JOBSWORTH AND UBERZWERG.

Mark Liberman has a post at the Log about the U.K. term jobsworth (OED: “Brit. colloq. (depreciative). A person in authority (esp. a minor official) who insists on adhering to rules and regulations or bureaucratic procedures even at the expense of common sense”), which was as new to him as it is to me; it comes from the U.K. expression “it’s more than me job’s worth”, meaning “I’d lose my job if I let you do that.” A commenter adduces the German colloquialism Überzwerg, literally ‘superdwarf’: “typically a minor official who uses petty rules and regulations to make life uncomfortable for those he has power over.” (The definition is illustrated by an appalling story about a train trip.) These are both excellent words, though the second would need to be adapted to be adopted (“superdwarf” or “overdwarf”?).
There’s also an interesting thread about the value of comments for a blog, in which nice things are said about the commenters here at LH; as I write there, “There are a number of blogs I stopped visiting when they stopped having comments, and I would not bother maintaining Languagehat if I were just talking to myself — it’s the commenters who make it interesting for me.”

Comments

  1. Well, welcome to an excellent English expression!

  2. Definitely “Super” — GBS established for all time that the correct translation of “Übermensch” is “Superman”.

  3. “Overdwarf” would translate “Oberzwerg”.

  4. We borrowed “mad with a moderate amount of power” from Canada (transcript).

  5. In the US Army, obsessive attention to petty regs is, or was, known as ‘chicken-shit.’, as in “How do I transfer out of this chicken-shit outfit?”, i.e. join a unit that actually does something.

  6. “Überdwarf” would be acceptable English, wouldn’t it? It’s quite mean to shorter English-speakers to associate them with this sort of behaviour. I’m sure many anarchists have been short in stature.

  7. The British word describes someone who adopts a somewhat defensive posture, the German an offensive one. I thought that we didn’t approve of stereotypes hereabouts?

  8. Come to think of it, an ancient (= my boyhood) British idiom that might come close to the meaning of the German one is “poison dwarf”. Which I hereby commend unto thee.

  9. Auch die Zwerge haben klein angefangen.

  10. I’ve never encountered Überzwerg in Germany, but that doesn’t mean much. It sounds like a perfectly standard kind of nonce word. I would probably translate it as “top dwarf” or “boss dwarf”, because that’s what it means.
    Folks, let a little urbanity and fresh air flow in on the subject of things German ! Neither Nietzsche nor the Nazis invented Über- and Ober- words. Any “Übermensch” connotations are only in the stuck-in-the-thirties imaginations of non-German speakers. The context I feel for Überzwerg is the everyday one of hohes Tier, Giftzwerg, Oberarschloch etc etc.
    I found primarily two kinds of context – one political, the other having to do with fantasy for children:
    1. An article with the title Zwerg-Nazis und seltsame Spinner [dwarf Nazis and peculiar whackos], about a comic-book workshop sponsored by members of the Vienna Green Party. Zwerg-Nazi could be rendered as “mini-Nazi”.
    2. The Theater Überzwerg in Saarbrücken is a children’s theater
    3. One of the volumes in the multi-volume fantasy work Die Große Erzferkelprophezeiung [The Grand Prophecy of the Arch-Shoat] is Zwerg und Überzwerg.

  11. “I found …”, meaning in the internet.

  12. Let me put what I said about “Übermensch connotations” more carefully. Of course in a particular setting the user of the word Überzwerg could be deliberately aiming for “Übermensch connotations”. But the word itself does not automatically or essentially have such connotations – witness the name of the children’s theater I linked above. This is the point I think many non-German speakers have not yet understood.

  13. It has just struck me that Zwerg und Überzwerg sounds like the title of Shaw’s play. Your ordinary German has never heard of Nietzsche, no more than the ordinary American has heard of Emerson or Pierce.

