GERMAN.TXT - The Awful German Language by Mark Twain

The Awful German Language
by Mark Twain

A little learning makes the whole world kin.
        --Proverbs xxxii, 7. 

I went often to look at the collection of curiosities
in Heidelberg Castle, and one day I surprised the keeper
of it with my German.  I spoke entirely in that language. 
He was greatly interested; and after I had talked a while
he said my German was very rare, possibly a "unique";
and wanted to add it to his museum. 

If he had known what it had cost me to acquire my art,
he would also have known that it would break any
collector to buy it.  Harris and I had been hard at
work on our German during several weeks at that time,
and although we had made good progress, it had been
accomplished under great difficulty and annoyance,
for three of our teachers had died in the mean time. 
A person who has not studied German can form no idea
of what a perplexing language it is. 

Surely there is not another language that is so slipshod
and systemless, and so slippery and elusive to the grasp. 
One is washed about in it, hither and thither, in the most
helpless way; and when at last he thinks he has captured
a rule which offers firm ground to take a rest on amid
the general rage and turmoil of the ten parts of speech,
he turns over the page and reads, "Let the pupil make
careful note of the following EXCEPTIONS." He runs his
eye down and finds that there are more exceptions to the
rule than instances of it.  So overboard he goes again,
to hunt for another Ararat and find another quicksand. 
Such has been, and continues to be, my experience. 
Every time I think I have got one of these four confusing
"cases" where I am master of it, a seemingly insignificant
preposition intrudes itself into my sentence, clothed with
an awful and unsuspected power, and crumbles the ground
from under me.  For instance, my book inquires after
a certain bird--(it is always inquiring after things
which are of no sort of no consequence to anybody): "Where
is the bird?" Now the answer to this question--according
to the book--is that the bird is waiting in the blacksmith
shop on account of the rain.  Of course no bird would
do that, but then you must stick to the book.  Very well,
I begin to cipher out the German for that answer.  I begin
at the wrong end, necessarily, for that is the German idea. 
I say to myself, "REGEN (rain) is masculine--or maybe it
is feminine--or possibly neuter--it is too much trouble
to look now.  Therefore, it is either DER (the) Regen,
or DIE (the) Regen, or DAS (the) Regen, according to which
gender it may turn out to be when I look.  In the interest
of science, I will cipher it out on the hypothesis that it
is masculine.  Very well--then THE rain is DER Regen,
if it is simply in the quiescent state of being MENTIONED,
without enlargement or discussion--Nominative case;
but if this rain is lying around, in a kind of a general
way on the ground, it is then definitely located,
it is DOING SOMETHING--that is, RESTING (which is one
of the German grammar's ideas of doing something), and
this throws the rain into the Dative case, and makes it
DEM Regen.  However, this rain is not resting, but is
doing something ACTIVELY,--it is falling--to interfere
with the bird, likely--and this indicates MOVEMENT,
which has the effect of sliding it into the Accusative case
and changing DEM Regen into DEN Regen." Having completed
the grammatical horoscope of this matter, I answer up
confidently and state in German that the bird is staying
in the blacksmith shop "wegen (on account of) DEN Regen."
Then the teacher lets me softly down with the remark
that whenever the word "wegen" drops into a sentence,
it ALWAYS throws that subject into the GENITIVE case,
regardless of consequences--and therefore this bird stayed in
the blacksmith shop "wegen DES Regens."

N.B.--I was informed, later, by a higher authority,
that there was an "exception" which permits one to say "wegen
DEN Regen" in certain peculiar and complex circumstances,
but that this exception is not extended to anything
BUT rain. 

There are ten parts of speech, and they are all troublesome. 
An average sentence, in a German newspaper, is a sublime
and impressive curiosity; it occupies a quarter of a column;
it contains all the ten parts of speech--not in regular order,
but mixed; it is built mainly of compound words constructed
by the writer on the spot, and not to be found in any
dictionary--six or seven words compacted into one,
without joint or seam--that is, without hyphens;
it treats of fourteen or fifteen different subjects,
each enclosed in a parenthesis of its own, with here and
there extra parentheses, making pens with pens: finally,
all the parentheses and reparentheses are massed together
between a couple of king-parentheses, one of which is placed
in the first line of the majestic sentence and the other
in the middle of the last line of it--AFTER WHICH COMES
THE VERB, and you find out for the first time what the man
has been talking about; and after the verb--merely by way
of ornament, as far as I can make out--the writer shovels
or words to that effect, and the monument is finished. 
I suppose that this closing hurrah is in the nature of the
flourish to a man's signature--not necessary, but pretty. 
German books are easy enough to read when you hold them
before the looking-glass or stand on your head--so as
to reverse the construction--but I think that to learn
to read and understand a German newspaper is a thing
which must always remain an impossibility to a foreigner. 

