Tag Archives: Teekesselchen

Auf eine Miene treten?

Stellt Euch vor, ich streite mit eine Deutsche! Worüber? Deutsch, natürlich. Ich meinte, dass „die Miene“ ein Wort ist. Sie stimmte nicht zu. Ich war verwirrt. War das Wort nur selten verwendet? Aber so DWDS.de ist dieses Wort kein Seltenes.

Trotzdem kannte diese Frau nur „die Mine“, buchstabiert ohne die zweite „e“. Vielleicht kam es ihr seltsam vor, weil „die Mine“ selbst drei Bedeutungen hat.

1. Bergwerk
2. Sprengkörper
3. Füllung der Schreibstifte

Als ich für meine Position mit Ausdauer plädierte, setzte sie verschiedene Mienen auf. Dass sie diese Mienen zeigte, verriet leider kein Zeichen des Verständnis. Es blieb mir nichts anderes übrig, als aufzugeben. Ich machte das, ohne eine Miene zu verziehen, dass ich nicht lockerließ.

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And we’re back in a hail of floors

Hello Again! The Earthquake Words hiatus has ended and while I will start back with something on German, there may be some posts on Polish in the offing.

As some of you know, there are different ways of labeling the floors of a building or house in different parts of the world. When I first moved the UK, for instance, I needed to learn that what in the US was referred to as the “1st floor” was the “ground floor” in the UK and thus what was the “2nd floor” in the US became the “1st floor.” In Germany, it is also typical to call the 1st level the “ground floor” or das Erdgeschoss (abbreviated as EG and E or indicated numerically by 0). What is a bit more confusing for me is what happens next. The upper floors are designated das Obergeschoss (abbreviated OG) and mostly have an associated number, OG.1 would be the first floor above the ground floor. There can also be das Dachgeschoss which is either the “top floor” or the “attic” (note that I’m likely not the only person thrown off by this as according to dict.cc, the following words can all mean “attic” – der Dachboden, die Mansarde, das Dachgeschoss,adie Attika, der Speicher, die Dachkammer, der Estrich (Switzerland and Austria), das Dachstock, der Überbau, der Dachraum and der Spitzboden). Moreover, when I’ve been looking at ads for apartments, there can be also a “penthouse” floor labeled die Dachterrassenwohnung (or perhaps das Penthaus). When you go below ground, you enter the realm of das Untergeschoss (abbreviated U, U1 or -1). Again, these can be numbered if there is more than one. There is also a word to designate what in English we would call the “cellar” – der Keller – which I must admit often makes me think of der Kellner – the waiter – going down to change the kegs or to get something from the deep freeze!

There are also several other floor naming systems, two that are commonly encountered are das Stock (plus the older term which you will still see das Stockwerk) and die Etage. For example, when I registered my new address, I forgot to include the floor and was asked Welches Stock? to which I replied Erste – 1st  (or second in the US!). In this system the “ground floor” is still das Erdgeschoss, however the “attic” or “top floor” may become der Dachstock. In the Etage system the “ground floor” can also be das Parterre or 1. Etage. The “attic” can be der Dachboden or die Mansarde. The underground level in the Etage system can be der Souterrain or das Tiefparterre (the translation for the English euphemism “garden flat” could use these words or the more straightforward die Kellerwohnung). You can also have das Hochparterre which appears to be a level half way between the ground floor and the 1st floor (which might also be das Mezzanin, although this can apply to any in-between floor not just the first one above ground level)

Now, if isn’t enough to make your head spin, it is also the case that das Geschoss is ein Teekesselchen or homonym. Das Geschoss can also mean “missile,” “bullet,” or “projectile” and like in English there is a direct parallel for a “hail of bullets” – Hagel von Geschossen. I think I can feel them zinging around in my upper story just now, let’s hope the target is not a bit of hard-won German vocabulary or I could end up with roof damage (einen Dachschaden haben – “to have a screw loose”)!

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Little Teapots and Donkey Bridges

So what do “little teapots” and “donkey bridges” have to do with language learning?! The first make learning a foreign language harder, the second should make is easier.