  14. Oops: Peirce.

  15. David Derbes says:

    I admit guiltily that I like “über” in this context, as for a long time German science has been exactingly precise. Also, there is a suggestion of authority in the word, which, unfairly, I tend to associate with Germany. On the other hand I don’t much care for “dwarf”, and have been racking my brains to come up with an alternative, falling on the very poor substitute “clerk”. So for the sort of person who must have exactness in all respects, and who has the authority to reject anything that fails to meet these extremely narrow specifications, I propose “überclerk”.
    Around these parts (Hyde Park, Chicago), the famous example was Kate Turabian, the archpriestess registrar-secretary of doctoral dissertations at the University of Chicago. Once you had cleared all your department’s hurdles and were ready to begin work on your dissertation, you were strongly encouraged to visit Ms. Turabian, who would give you a list of approved typists. Failure to engage one of these was likely to get your thesis bounced, to be retyped entirely. There are legends that she would measure margins to the nearest 64th of an inch, and if you were off by more than this, back to the typist you went. And God help you if you violated the citation format: Utter doom, abandon all hope. You may have her book “A Manual for Writers” on your shelves.

  16. Top dwarf on the totem pole?

  17. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I don’t have any opinions about Überzwerg, but I’d like to comment on another point in your post, your comment in the thread at Language Log about moderating comments. I was quite surprised to read there that two people think you close comments after a few days, because that has never been my experience. Occasionally I want to write something in an old thread and I’ve never found that I couldn’t because comments were closed. So I’m glad to know that these people were mistaken.
    I find LanguageHat much more friendly to people with no particular training in linguistics than Language Log is: although they do allow some comments from non-specialists they don’t exactly make them feel welcome. Here it is a real pleasure to get feedback from people like yourself, marie-lucie, John Cowan and others (no one deliberately omitted, but those are the ones that spring to mind) without getting the feeling one has strayed into the wrong party.

  18. So far, no commenter has acknowledged knowing of the alleged word “jobsworth”. I’ve never heard it, though I admit the phrase is well-known in Britain, almost a cliché.

  19. The principal difference between here and the language log is that they know next-to-nothing about literature.

  20. the alleged word “jobsworth”
    Never heard of it before either. It’s too Britishy for me, like “lorry” and “test match” – not something I would want to pick up and run with.

  21. Yeah, “jobsworth” is a well-known term in Britain; I’m sure I’ve utter words such as, “(s)he’s a right jumped-up little jobsworth, him/her” more than once or twice in my life plus other related clichés, “give ‘em a uniform and they think they’re bloody Hitler.” &c.

  22. Nothing wrong with lorry and test-match. Woody sorts of words.

  23. The other difference is that there are about twenty or thirty of them, whereas Language does this all on his own during his lunch break.

  24. marie-lucie says:

    Some time ago (two years maybe?) we discussed the differences between LL and LH. The intent of LL is pedagogical, and the contributors are all professors; they are more or less patient with the commenters, whom they treat like students who ought to be learning something and should not derail the discussion beyond what the prof has planned, let alone interrupt it with jokes. But Mr Hat is a wonderfully knowledgeable host who enjoys sharing interesting finds with a group of people with varied interests, personalities, talents and experiences. As a linguist I dutifully put in appearances at some of the LL classes but I much prefer to join Mr Hat’s salon where I will meet a larger variety of interesting and fun people.

  25. +1, marie-lucie.

  26. Jobsworth with a civil service mentality or is just two inches short of 2 foot, then nutin’ is done, you are up the creek without a paddle, jack.

  27. Hat off to Marie-Lucie again for putting a complicated idea in one succinct paragraph.
    uberdwarf
    I’d be careful with ‘dwarfs’ as it may be taken as a reference to a physical condition and as such seen as offensive. How about ubergnome? Fans of Private Eye would know Lord Gnome.
    There is a wikipedia article on jobsworth with numerous examples of its use from the Beatles to Little Britain.

  28. I was trying to think of a Russian equivalent to ‘jobsworth’. Funnily, the German sounding Schwonder from Heart of a Dog is used in the same sense. Another nice word is ‘hookmaker’ (hookmeister?) – крючкотвор, with hook having a double-meaning of a bureaucratic squiggle and also something you can easily get caught by.

  29. Il semble que vous soyez un expert dans ce domaine, vos remarques sont tres interessantes, merci.
    - Daniel

  30. There is a word for this in Russian: chinovnik:)
    (“bureaucrat”)

  31. I’d be careful with ‘dwarfs’ as it may be taken as a reference to a physical condition and as such seen as offensive.
    I don’t see any reason for caution. There are too many people nowadays just looking for opportunities to take unsolicited offense on behalf of others. They are the eternally meddling moralists who have been reduced to scolding the way people talk, because it is no longer fashionable to scold the way they act.
    Words by themselves don’t offend – it’s the aggressive attitudes behind them that incite anger. I prefer to know where I am with people, so that means I want them to speak their minds without any pussyfooting. Somebody calls me a faggot (Schwuchtel, en l’occurrence), he gets punched in the face, or verbally shredded in the internet. Not because I’m not a faggot, but because I am.
    You don’t get rid of pimples by covering them with makeup.