Yet even the German books are not entirely free from attacks
of the Parenthesis distemper--though they are usually so mild
as to cover only a few lines, and therefore when you at
last get down to the verb it carries some meaning to your
mind because you are able to remember a good deal of what
has gone before.  Now here is a sentence from a popular
and excellent German novel--which a slight parenthesis
in it.  I will make a perfectly literal translation,
and throw in the parenthesis-marks and some hyphens
for the assistance of the reader--though in the original
there are no parenthesis-marks or hyphens, and the reader
is left to flounder through to the remote verb the best way he

"But when he, upon the street, the (in-satin-and-silk-covered-
government counselor's wife MET," etc., etc. [1]

1.  Wenn er aber auf der Strasse der in Sammt und Seide
    gehu"llten jetz sehr ungenirt nach der neusten mode
    gekleideten Regierungsrathin begegnet. 

That is from THE OLD MAMSELLE'S SECRET, by Mrs. Marlitt. 
And that sentence is constructed upon the most approved
German model.  You observe how far that verb is from
the reader's base of operations; well, in a German
newspaper they put their verb away over on the next page;
and I have heard that sometimes after stringing along the
exciting preliminaries and parentheses for a column or two,
they get in a hurry and have to go to press without getting
to the verb at all.  Of course, then, the reader is left
in a very exhausted and ignorant state. 

We have the Parenthesis disease in our literature, too; and one
may see cases of it every day in our books and newspapers:
but with us it is the mark and sign of an unpracticed
writer or a cloudy intellect, whereas with the Germans
it is doubtless the mark and sign of a practiced pen
and of the presence of that sort of luminous intellectual
fog which stands for clearness among these people. 
For surely it is NOT clearness--it necessarily can't
be clearness.  Even a jury would have penetration enough
to discover that.  A writer's ideas must be a good
deal confused, a good deal out of line and sequence,
when he starts out to say that a man met a counselor's
wife in the street, and then right in the midst of this
so simple undertaking halts these approaching people
and makes them stand still until he jots down an inventory
of the woman's dress.  That is manifestly absurd. 
It reminds a person of those dentists who secure your instant
and breathless interest in a tooth by taking a grip on it
with the forceps, and then stand there and drawl through
a tedious anecdote before they give the dreaded jerk. 
Parentheses in literature and dentistry are in bad taste. 

The Germans have another kind of parenthesis, which they
make by splitting a verb in two and putting half of it
at the beginning of an exciting chapter and the OTHER
HALF at the end of it.  Can any one conceive of anything
more confusing than that? These things are called
"separable verbs." The German grammar is blistered
all over with separable verbs; and the wider the two
portions of one of them are spread apart, the better
the author of the crime is pleased with his performance. 
A favorite one is REISTE AB--which means departed. 
Here is an example which I culled from a novel and reduced
to English:

"The trunks being now ready, he DE- after kissing his
mother and sisters, and once more pressing to his bosom
his adored Gretchen, who, dressed in simple white muslin,
with a single tuberose in the ample folds of her rich
brown hair, had tottered feebly down the stairs, still pale
from the terror and excitement of the past evening,
but longing to lay her poor aching head yet once again
upon the breast of him whom she loved more dearly than
life itself, PARTED."

However, it is not well to dwell too much on the
separable verbs.  One is sure to lose his temper early;
and if he sticks to the subject, and will not be warned,
it will at last either soften his brain or petrify it. 
Personal pronouns and adjectives are a fruitful nuisance
in this language, and should have been left out. 
For instance, the same sound, SIE, means YOU, and it means SHE,
and it means HER, and it means IT, and it means THEY,
and it means THEM.  Think of the ragged poverty of a
language which has to make one word do the work of six--and
a poor little weak thing of only three letters at that. 
But mainly, think of the exasperation of never knowing
which of these meanings the speaker is trying to convey. 
This explains why, whenever a person says SIE to me,
I generally try to kill him, if a stranger. 

Now observe the Adjective.  Here was a case where simplicity
would have been an advantage; therefore, for no other reason,
the inventor of this language complicated it all he could. 
When we wish to speak of our "good friend or friends,"
in our enlightened tongue, we stick to the one form and have
no trouble or hard feeling about it; but with the German
tongue it is different.  When a German gets his hands
on an adjective, he declines it, and keeps on declining
it until the common sense is all declined out of it. 
It is as bad as Latin.  He says, for instance:


Nominative--Mein gutER Freund, my good friend. 
Genitives--MeinES GutEN FreundES, of my good friend. 
Dative--MeinEM gutEN Freund, to my good friend. 
Accusative--MeinEN gutEN Freund, my good friend. 