Das Teekesselchen means a “homonym” or a “game in which you ask people to find homonyms” that is, two words with different meanings but the same spellings (in German there is also the possibility that they have different grammatical genders). Literally, der Teekessel is a “teapot” and the suffix –chen is a diminuitive so Das Teekesselchen would be a “small teapot.” There are several stories about the origin of the term – a British game where things were hidden in teapots, the word Kessel or a variant meaning someone a bit stupid – but it seems a bit of a mystery.

Die Eselsbrücke means a “mnemonic” and eine Eselsbrücke bauen means “to give someone a hint/clue or to use mnemonic device.” Literally, der Esel is a “donkey” and die Brücke is a “bridge.”  The verb bauen can mean “to build.” As I understand the history of this expression, donkeys aren’t keen to cross fast moving streams but their owners still want to get them and the goods they are carrying to the other side. They build a bridge as a means to reach their goal and thus the trip involves a short detour. In a similar fashion, with a mnemonic, you are not trying to learning a new word or set of words directly but instead by making a small detour through something else, the bridge, that you already know or is easier to remember.

Here is an example of a Teekesselchen from a page with ideas for how to keep yourself entertained when the weather outside is frightful:

die Blume – “flower” (this is the meaning that those of us new to German know, and a cognate to boot “bloom”-Blume)
die Blume – “head of a glass of beer”
die Blume – “bouquet” in the sense of the scent of a glass of wine
die Blume – “top round” in the sense of a cut of meat
die Blume – “the white tip of a tail” on a fox

Here is an example of a Teekesselchen where all three grammatical genders are different taken from another lovely book from Duden, Unnützes Sprachwissen: Erstaunliches Über Unsere Sprache (my rough effort at translation – Useless Language Knowledge: [Be] Astonished by Our Language):

das Band – “ribbon” or “measuring tape” or “conveyor belt” or “wavelength” or “ligament”
der Band – “volume” as in one of a series of books
die Band – “music group”

And here is an example that is a not strictly a Teekesselchen as the two words are not spelled alike: „Heute gibt es Wahlessen.“ „Tatsächlich? Blauwal oder Pottwal?“ or “Today we have top quality (Wahl) food. Really, blue whale or sperm whale (Wal)?

Having faced these very dangerous words with multiple meanings, let’s turn our attention to our helpful friends the donkey bridges or mnemonics. (Sadly, I have not yet been able to get my hands on the Duden volume  that covers these – yes, there is one, namely, Eselsbrücken: Die schönsten Merksätze und ihre Bedeutung (Mnemonics: The Best Mnemonic [Sentence]s and Their Meanings) – but if I do, I will share my impression.) There are Eselsbrücke for all sorts of things, I’ve selected a few related to language learning to illustrate the concept.

First one that is supposed to help German speakers with English:

Kurz, betont und einfach – macht Konsonanten zweifach! (Beispiele: sit – sitting, run – running, swim – swimming, jog – jogging) – “When short, stressed (as in syllabic stress) and simple, you | take the final consonant and make it two”

Now one to help German speakers with German:

Wenn „wider“ nur “dagegen” meint – dann ist das “e” dem “i” stets Feind! Wenn „wieder“ nur “noch einmal” meint – dann sind dort ‘i’ und ‘e’ vereint! – “When wider means against, then the e is the i’s enemy. When wieder means one more time, then the i and the e get along just fine.”

And finally, one where it appears that both German and English speakers learn to help them with English:

‘I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C’ or when it spells ‘AY’ as in ‘neighbor’ and ‘weigh’ – which the site from these Eselsbrücke examples come from translates as „I“ before „e“ (except after „c“) if the pronunciation is „ee,“ which was very hard to parse as a helpful mnemonic for English until I realized that the ‘ee’ was the German pronunciation of the double ‘e’ as in the word der Tee and not in the word “tee” (as in the item used in golf or American football to hold a ball aloft)!

Clearly, to help you learn the Teekesselchen, you need a good set of Eselsbrücken. And I wonder whether anyone ever plays with the “volume” meaning of der Band in concert with the “music group” meaning of die Band?

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