  32. I don’t think there’s an exact American equivalent because American bureaucrats have different techniques.
    The British expression refers to people who refuse even the tiniest bending of some arbitrary rule.
    Before I start ranting I should say that I have had many positive interactions with very helpful American civil servants.
    I recently went through the exercise of importing a car from Canada into the US and registering it, for which I had to work with US Customs, NTSA and the California DMV. I won’t say that they were uniformly friendly, but if you had the right forms filled out when you showed up at the counter, they would complete the transaction. (That requires some advance research, which in the Internet age is not too difficult.) The people at the DMV were actually very helpful, when you finally got to talk to them after waiting a few hours in line (an MP3 player is a godsend at the DMV).
    But there are some exceptions.
    In the US, the technique to get around the equivalent of the “more than my job’s worth” obstruction is to bring your lawyer with you. It costs a bit but it is very effective.
    But that doesn’t help when TSA employees confiscate food from people’s hand luggage when you go through security around lunch time.
    It can help when out of the blue they send you a notice “We have determined that you owe us $30,000. Please pay promptly.” But it can take years to resolve.
    There should be words for such people, but I haven’t heard them. I mean special words, other than the general ones that spring immediately to mind.

  33. Stu, what’s pussyfooting?

  34. There should be words for such people, but I haven’t heard them. I mean special words, other than the general ones that spring immediately to mind.
    “Bureaucrat” is a general word that has performed satisfactorily for generations. I don’t see a general need for special terms, since “fucking bureaucrat”, for instance, is available.
    If we have a special need for special terms, then why not simply use the names of the very people who have pumped up our ire, augmented by appropriate adjectives ? Like “that spiteful, stubborn old Dolores”. What could be more to the point ?

  35. what’s pussyfooting?
    Sashura, the word means stepping cautiously, as a matter of principle, around things that are unknown or might be dangerous. The idea is that although pussycats may have their own good, instinctive reasons for avoiding things, people can think, analyze, and choose their reactions, and so should not act like cats.

  36. A German expression for “he’s pussyfooting” is er drückt sich um die Sache herum wie die Katze um den heißen Brei [he is going round the issue like the cat around the hot porridge]. That is, the cat wants the porridge, but doesn’t quite have the courage to approach it.

  37. cats should not act like people
    I should be proud of how I raised my cats then: they go straight to the beef of the matter. I had ham stolen right off my butterbröt while I turned away to watch Putin in the Family Guy.

  38. I don’t know what La Fontaine would have made of that – the cats using the primate as their cat’s paw !

  39. Russia’s two überzwerge must be Medvedev and Putin — the former dubbed “the jolly gnome” after this little incident and the latter, by extension, as “the evil gnome.”

  40. “no commenter has acknowledged knowing of the alleged word “jobsworth””: I confirm knowledge that the aforementioned term is often applied to bureaucratus bolloxus.

  41. marie-lucie says:

    I used to have a colleague who was “à cheval sur les principes” as concerned the students – no bending of regulations regardless of the validity of the cause – but always insisted on others bending the rules in her favour when the occasion occurred. Would she have been “eine Überzwergin”?

  42. There’s a German term “Giftzwerg” –poison dwarf– that means something like a thoroughly nasty, disreputable person. It was applied to soldiers in a UK unit stationed in Germany, IIRC. Apparently the unit had a reputation for atrocious behavior with the locals.

  43. My apologies to dearieme. I had overlooked that reference to Giftzwerg.

  44. A stickler for the rules. But nothing like a hedgehog. OEtymD says a stickler was a “moderator or umpire” before it was a “person who contends or insists stubbornly”.

  45. AJP Crown: The principal difference between here and the language log is that they know next-to-nothing about literature.
    I’ve been debating whether to comment on this, but on balance, I will: I think that’s an unfair assessment. As marie-luce says, I think it’s more to do with LL’s tight topic focus – on linguistic sightings in popular media, probably with a agenda to demonstrate modern relevance, a purpose that that literature is less likely to serve.