N.--MeinE gutEN FreundE, my good friends.  G.--MeinER gutEN
FreundE, of my good friends.  D.--MeinEN gutEN FreundEN,
to my good friends.  A.--MeinE gutEN FreundE, my good friends. 

Now let the candidate for the asylum try to memorize
those variations, and see how soon he will be elected. 
One might better go without friends in Germany than take
all this trouble about them.  I have shown what a bother
it is to decline a good (male) friend; well this is
only a third of the work, for there is a variety of new
distortions of the adjective to be learned when the object
is feminine, and still another when the object is neuter. 
Now there are more adjectives in this language than there
are black cats in Switzerland, and they must all be as
elaborately declined as the examples above suggested. 
Difficult?--troublesome?--these words cannot describe it. 
I heard a Californian student in Heidelberg say, in one of
his calmest moods, that he would rather decline two drinks
than one German adjective. 

The inventor of the language seems to have taken pleasure
in complicating it in every way he could think of. 
For instance, if one is casually referring to a house,
HAUS, or a horse, PFERD, or a dog, HUND, he spells these
words as I have indicated; but if he is referring to them
in the Dative case, he sticks on a foolish and unnecessary
E and spells them HAUSE, PFERDE, HUNDE.  So, as an added
E often signifies the plural, as the S does with us,
the new student is likely to go on for a month making
twins out of a Dative dog before he discovers his mistake;
and on the other hand, many a new student who could ill
afford loss, has bought and paid for two dogs and only
got one of them, because he ignorantly bought that dog
in the Dative singular when he really supposed he was
talking plural--which left the law on the seller's side,
of course, by the strict rules of grammar, and therefore
a suit for recovery could not lie. 

In German, all the Nouns begin with a capital letter. 
Now that is a good idea; and a good idea, in this language,
is necessarily conspicuous from its lonesomeness.  I consider
this capitalizing of nouns a good idea, because by reason
of it you are almost always able to tell a noun the minute
you see it.  You fall into error occasionally, because you
mistake the name of a person for the name of a thing,
and waste a good deal of time trying to dig a meaning
out of it.  German names almost always do mean something,
and this helps to deceive the student.  I translated
a passage one day, which said that "the infuriated tigress
broke loose and utterly ate up the unfortunate fir forest"
(Tannenwald). When I was girding up my loins to doubt this,
I found out that Tannenwald in this instance was a
man's name. 

Every noun has a gender, and there is no sense or system
in the distribution; so the gender of each must be
learned separately and by heart.  There is no other way. 
To do this one has to have a memory like a memorandum-book.
In German, a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has. 
Think what overwrought reverence that shows for the turnip,
and what callous disrespect for the girl.  See how it
looks in print--I translate this from a conversation
in one of the best of the German Sunday-school books:

"Gretchen. Wilhelm, where is the turnip?

"Wilhelm. She has gone to the kitchen. 

"Gretchen. Where is the accomplished and beautiful English

Wilhelm.  It has gone to the opera."

To continue with the German genders: a tree is male, its buds
are female, its leaves are neuter; horses are sexless,
dogs are male, cats are female--tomcats included, of course;
a person's mouth, neck, bosom, elbows, fingers, nails, feet,
and body are of the male sex, and his head is male
or neuter according to the word selected to signify it,
and NOT according to the sex of the individual who wears
it--for in Germany all the women either male heads or
sexless ones; a person's nose, lips, shoulders, breast,
hands, and toes are of the female sex; and his hair,
ears, eyes, chin, legs, knees, heart, and conscience
haven't any sex at all.  The inventor of the language
probably got what he knew about a conscience from hearsay. 

Now, by the above dissection, the reader will see that in
Germany a man may THINK he is a man, but when he comes to look
into the matter closely, he is bound to have his doubts;
he finds that in sober truth he is a most ridiculous mixture;
and if he ends by trying to comfort himself with the
thought that he can at least depend on a third of this
mess as being manly and masculine, the humiliating second
thought will quickly remind him that in this respect
he is no better off than any woman or cow in the land. 

