Saturday, July 23, 2011


The fact that the German language words and fragments of words can be daisy-chained to lengths approaching and even exceeding that of the alphabet itself is widely known and often mocked.

Train-replacing bus service stopping place

But sometimes simply the shortest affix can give pause for reflection. In English, for example, we have the very common word 'weather' which identifies quite clearly a topic which we Brits are reputed to discuss passionately, comprehensively and incessantly. But we do not have the term 'un-weather'. In German, however, there are the words 'Wetter' and 'Unwetter'. This latter does note connote an absence or even a negation of a meterologically determinate status; a true antonym of 'weather' is unthinkable. Due to some quirk of etymological evolution, the nature of which lies beyond my ken, 'Unwetter' means torrential rains, thunder and lightling, salvoes of hailstones... in other words, a storm.

Another example is equally intriguing. We all know what a 'thing' is... deed... object... notion. The Engllish word is derived from Old High German and in that language it remains today in its orginal form, 'Ding'. But once again the Germans insist on what appears to be a negation with the word 'Unding'. Absurd, no? Well, yes, for 'Unding' is tranlated as 'an absurdity'.

This summer season in Bavaria is therefore an 'Unding', visiting upon us every second or third day the absurdity of a violent 'Unwetter', usually punctuating the late afternoon of a warm but sultry sunny day.

In happy days several decades past I was able to spend four to six weeks of high summer at a Medierranean beach resort. There 'Unwetter' mostly meant that the Scirocco was blowing sand from across the water, an abrasive haboob with uncomfortable consequences for bare skin. Rain was far preferable but quite rare, possibly once a month as I recall. And a downpour was a cause for celebration, inciting many of us ('many' being perhaps only a minority of the forty thousand naked vacationers in the world's largest naturist complex) to rush around and re-live the joy we knew as toddlers, dancing in the spray of the garden sprinkler on a hot summer day.

This is not an experience to be duplicated in Munich every second or third day during this... I think I shall call it an ' un-summer'. While for the duration of my solitary shift at the computer at home, doing my translation assignments, I can allow myself to remain comfortably un-dressed I must inevitably put on clothes for the daily late afternoon trip to my client's office. And so for the few hours of the day which I spend 'dressed' (rather than at home 'un-dressed') I must expect to be pissed upon.

All of this brings me to that egg.

To re-cap: A fortnight ago I wrote that...

"a normal, run-of-the-treadmill day does not start with the delivery of an egg. 
It arrived by parcel post... a hen's egg, packed in a stout cardboard box 
with abundant synthetic straw for protection..."

The instructions accompanying said egg were more or less clear.

"This egg is part of the art project 'Broken/Unbroken'...

(Whence my preoccupation with the affix 'un' at this point in this un-summer.)

"The theme of 'Broken/Unbroken' is 'Hope'"

Indeed, I see the word 'Hope' stencilled on the shell in capital letters,legible through the bubble-wrap from which I have not yet freed the egg.

Why, if this is a German art project is the word in English? Should it not be 'Hoffnung'... aspiration or esperance in German? Or might the project not benefit from being given a touch of French spohistication. 'Espoir' sounds nicer than both the English and German equivalents. The French word has the added advantage of an antonym expressing the negation of hope... 'Désespoir'... which is surely far more apposite given that English has no 'un-hope' and German no 'Unhoffnung' (yes, I checked!).

Staying with 'Hope'... As a storyteller by avocation I have attended seminars given by Robert McKee who advises writers to be clear about the values embodied by their protagonists at various points in the course of their narrative. 'Hope' as an explicit value he would then subject to a declension...

Positive > Contrary > Contradictory > Negation of Negation

Running this through à la McKee might give this...

Hope > Resignation > Foreboding > Despair

And so we end up with 'Désespoir' as the negation.

'Broken/Unbroken'... I look for clues on the artist's website...

...and find that perhaps language is indeed one of the keys here. On the floor in front of the cash machines there are indeed eggs (plural) to be seen. 'Eier', the plural of 'Ei' for 'egg' in German is a colloquial reference to 'money'. Hope of a pecuniary nature?

Yet another possibility... 'Eier' has another slang connotation in German. If a German girl were moved to 'kick him in the balls' her victim would feel the pain in his 'Eier'. 


Free association brings to mind the English expression... ending up with 'egg on his face'. This means to have wound up in a situation of 'self-inflicted embarrassment' and the origins of the term go back to the days when performers on stage face criticism from the audience in the form of a barrage of rotten eggs.

And so I should probably bring this rambling post to an end before egg and face meet.

By the way, working unclothed (make that 'un-clothed') in one's home office is not without elegance or indeed snobbery. I wear prestigious labels. I just wish that my own home office were as spacious as that of the dude in the photo below!


1 comment:

Mr.Wilson said...

Un-erreicht! Excellent!