  46. LL’s tight topic focus – on linguistic sightings in popular media, probably with a agenda to demonstrate modern relevance, a purpose that that literature is less likely to serve.
    In that way it’s more like slumming. I don’t doubt that the contributors are well-read – how else could they make intelligent comments ? But they must not make a show of their breeding, in the best tradition of the king who slips out of the castle incognito to discover what up on the streets.

  47. Put it this way: they’re no better read than I am, and in some cases worse. Whereas, I could read a book a day for the rest of my life and still not approach Language Hat’s level of erudition.

  48. Better read than dead.

  49. As the cat
    climbed over
    the top of
    the jamcloset
    first the right
    forefoot
    carefully
    then the hind
    stepped down
    into the pit of
    the empty
    flowerpot

  50. ^wcw
    As the brilliant Hugh Kenner brilliantly wrote:

    Verbal flowerpots are as hollow and frangible as verbal cats are agile… This structure of 27 words commenced off balance — “As” — and closes on a resolution of achievement and precariousness — “flowerpot.” It is one sinuous suspended sentence, feeling its way and never fumbling. Its gestures raise anticipatory tensions, its economy dislodges nothing. The cat is as much an emblem of the sentence as the sentence is of the cat.

  51. Sashura: The noun pussyfoot, however, means ‘temperance or abstinence crusader, one who attempts to reduce or eliminate the influence of alcohol in public life’. It is a now-rare BrE term, totally unknown in AmE, and derived (per the OED) “after the nickname Pussyfoot of W. E. Johnson (1862–1945), an American supporter of Prohibition; the nickname was given to him on account of his stealthy methods when a magistrate.”

  52. Having no success imagining what the stealthy methods of a magistrate might be, I looked up W.E. Johnson in the WiPe. Says there not that he was a “magistrate”, but rather a Federal law enforcement agent. Perhaps “enforcement agent” is a possible meaning of “magistrate” in BrE ? But I thought magistrates are supposed to sit in judgement, not slink about like Dick Tracy.
    The Federal agent job is the background for the “stealthy methods”:

    He gained the nickname “Pussyfoot” due to his cat-like stealth in the pursuit of suspects in the Oklahoma Territory.

    This is also the guy who lost an eye when mobbed in London in 1919. He was mentioned in a Hat thread this year, as I recall:

    In addition to his work within the United States, Johnson toured internationally to promote Prohibition. On 13 November 1919, he was captured by a mob of medical students while at a speaking engagement and paraded through the streets of London on a stretcher before being rescued by police. During the ragging, Johnson was struck by an object thrown from the crowd and lost his right eye after physicians were unable to repair the resulting damage.

  53. As the cat
    climbed over

    Lovely poem and a nice blog, thanks, Hat.
    Shouldn’t there be a full stop at the end of it? or is it a demonstration of not being a jobsworth?
    Happy Christmas to all!

  54. “Überzwerg,” I think, has been introduced into the German language by a very popular children’s novel, which I read as a little boy. Alas, my childhood days are gone, and I cannot for the life of me remember its title.

  55. John Cowan: thanks for the Pussyfoot story, I’ve never heard it used in that sense and didn’t know about Johnson.
    during the ragging
    The use of ‘ragging’ here is unclear. If it’s initiation, as Wiki suggests, then to what? W. article links to ‘hazing’, which says that it is American. Recently, when we did a story on hazing in top schools in France, the Brits in our team were divided as to whether it was a widely understood British English word, with those who had boarding experience saying that it was and those who hadn’t saying it was not. I wonder what the right honourable members present think?

  56. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I would regard hazing as purely American. The only term I’ve ever encountered in England is ragging. Ségolène Royal was in many ways an unconvincing presidential candidate, but I shall always admire her for her largely successful efforts while a minister to stamp out bizoutage in French lycées.

  57. Haze is an old nautical expression meaning to bully or punish by hard work. I only know the US meaning from American TV shows.

  58. Haze is an old nautical expression meaning to bully or punish by hard work. I only know the US meaning from American TV shows.