In the German it is true that by some oversight of the inventor
of the language, a Woman is a female; but a Wife (Weib)
is not--which is unfortunate.  A Wife, here, has no sex;
she is neuter; so, according to the grammar, a fish
is HE, his scales are SHE, but a fishwife is neither. 
To describe a wife as sexless may be called under-description;
that is bad enough, but over-description is surely worse. 
A German speaks of an Englishman as the ENGLA"NDER; to change
the sex, he adds INN, and that stands for Englishwoman--
ENGLA"NDERINN. That seems descriptive enough, but still
it is not exact enough for a German; so he precedes the
word with that article which indicates that the creature
to follow is feminine, and writes it down thus: "die
Engla"nderinn,"--which means "the she-Englishwoman."
I consider that that person is over-described.

Well, after the student has learned the sex of a great
number of nouns, he is still in a difficulty, because he
finds it impossible to persuade his tongue to refer
to things as "he" and "she," and "him" and "her," which
it has been always accustomed to refer to it as "it."
When he even frames a German sentence in his mind,
with the hims and hers in the right places, and then works
up his courage to the utterance-point, it is no use--
the moment he begins to speak his tongue files the track
and all those labored males and females come out as "its."
And even when he is reading German to himself, he always
calls those things "it," where as he ought to read in this way:


2.  I capitalize the nouns, in the German (and
    ancient English) fashion. 

It is a bleak Day.  Hear the Rain, how he pours, and the Hail,
how he rattles; and see the Snow, how he drifts along,
and of the Mud, how deep he is! Ah the poor Fishwife,
it is stuck fast in the Mire; it has dropped its Basket
of Fishes; and its Hands have been cut by the Scales
as it seized some of the falling Creatures; and one Scale
has even got into its Eye.  and it cannot get her out. 
It opens its Mouth to cry for Help; but if any Sound comes
out of him, alas he is drowned by the raging of the Storm. 
And now a Tomcat has got one of the Fishes and she
will surely escape with him.  No, she bites off a Fin,
she holds her in her Mouth--will she swallow her? No,
the Fishwife's brave Mother-dog deserts his Puppies and
rescues the Fin--which he eats, himself, as his Reward. 
O, horror, the Lightning has struck the Fish-basket;
he sets him on Fire; see the Flame, how she licks the
doomed Utensil with her red and angry Tongue; now she
attacks the helpless Fishwife's Foot--she burns him up,
all but the big Toe, and even SHE is partly consumed;
and still she spreads, still she waves her fiery Tongues;
she attacks the Fishwife's Leg and destroys IT; she attacks
its Hand and destroys HER also; she attacks the Fishwife's Leg
and destroys HER also; she attacks its Body and consumes HIM;
she wreathes herself about its Heart and IT is consumed;
next about its Breast, and in a Moment SHE is a Cinder;
now she reaches its Neck--He goes; now its Chin--
IT goes; now its Nose--SHE goes.  In another Moment,
except Help come, the Fishwife will be no more. 
Time presses--is there none to succor and save? Yes! Joy,
joy, with flying Feet the she-Englishwoman comes! But alas,
the generous she-Female is too late: where now is
the fated Fishwife? It has ceased from its Sufferings,
it has gone to a better Land; all that is left of it
for its loved Ones to lament over, is this poor smoldering
Ash-heap. Ah, woeful, woeful Ash-heap! Let us take him
up tenderly, reverently, upon the lowly Shovel, and bear
him to his long Rest, with the Prayer that when he rises
again it will be a Realm where he will have one good square
responsible Sex, and have it all to himself, instead of
having a mangy lot of assorted Sexes scattered all over him
in Spots. 


There, now, the reader can see for himself that this pronoun
business is a very awkward thing for the unaccustomed tongue. 
I suppose that in all languages the similarities of look
and sound between words which have no similarity in meaning
are a fruitful source of perplexity to the foreigner. 
It is so in our tongue, and it is notably the case in
the German.  Now there is that troublesome word VERMA"HLT:
to me it has so close a resemblance--either real or
fancied--to three or four other words, that I never know
whether it means despised, painted, suspected, or married;
until I look in the dictionary, and then I find it means
the latter.  There are lots of such words and they are
a great torment.  To increase the difficulty there are
words which SEEM to resemble each other, and yet do not;
but they make just as much trouble as if they did. 
For instance, there is the word VERMIETHEN (to let,
to lease, to hire); and the word VERHEIRATHEN (another way
of saying to marry). I heard of an Englishman who knocked
at a man's door in Heidelberg and proposed, in the best
German he could command, to "verheirathen" that house. 
Then there are some words which mean one thing when you
emphasize the first syllable, but mean something very
different if you throw the emphasis on the last syllable. 
For instance, there is a word which means a runaway,
or the act of glancing through a book, according to the
placing of the emphasis; and another word which signifies
to ASSOCIATE with a man, or to AVOID him, according to
where you put the emphasis--and you can generally depend
on putting it in the wrong place and getting into trouble. 

