Tag Archives: -y

HH – Ha-Ha

When you learn a new language, you also have to learn new names for the letters of the alphabet (and in some cases a new alphabet or even a whole new writing system/systems). It is particularly important to learn the letters that spell out your name in order to be sure that it is spelled correctly (it can be very hard to change an official document once a particular spelling has been recorded!). For me, there is the additional issue that while my last name is German (see What’s in a Name), the spelling was changed during WWII to appear less German, making it Hirsh, ohne C – where C pronounced tseh as which sounds something like “hay” but with a slightly shorter vowel [tsé]. To spell it out in full, I must say in German ha, eeh (similar but a bit shorter vowel than “ee” in English), err, ess, ha (and last night I learned that there is a somewhat well-known joke that one doesn’t say Hirsh heiße ich quickly or it could be heard as Hier scheiße ich).

For those of who know me from my work with personality type, you will not be surprised to learn that I am often tripped up when I fail to remember that “I” is roughly “ee” and that “E” is roughly “ay” (and “A” is roughly “ah”!); remembering that “J” is “yot” is not nearly as difficult. I can well imagine that there are some challenges in the reverse direction when German type practitioners need to refer to Extraversion (“ee” – E) and Introversion ( as in “high” or “eye” or “I” the pronoun – I).

Remembering that my first name begins with kah (K) rather than “kay” as in “hay” hasn’t given me any trouble, so far. Nor has Q being called kuh rather than “kyew” as in “cue” been very challenging.

The mnemonic I use to remember two other letters whose names are different in German is the short form for Volkswagen – VW – which is fau weh or roughly “fow as in cow and vay (vé) as in hay.” In addition, I regularly have to say the name of the website for transit info here in Hamburg, HVV, therefore I get a lot of practice with both ha and fau. I still need to find an Eselsbrücke for Z – tsett, ß – ess-tsett or scharfes S – and Y – üppsilon, suggestions gratefully received.

For the first time today, I was thinking about the letter names when I read out a Hamburg license/number plate and I realized that it began ha-ha, or HH, and had a little chuckle (pun fully intended).

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If you pull out your German-English dictionary and look up “happy,” you will find both fröhlich and glücklich. You will also likely find zufrieden, unbeschwert, freudig and glückselig. I must say that the last of these, glückselig, jumped out at me because of Martin Seligman’s pioneering work in positive psychology, it seems that he might be aptly named  in that he was one of the first psychologists to explore “happiness” (he has now shifted to talking about “flourishing” – more on the motivations for this transition here). In addition, happy itself may appear because for reasons I still can’t fathom, it is fairly common to sing the song “Happy Birthday” – in English – on someone’s birthday?!

As I noted in What’s the Point? –lich is a German suffix. When we pull off the –lich, we get froh and das Glück. Something goes wrong, however, if we try to remove the -“y” from “happy.” Although -“y” is a perfectly good suffix in English (e.g., “snowy” and “snow”), removing it from “happy” results in the non-word “happ.” Interestingly, though, “happ” – “chance, fortune” – is the source word for “happy” as well as for “happen” and “happenstance” and “perhaps” and “haphazard.” That these are relatives of “happy” makes me more content (yes, bad pun intended) with what I find when I look at the entry for das Gluck and find “fortune” and “luck” and “chance” and “auspiciousness” and “luckiness” and when checking glücklich find “fortunate” and “lucky.”

What about froh and fröhlich, do they also incorporate this connection with “chance?” This seems to depend on where you look – dict.cc does include “lucky” in its entry for froh, but PONS includes it in neither fröhlich nor froh and canoo.net only connects froh indirectly by giving glücklich as its superordinate (Oberbegriff).  To spend a moment on canoo, one of the things that I find especially useful about this site are the connections it makes – superordinate and subordinate terms, as well as to synonyms and antonyms, the word forms that can be built from an entry and the forms from which an entry is composed (froh has 25 of the former but none of the latter as it cannot be decomposed) and information about a word’s morphology (there are 22 inflected forms of froh). Upon re-discovering all of these lovely bits of data that canoo offers, I thought I’d look at the antonyms (Gegensatz) for all four of our friends.

froh & traurig
fröhlich & ernst

glücklich & traurig
and glücklich & unglücklich
das Glück & Kummer and das Glück & Pech

Now the traditional antonym for “happy” is “sad” and on this criterion, froh and glücklich seem the best bets for translating “happy.” Ernst is “serious” or “grave” (the adjective) or “seriousness” and fits with fröhlich meaning “cheerful.” Das Glück is of course a noun, so the comparison is “happiness”and its traditional opposite “sadness” and here der Kummer seems too strong – “misery” or “grief” – and das Pech is either “bad luck” or unrelated – “pitch” as in the black substance that was used to make ships watertight (which gives us a phrase that is translated as “thick as thieves” – zusammenhalten wie Pech und Schwefel – which is literally “to stick together like pitch and sulphur”).

 Given “happy” goes with “lucky” in German, I hope you will wish me Viel Glück! when attempting to discern which meaning is intended!

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