  59. Languagecat.

  60. The LanguageCat in the Hat?

  61. Shouldn’t there be a full stop at the end of it?
    William Carlos Williams often skipped punctuation in his poems.

  62. I’d never heard “hazing” until I came across it in recent American references. On the other hand, nor can I remember what word we used for the “ragging” that was meted out to new boys at our secondary school. (A nasty habit, just bullying disguised as “tradition”.) But I do remember that when I was such a new boy I retreated, put my back into the corner of two walls, and declared to the two older boys who came to “get” me that if they came any nearer I’d break their teeth in. Or maybe kick their knees in; whatever the threat was it worked and I went unmolested thereafter. Later on, when I was a Prefect, I put a stop to it for a couple of years.
    Looking back, what’s amusing is that the rather priggish sentiment common in books of school stories – that the bully is a coward and will back down if you confront him – worked perfectly on each of the three times I tried it at school. And only once did “confronting” require me to actually punch someone.

  63. the rather priggish sentiment common in books of school stories – that the bully is a coward and will back down if you confront him – worked perfectly on each of the three times I tried it at school
    Absolutely true in my experience, and not even at school. I’ve got a pretty stable-looking build, but know nothing about fisticuffs and have never played sports. Nevertheless, on the rare occasions when someone has tried to intimidate me physically, just turning on the anger has sufficed to make them back down. The anger consists in the feeling that it is beneath my dignity to let myself be pushed around.
    Admittedly, I am hotheaded and can be verbally very aggressive – I would probably even frighten myself on a dark night. It’s the attitude that counts, the fact that I am not afraid of physical violence – which I really should be, all things considered.

  64. I think ragging in the sense of the quote about the medical sudents and Johnson refers to Rag Days in the UK, when medical students have just completed their exams and have (self-given, traditional) licence to go about the streets in costumes – often torn white coats, so presumably the origin of Rag Day – doing silly things. I don’t recall them turning nasty. Nowadays they tend to boisterously collect for charity. No connection that I know of with ragging as bullying.

  65. That’s what I assumed the “ragging” amounted to in that London incident. Whoever threw “an object” (the WiPe doesn’t say what it was) did not necessarily intend to injure Johnson, at all or seriously.

  66. It’s better known as “Rag Week”.

  67. It’s dog eat dog and cat eat mouse,
    You can rag mama rag all over my house.

  68. Trond Engen says:

    Norwegian: skrankepave (lit. “counter-pope”) “stereotyp for a (usually) low level civil servant who
    1. insists on adhering to rules and regulations or bureaucratic procedures even at the expense of common sense.
    2. uses petty rules and regulations to make life uncomfortable for those he has power over.”
    I would have thought it a calque from German, but who knows?

  69. The intertubes suggest it’s from Danish.
    Lexicographers identify an ad campaign on buses (?) by the tabloid Ekstra Bladet (where 3 translates 9 in Danish).
    A number of places credit Mogens Glistrup’s rants with spreading it and papirnusseri ‘paperwork’.

  70. The intertubes suggest it’s from Danish.
    What is an “intertube” ? Sounds fallopian, like a communicating pipe.

  71. The internet … is a series of tubes.

  72. Trond Engen says:

    Thanks. I knew Glistrup used it, but I thought it was much older than him, even in Norwegian. But there you go.

  73. Schalterpapst seems to be used affectionately and with another ‘electrical switch’ sense of that word.

  74. I katolske land er selv agnostikere og ateister forsiktige med å bruke ordet pave om noe som helst annet enn den katolske kirkens overhode.
    How can people write stuff without producing a scrap of evidence to back it up? Never mind that it’s not true.

  75. Schalterpapst seems to be used affectionately and with another ‘electrical switch’ sense of that word
    Adding -papst to another German word X is a standard way of saying “the top dog when it comes to X”. For instance Modepapst applied to Karl Lagerfeld. I had never heard Schalterpapst applied to a civil servant who deals arrogantly with the public, but it is immediately intelligible and funny: “counter-window kaiser”. I suspect that Schalterpapst ia fairly old, and that the joke about calling the switch engineer Dr. Rieder the Schalterpapst is a double-entendre, because Schalter is either “counter window” or “switch”.

  76. Trond Engen says:

    Adding -papst to another German word X is a standard way of saying “the top dog when it comes to X”.
    We do it in Norwegian with words like skrytepave “great bragger” and sutrepave “great whiner. The pattern is obviously borrowed from German, and that’s why I would have thought skrankepave a calque.