There are some exceedingly useful words in this language. 
SCHLAG, for example; and ZUG.  There are three-quarters
of a column of SCHLAGS in the dictonary, and a column
and a half of ZUGS.  The word SCHLAG means Blow, Stroke,
Dash, Hit, Shock, Clap, Slap, Time, Bar, Coin, Stamp, Kind,
Sort, Manner, Way, Apoplexy, Wood-cutting, Enclosure,
Field, Forest-clearing. This is its simple and EXACT
meaning--that is to say, its restricted, its fettered meaning;
but there are ways by which you can set it free,
so that it can soar away, as on the wings of the morning,
and never be at rest.  You can hang any word you please
to its tail, and make it mean anything you want to. 
You can begin with SCHLAG-ADER, which means artery,
and you can hang on the whole dictionary, word by word,
clear through the alphabet to SCHLAG-WASSER, which means
bilge-water--and including SCHLAG-MUTTER, which means

Just the same with ZUG.  Strictly speaking, ZUG means Pull,
Tug, Draught, Procession, March, Progress, Flight, Direction,
Expedition, Train, Caravan, Passage, Stroke, Touch, Line,
Flourish, Trait of Character, Feature, Lineament, Chess-move,
Organ-stop, Team, Whiff, Bias, Drawer, Propensity, Inhalation,
Disposition: but that thing which it does NOT mean--when
all its legitimate pennants have been hung on, has not been
discovered yet. 

One cannot overestimate the usefulness of SCHLAG and ZUG. 
Armed just with these two, and the word ALSO, what cannot
the foreigner on German soil accomplish? The German word
ALSO is the equivalent of the English phrase "You know,"
and does not mean anything at all--in TALK, though it
sometimes does in print.  Every time a German opens his
mouth an ALSO falls out; and every time he shuts it he bites
one in two that was trying to GET out. 

Now, the foreigner, equipped with these three noble words,
is master of the situation.  Let him talk right along,
fearlessly; let him pour his indifferent German forth,
and when he lacks for a word, let him heave a SCHLAG into
the vacuum; all the chances are that it fits it like a plug,
but if it doesn't let him promptly heave a ZUG after it;
the two together can hardly fail to bung the hole; but if,
by a miracle, they SHOULD fail, let him simply say ALSO!
and this will give him a moment's chance to think of the
needful word.  In Germany, when you load your conversational
gun it is always best to throw in a SCHLAG or two and a ZUG
or two, because it doesn't make any difference how much
the rest of the charge may scatter, you are bound to bag
something with THEM.  Then you blandly say ALSO, and load
up again.  Nothing gives such an air of grace and elegance
and unconstraint to a German or an English conversation
as to scatter it full of "Also's" or "You knows."

In my note-book I find this entry:

July 1.--In the hospital yesterday, a word of thirteen
syllables was successfully removed from a patient--a
North German from near Hamburg; but as most unfortunately
the surgeons had opened him in the wrong place, under the
impression that he contained a panorama, he died. 
The sad event has cast a gloom over the whole community. 

That paragraph furnishes a text for a few remarks about
one of the most curious and notable features of my
subject--the length of German words.  Some German words
are so long that they have a perspective.  Observe these




These things are not words, they are alphabetical processions. 
And they are not rare; one can open a German newspaper
at any time and see them marching majestically across
the page--and if he has any imagination he can see
the banners and hear the music, too.  They impart
a martial thrill to the meekest subject.  I take a
great interest in these curiosities.  Whenever I come
across a good one, I stuff it and put it in my museum. 
In this way I have made quite a valuable collection. 
When I get duplicates, I exchange with other collectors,
and thus increase the variety of my stock.  Here rare
some specimens which I lately bought at an auction sale
of the effects of a bankrupt bric-a-brac hunter:







Of course when one of these grand mountain ranges goes
stretching across the printed page, it adorns and ennobles
that literary landscape--but at the same time it is a great
distress to the new student, for it blocks up his way;
he cannot crawl under it, or climb over it, or tunnel
through it.  So he resorts to the dictionary for help,
but there is no help there.  The dictionary must draw
the line somewhere--so it leaves this sort of words out. 
And it is right, because these long things are hardly
legitimate words, but are rather combinations of words,
and the inventor of them ought to have been killed. 
They are compound words with the hyphens left out. 
The various words used in building them are in the dictionary,
but in a very scattered condition; so you can hunt
the materials out, one by one, and get at the meaning
at last, but it is a tedious and harassing business. 
I have tried this process upon some of the above examples. 
"Freundshaftsbezeigungen" seems to be "Friendship
which is only a foolish and clumsy way of saying "demonstrations
of friendship." "Unabhaengigkeitserklaerungen" seems
to be "Independencedeclarations," which is no improvement
upon "Declarations of Independence," so far as I can see. 
"Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen" seems to be
"General-statesrepresentativesmeetings," as nearly as I
can get at it--a mere rhythmical, gushy euphuism for
"meetings of the legislature," I judge.  We used to have
a good deal of this sort of crime in our literature,
but it has gone out now.  We used to speak of a things as a
"never-to-be-forgotten" circumstance, instead of cramping
it into the simple and sufficient word "memorable" and then
going calmly about our business as if nothing had happened. 
In those days we were not content to embalm the thing
and bury it decently, we wanted to build a monument over it. 

But in our newspapers the compounding-disease lingers
a little to the present day, but with the hyphens left out,
in the German fashion.  This is the shape it takes:
instead of saying "Mr. Simmons, clerk of the county and
district courts, was in town yesterday," the new form put
it thus: "Clerk of the County and District Courts Simmons
was in town yesterday." This saves neither time nor ink,
and has an awkward sound besides.  One often sees a remark
like this in our papers: "MRS. Assistant District Attorney
Johnson returned to her city residence yesterday for the season."
That is a case of really unjustifiable compounding;
because it not only saves no time or trouble, but confers
a title on Mrs. Johnson which she has no right to. 
But these little instances are trifles indeed, contrasted
with the ponderous and dismal German system of piling
jumbled compounds together.  I wish to submit the following
local item, from a Mannheim journal, by way of illustration:

"In the daybeforeyesterdayshortlyaftereleveno'clock Night,
the inthistownstandingtavern called 'The Wagoner' was downburnt. 
When the fire to the onthedownburninghouseresting Stork's
Nest reached, flew the parent Storks away.  But when
the bytheraging, firesurrounded Nest ITSELF caught Fire,
straightway plunged the quickreturning Mother-Stork into
the Flames and died, her Wings over her young ones outspread."

Even the cumbersome German construction is not able to
take the pathos out of that picture--indeed, it somehow
seems to strengthen it.  This item is dated away back
yonder months ago.  I could have used it sooner, but I
was waiting to hear from the Father-stork. I am still waiting. 

"ALSO!" If I had not shown that the German is a
difficult language, I have at least intended to do so. 
I have heard of an American student who was asked how he
was getting along with his German, and who answered
promptly: "I am not getting along at all.  I have worked
at it hard for three level months, and all I have got
to show for it is one solitary German phrase--'ZWEI GLAS'"
(two glasses of beer). He paused for a moment, reflectively;
then added with feeling: "But I've got that SOLID!"

And if I have not also shown that German is a harassing
and infuriating study, my execution has been at fault,
and not my intent.  I heard lately of a worn and sorely
tried American student who used to fly to a certain German
word for relief when he could bear up under his aggravations
no longer--the only word whose sound was sweet and
precious to his ear and healing to his lacerated spirit. 
This was the word DAMIT.  It was only the SOUND that
helped him, not the meaning; [3] and so, at last, when he
learned that the emphasis was not on the first syllable,
his only stay and support was gone, and he faded away
and died. 

3.  It merely means, in its general sense, "herewith."

I think that a description of any loud, stirring,
tumultuous episode must be tamer in German than in English. 
Our descriptive words of this character have such
a deep, strong, resonant sound, while their German
equivalents do seem so thin and mild and energyless. 
Boom, burst, crash, roar, storm, bellow, blow, thunder,
explosion; howl, cry, shout, yell, groan; battle, hell. 
These are magnificent words; the have a force and magnitude
of sound befitting the things which they describe. 
But their German equivalents would be ever so nice to sing
the children to sleep with, or else my awe-inspiring ears
were made for display and not for superior usefulness
in analyzing sounds.  Would any man want to die in a
battle which was called by so tame a term as a SCHLACHT?
Or would not a comsumptive feel too much bundled up,
who was about to go out, in a shirt-collar and a seal-ring,
into a storm which the bird-song word GEWITTER was employed
to describe? And observe the strongest of the several
German equivalents for explosion--AUSBRUCH.  Our word
Toothbrush is more powerful than that.  It seems to me
that the Germans could do worse than import it into their
language to describe particularly tremendous explosions with. 
The German word for hell--Ho"lle--sounds more like HELLY
than anything else; therefore, how necessary chipper,
frivolous, and unimpressive it is.  If a man were told
in German to go there, could he really rise to thee
dignity of feeling insulted?

