are crucial for keeping your home sauber and sauber sounds very much like a combination of the two nouns die Sau and der Bär – the “sow” and the “bear.” I am guessing that part of what makes it funny if you are a native speaker of German is that there is the fixed expression immer schön sauber bleiben. Unfortunately, in my search for the meaning of this phrase I was only able to find two shortened forms, Bleib sauber! – “keep your nose clean” or “take care” or “keep yourself clean” – and sauber bleiben – “to go straight” or “to keep out of trouble.” However, I did find lots of articles, videos, etc. entitled Immer schön sauber bleiben.

For example, here is a video from the US about littering: http://www.clipfish.de/video/3778814/immer-schoen-sauber-bleiben/

And here is a list of how to separate your rubbish from the city of Herne: http://www.herne.de/kommunen/herne/entsorgung/www.nsf/0/18b9d3381735bbb2c125753900437624/$FILE/Flyer_Abfalltrennung.pdf

And an article on the grooming habits of the ancient Romans: http://www.geo.de/GEOlino/mensch/roemerbad-immer-schoen-sauber-bleiben-67841.html

And finally, an apron with a rock ‘n roll theme for keeping you clean: http://www.amazon.de/Immer-sch%C3%B6n-sauber-bleiben-Sch%C3%BCrze/dp/B00AE94MOC

All of this variety made it hard to make a clean and sober assessment of what the full phrase immer schön sauber bleiben means.

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A Job or a Calling?

Last week in Are We Related? I wrote about how seeing the connection between the words die Verwandte and die Verwandtschaft -“relatives” and”relationship” – in German provided me with some new insights into English. Today I want to discuss the connection between two other German words, der Beruf and anrufen, whose English translations do not sound alike.

Very early in most books and classes you learn both der Beruf – “job” or “profession” – and anrufen – the verb that means “to call” (on the phone)- because it is highly likely you will want or need to share your profession and to get in touch with people by phone. You also learn an•rufen, because as I’ve indicated with the • notation, it is a separable verb and thus you need to pull off the an and shuttle it to the end of the sentence: Ich rufe ihn an – “I’m calling him.” (You also create the past participle in a special way with separable – trennbar – verbs, anrufen becomes angerufen, with the past participle indicator ge inserted between an and rufen – more about these verbs in a future post.)

Fine. Important and practical words and a key grammar point. But it wasn’t until the other day that I noticed the family resemblance between der Beruf and anrufen and began to think about English. In English we can say that someone has been “called” (perhaps most commonly followed by the phrase “by God”) or that someone who loves their job has found her/his “calling.”  The German word das Rufen is one way to translate “calling” in this sense. There is another German word from the ruf family that translates as “the calling” or “the call” (to a profession or office), die Berufung. This appears in a number of phrases with parallels in English: eine Berufung spüren – “to feel a calling,” seine Berufung finden “to find one’s calling,” seine Berufung verfehlen – “to miss one’s vocation” (which with “vocation” gives us a lovely link to Latin and the Romance languages) .  For someone “to be called” or “appointed” is berufen. While “appointed” moves us to a different set of sounds, in English we do have a secondary meaning for “to call up” which is used to describe actions like a government or other organization drafting people into service (hmm, perhaps there is a post on “service” and its many meanings) which could be said to be a “job assignment.”

Finally, let’s consider another form of “calling” – “name-calling.” Although dict.cc gives die Beschimpfungen as the translation, name-calling can certainly impact sein Ruf – “one’s reputation” – and perhaps even make you verrufen – “notorious.”

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