  77. The pattern is obviously borrowed from German
    I don’t see that as obvious, at least not on the basis of evidence so far presented here. It could just as well be the other way around.
    Perhaps it is misleading to think of this matter as something that could be decided one way or the other. Expression types are not property owned by people. If A uses an expression type in print, and B uses it too at around the same time, then it makes little sense to wonder who borrowed from whom, since the type belongs to neither.

  78. Trond Engen says:

    Stu: I don’t see that as obvious, at least not on the basis of evidence so far presented here.
    OK, it seems obvious given the usual direction of cultural and linguistic influence.
    AJP: How can people write stuff without producing a scrap of evidence to back it up?
    It’s what we do here. The link was to a column by Per Egil Hegge, Aftenposten’s language columnist and the conservative authority on language in Norway. From the WP article:

    He retired in 2005, but continued to have a column about the correct use of language. When it comes to perceptions of the quality of the development of the Norwegian language, Hegge has been called a “housegod of the dissatisfied” by literary critic Aage Borchgrevink.

  79. Expression types are not property owned by people
    In the same vein, one of Firbank’s novels reports that “the Authorities of Pisuerga were making minute enquiries for sundry missing articles, from the Trésor of the Cathedral”:

    1 chasubles.
    A relic-casket in lapis and diamonds, containing the Tongue of St. Thelma.
    4 3/4 yards of black lace, said to have “belonged to” the Madonna
    .

  80. Oh, that kind of counter! I had read Trond’s gloss ‘counter-pope’ as corresponding to English antipope (D. modpave, G. Gegenpapst), but Grumbly’s comment made all clear…. Oh well.

  81. Probably not just here, Trond. It drives me crazy. I’ll have to watch out for this Hegge, housegod of the dissatisfied.

  82. Is a counter pope like a counter jumper?

  83. Is a counter pope like a counter jumper?

  84. Trond Engen says:

    John: I actually briefly pondered the idea that the word could have been coined as a pun in some language with this double meaning of counter. And now that it’s up, I do think that counterpope is a better term than antipope for the head of a rival papacy.
    dearieme: Counter-jumper seems to be equivalent to diskenspringer (another German calque). That job takes more speed than counter-popery.

  85. diskenspringer (another German calque)
    Wherein consists the calque ? Do you merely mean “follows the pattern of pasting two or more words together”, as is a feature of “Germanic” languages ?
    As far as I have been able to find out, “counter jumper” is a rather obscure expression. It’s supposed to mean “draper’s assistant, who jumps over the counter to go from one part of the shop to another”.
    A similar, but more familiar expression that occurs to me is “line jumper”, someone who cuts in front of other people in a line. I find exactly 4 hits for Schlangenspringer in the internet, so it’s pretty obvious to me that the word is an attempt to translate “line jumper”. It’s not a common German word, that’s for sure.
    Usually, in a particular situation, you don’t say that somebody springen while waiting, but rather sich vordrängen or sich vordrängeln [pushes his way towards the front], say through a crowd of customers waiting in front of the counter at a bakery. That’s probably because Germans don’t automatically organize themselves into neat little queues as the English are reputed to do, but rather sort of crowd forward. That makes sense – it’s then easier to maneuver yourself past people who have been waiting longer, without its being noticed that much.

  86. “as the English are reputed to do”: they most certainly did; perhaps they do it yet in those parts of the country that they still inhabit.

  87. Trond Engen says:

    Wherein consists the calque ?
    I was in doubt about whether to call it a calque or a loan. The -en linking tells us that this compound was first made in German, either (probably) by German speakers in Germany or (possibly) by non-native German users, e.g. in Denmark, but the word is nativized by replacing the compound elements by disk and springer. Unless it’s Dutch or Low German and simply a loan, now that I think of it.