Having pointed out, in detail, the several vices of
this language, I now come to the brief and pleasant task
of pointing out its virtues.  The capitalizing of the nouns
I have already mentioned.  But far before this virtue stands
another--that of spelling a word according to the sound of it. 
After one short lesson in the alphabet, the student can tell
how any German word is pronounced without having to ask;
whereas in our language if a student should inquire of us,
"What does B, O, W, spell?" we should be obliged to reply,
"Nobody can tell what it spells when you set if off by itself;
you can only tell by referring to the context and finding
out what it signifies--whether it is a thing to shoot
arrows with, or a nod of one's head, or the forward end of a

There are some German words which are singularly
and powerfully effective.  For instance, those which
describe lowly, peaceful, and affectionate home life;
those which deal with love, in any and all forms,
from mere kindly feeling and honest good will toward
the passing stranger, clear up to courtship; those which
deal with outdoor Nature, in its softest and loveliest
aspects--with meadows and forests, and birds and flowers,
the fragrance and sunshine of summer, and the moonlight
of peaceful winter nights; in a word, those which deal with
any and all forms of rest, respose, and peace; those also
which deal with the creatures and marvels of fairyland;
and lastly and chiefly, in those words which express pathos,
is the language surpassingly rich and affective.  There are
German songs which can make a stranger to the language cry. 
That shows that the SOUND of the words is correct--it
interprets the meanings with truth and with exactness;
and so the ear is informed, and through the ear, the heart. 

The Germans do not seem to be afraid to repeat a word
when it is the right one.  they repeat it several times,
if they choose.  That is wise.  But in English, when we
have used a word a couple of times in a paragraph,
we imagine we are growing tautological, and so we are weak
enough to exchange it for some other word which only
approximates exactness, to escape what we wrongly fancy
is a greater blemish.  Repetition may be bad, but surely
inexactness is worse. 


There are people in the world who will take a great
deal of trouble to point out the faults in a religion
or a language, and then go blandly about their business
without suggesting any remedy.  I am not that kind
of person.  I have shown that the German language
needs reforming.  Very well, I am ready to reform it. 
At least I am ready to make the proper suggestions. 
Such a course as this might be immodest in another; but I
have devoted upward of nine full weeks, first and last,
to a careful and critical study of this tongue, and thus
have acquired a confidence in my ability to reform it
which no mere superficial culture could have conferred
upon me. 

In the first place, I would leave out the Dative case. 
It confuses the plurals; and, besides, nobody ever knows
when he is in the Dative case, except he discover it
by accident--and then he does not know when or where it
was that he got into it, or how long he has been in it,
or how he is going to get out of it again.  The Dative case
is but an ornamental folly--it is better to discard it. 

In the next place, I would move the Verb further up
to the front.  You may load up with ever so good a Verb,
but I notice that you never really bring down a subject
with it at the present German range--you only cripple it. 
So I insist that this important part of speech should be
brought forward to a position where it may be easily seen
with the naked eye. 

Thirdly, I would import some strong words from the English
tongue--to swear with, and also to use in describing
all sorts of vigorous things in a vigorous ways. [4]

4.  "Verdammt," and its variations and enlargements,
    are words which have plenty of meaning, but the SOUNDS
    are so mild and ineffectual that German ladies can use
    them without sin.  German ladies who could not be induced
    to commit a sin by any persuasion or compulsion, promptly rip
    out one of these harmless little words when they tear their
    dresses or don't like the soup.  It sounds about as wicked
    as our "My gracious." German ladies are constantly saying,
    "Ach! Gott!" "Mein Gott!" "Gott in Himmel!" "Herr Gott"
    "Der Herr Jesus!" etc.  They think our ladies have the
    same custom, perhaps; for I once heard a gentle and lovely
    old German lady say to a sweet young American girl:
    "The two languages are so alike--how pleasant that is;
    we say 'Ach! Gott!' you say 'Goddamn.'"

Fourthly, I would reorganizes the sexes, and distribute
them accordingly to the will of the creator.  This as
a tribute of respect, if nothing else. 

Fifthly, I would do away with those great long
compounded words; or require the speaker to deliver
them in sections, with intermissions for refreshments. 
To wholly do away with them would be best, for ideas are
more easily received and digested when they come one at
a time than when they come in bulk.  Intellectual food
is like any other; it is pleasanter and more beneficial
to take it with a spoon than with a shovel. 

Sixthly, I would require a speaker to stop when he is done,
and not hang a string of those useless "haven sind gewesen
gehabt haben geworden seins" to the end of his oration. 
This sort of gewgaws undignify a speech, instead of adding
a grace.  They are, therefore, an offense, and should
be discarded. 