  88. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Germans don’t automatically organize themselves into neat little queues as the English are reputed to do.
    I don’t have much experience of German queues, but the English certainly formed orderly queues when I were a lad. What has surprised me, however, since coming to live in France, is how well behaved the French are in queues. Last week I spent three and a half hours in a queue at Charles-de-Gaulle airport in the hope of getting information about cancelled flights. It moved exceedingly slowly, as everyone spent about ten minutes when they finally got to the front. With extremely few exceptions everyone simply waited, chatted with their neighbours, and was thoroughly good-natured about the whole business.
    When I got near the front there were three attempts by people to insert themselves in the queue. One was successful — a very old lady with a disabled husband, and although I was too far away to know I suspect the people there just let her in. The other two were politely told to go to the back, and, after a bit of resistance when they explained why they were much too important to waste their time in a queue, they went away. However, these were very much the exception, and neither the two men concerned was French — one sounded Russian, the other Dutch or, more likely, Flemish.
    Other queues in the same terminal were less orderly, however: they called the police twice to calm people down, but nothing like that happened where I was.
    It wouldn’t have worked with a queue of several hundred people, but the French have a way of handling smaller queues that I’ve never come across elsewhere and which works very well. Everyone stands or sits in a chaotic way, and it looks completely disorganized, but it isn’t. When you arrive you ask who is the last person, and when that person is served you know you’re next.

  89. I’m confused, Trond, what exactly does diskenspringer mean?

  90. Trond Engen says:

    diskenspringer: A salesassistant or errandboy in a shop (maybe especially used derogatory for the former by implying the latter).

  91. Trond Engen says:

    A hypothetic German *Tischenspringer.
    By ‘nativization’ I meant the transformations:
    Tisch = disk “counter” (= ‘desk’)
    Springer = springer “runner, jumper”
    (The transformation of the latter consists of pronouncing it [spr-] rather than [ʃpr-].

  92. I had no idea that desk was etymologically related to disc, but I see that it is. Tisch, too, I suppose.
    Google Translate makes various guesses about translating “disken()springer” into English, depending which Scandinavian language you name: “disk jump”, “disk springs”, “runs counter”.

  93. Trond Engen says:

    You’ll have to write compounds together to even have a chance of getting the correct translation. Written separately it would mean “the counter is running (/runs)”. But I’m not too impressed with the effort. It’s clear that GT knows the existence of the word, since that’s what it suggests when I try variant spellings, but it also doesn’t know a translation of it. So could it be that since the compound with -en- is irregular it can’t guess the relation between the elements? But oddly enough, the result is at least grammatical in Swedish: If you change the last element (regularly) to springare, it gives “disk knight” — with the chess meaning of springare. Why isn’t it able to do that in Danish or Norwegian?

  94. Civil servants who are obnoxious for the sake of feeling important are known in Malaysia as ‘little Napoleons’.

  95. Empty:
    Dish, desk, disk, discus, dais form a quintuplet: they are all more or less remotely from Latin discus. Dish goes back to Old English days and beyond, and is the true cognate of the other Germanic forms, although most of them have shifted in sense from ‘dish’ to ‘table’ under the influence of Romance or (in the case of the modern Scandinavian languages) German. It’s found once in Middle English (the Wycliffite Bible) in the sense ‘discus’.
    In Italian, discus remained a popular word in the sense ‘table’, and through normal sound change took the form desco. This word was borrowed into mediaeval Latin around 1250 as desca ‘writing desk’; the OED thinks the feminine ending is due to the influence of mensa ‘table’ and tabula ‘tablet, slate’. English desk is a borrowing of this Latin form from around 1400.
    Disk and discus are direct borrowings from Latin, the former naturalized in the usual English way, the latter straight up. Disk first appears in the OED’s quotations in 1715 in the sense ‘discus’, and only in 1803 does it begin to gain its present senses. (The older spelling disk is usual in AmE, disc in BrE, but computer hard disks, floppy disks, and per contra compact discs are so spelled in both orthographies.) Discus itself landed slightly earlier, in 1656.
    Dais has the oddest history. It is from Old French deis, the cognate of Italian desco, and first appeared in 1250. It underwent sense development in parallel with its French counterpart: ‘table’ > ‘high table’ > ‘raised portion of the room on which the high table sits’ > ‘canopy covering this’. However, the word died out in English around 1600, to be revived more than two centuries later by “historical and antiquarian writers”, quoth the OED. As a result, its original monosyllabic pronunciation was lost and replaced by the disyllabic pronunciation usually heard today.

  96. … although I pronounce it as one syllable, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
    One of my favourite words in Norwegian, because of the way it sounds, is the fish counter (at a supermarket): fiskedisken.