Seventhly, I would discard the Parenthesis.  Also the
the re-reparenthesis, and the re-re-re-re-re-reparentheses,
and likewise the final wide-reaching all-enclosing
king-parenthesis. I would require every individual,
be he high or low, to unfold a plain straightforward tale,
or else coil it and sit on it and hold his peace. 
Infractions of this law should be punishable with death. 

And eighthly, and last, I would retain ZUG and SCHLAG,
with their pendants, and discard the rest of the vocabulary. 
This would simplify the language. 

I have now named what I regard as the most necessary
and important changes.  These are perhaps all I could
be expected to name for nothing; but there are other
suggestions which I can and will make in case my proposed
application shall result in my being formally employed
by the government in the work of reforming the language. 

My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person
ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing)
in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German
in thirty years.  It seems manifest, then, that the
latter tongue ought to be trimmed down and repaired. 
If it is to remain as it is, it ought to be gently
and reverently set aside among the dead languages,
for only the dead have time to learn it. 


Gentlemen: Since I arrived, a month ago, in this
old wonderland, this vast garden of Germany, my English
tongue has so often proved a useless piece of baggage
to me, and so troublesome to carry around, in a country
where they haven't the checking system for luggage, that I
finally set to work, and learned the German language. 
Also! Es freut mich dass dies so ist, denn es muss,
in ein haupts:achlich degree, h:oflich sein, dass man
auf ein occasion like this, sein Rede in die Sprache des
Landes worin he boards, aussprechen soll.  Daf:ur habe ich,
aus reinische Verlegenheit--no, Vergangenheit--no, I
mean Hoflichkeit--aus reinishe Hoflichkeit habe ich
resolved to tackle this business in the German language,
um Gottes willen! Also! Sie mu"ssen so freundlich sein,
und verzeih mich die interlarding von ein oder zwei
Englischer Worte, hie und da, denn ich finde dass die
deutsche is not a very copious language, and so when
you've really got anything to say, you've got to draw
on a language that can stand the strain. 

Wenn haber man kann nicht meinem Rede Verstehen, so werde
ich ihm sp:ater dasselbe :ubersetz, wenn er solche Dienst
verlangen wollen haben werden sollen sein h:atte. (I don't
know what wollen haben werden sollen sein ha"tte means,
but I notice they always put it at the end of a German
sentence--merely for general literary gorgeousness,
I suppose.)

This is a great and justly honored day--a day which is
worthy of the veneration in which it is held by the true
patriots of all climes and nationalities--a day which
offers a fruitful theme for thought and speech; und meinem
Freunde--no, meinEN FreundEN--meinES FreundES--well,
take your choice, they're all the same price; I don't
know which one is right--also! ich habe gehabt haben
worden gewesen sein, as Goethe says in his Paradise
Lost--ich--ich--that is to say--ich--but let us change cars. 

Also! Die Anblich so viele Grossbrittanischer und Amerikanischer
hier zusammengetroffen in Bruderliche concord, ist zwar
a welcome and inspiriting spectacle.  And what has moved you
to it? Can the terse German tongue rise to the expression of
this impulse? Is it Freundschaftsbezeigungenstadtverordneten-
versammlungenfamilieneigenth:umlichkeiten? Nein,
o nein! This is a crisp and noble word, but it fails
to pierce the marrow of the impulse which has gathered
this friendly meeting and produced diese Anblick--eine
Anblich welche ist gut zu sehen--gut fu"r die Augen
in a foreign land and a far country--eine Anblick solche
als in die gew:ohnliche Heidelberger phrase nennt man ein
"scho"nes Aussicht!" Ja, freilich natu"rlich wahrscheinlich
ebensowohl! Also! Die Aussicht auf dem K:onigsstuhl
mehr gr:osser ist, aber geistlische sprechend nicht so
scho"n, lob' Gott! Because sie sind hier zusammengetroffen,
in Bruderlichem concord, ein grossen Tag zu feirn,
whose high benefits were not for one land and one locality,
but have conferred a measure of good upon all lands
that know liberty today, and love it.  Hundert Jahre
voru"ber, waren die Engla"nder und die Amerikaner Feinde;
aber heut sind sie herzlichen Freunde, Gott sei Dank!
May this good-fellowship endure; may these banners here
blended in amity so remain; may they never any more wave
over opposing hosts, or be stained with blood which
was kindred, is kindred, and always will be kindred,
until a line drawn upon a map shall be able to say:
"THIS bars the ancestral blood from flowing in the veins
of the descendant!"