  97. although I pronounce it as one syllable, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
    You are not; I do so as well.
    I know it’s kind of cheating, but it would be fun to add disco to make a sextuplet. (“Disco: it puts the sex in sextuplet!”)

  98. Trond Engen says:

    Dish, desk, disk, discus, dais form a quintuplet: they are all more or less remotely from Latin discus.
    I came up with a sextuplet in Norwegian, most of them from Latin capa:
    hu(v)e f. “hood, bonnet, cap, soft hat” (inherited in Germanic — I’m not quite sure if this is fully cognate with the others, but it does seem to fit)
    kåpe f. “(female) padded coat” (from Lat. capa)
    kappe f. “long cape or unpadded coat” (from LLat. cappa)
    kep/cape m./n. “(shoulder) cape” (from Lat. through Eng. — the cogante loan of kåpe — but the Eng. merged with a loan from Sp. through Fr.)
    kæps/caps m. “baseball-type cap” (from LLat. through Eng. — the cogante loan of kappe)
    kepi m. “kepi” (from Lat. through SwGer. and Fr.)
    Dish goes back to Old English days and beyond, and is the true cognate of the other Germanic forms, [...]
    Ah, of course. Thanks.
    One of my favourite words in Norwegian, because of the way it sounds, is the fish counter (at a supermarket): fiskedisken.
    German Fischtisch. Where you go when you plan to make a fish dish.

  99. John Cowan: Thanks for the thorough, uh, discussion.

  100. Thanks for the explanation, Trond. However, the German compound Tischspringer doesn’t mean the same. (You can’t say Tischenspringer because it’s der Tisch, die Tische). I’d never actually heard it, but Google tells me it’s primarily used for cats that like to jump on tables. Offhand, I can’t really think of a special word for an eager young salesperson in German, maybe somebody else can. Also, where I come from, the fish counter is known as die Fischtheke.

  101. Trond Engen says:

    brussel: I was going to look up Fischtisch in hope of some obscure and amusing meaning to add to the rhyme, but I couldn’t get J. & W. Grimm’s Deutsches Wörterbuch to load and used Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch (DRW) instead. The definition wasn’t very funny, but it was interesting in having Tisch in the meaning ‘counter’. Of course, it may still be obscure — obsolete or dialectal.
    I can see how -n- looks odd in German, but at least it exists and does occur in compounds for a class of words. In Scandinavian it would have to be the definite article, which simply can’t occur in that position in a compound. In German I imagined something like an irregular plural — regional or specific to the trade or something — which is why I added the idea that it might have been coined by wannabe German speakers in Denmark.

  102. Trond Engen says:

    bruessel/brüssel

  103. marie-lucie says:

    JC, thank you for this very informative discussion.
    I am always surprised when I read an English text describing people “on” a dais, since in French un dais is a kind of high ceremonial canopy partially surrounded by heavy draperies and normally one can only sit or stand “under” it. To a French person, the queen of England sitting on her throne is also sitting “under” a dais, not “on” it.

  104. m-l: The word dais developed in both languages in parallel. When Old French had deis, English did too; when Middle French displaced deis (which would have become Modern French *dois) with the Picard form dais, English did too. If the word had not become obsolete in English, it would probably mean only ‘canopy’ in English today, but because it was restored, the senses ‘canopy’ and ‘raised platform’ (which I think was also current in French in the 17th century) coexist in current English, with the latter predominating. In Scots the word never became obsolete, but went downmarket to mean ‘seat, bench, pew’.
    The question “Is dais an English, Scots, or French word?” has in a sense no answer; it belongs to all of them simultaneously, and weaves in and out of the three languages carrying on its own story in a way that bridges them.

  105. the senses ‘canopy’ and ‘raised platform’ … coexist in current English
    Only in a very rarefied sense. The latter is the only one M-W has, and OED says:
    5. [after modern French—not an English sense.] The canopy over a throne or chair of state.
    1863 W. Thornbury True as Steel I. 147 The Bishop‥ occupied with bland dignity the chief throne under the dais.
    1866 Village on Cliff iii, An old daïs of Queen Anne’s time still hung over his doorway.

  106. Sounds like what architects would call a baldacchino, (or baldachin).
    By the way, does anyone know why a podestà is both a city official and a pedestal, in Italian? In German, Podest means pedestal, and from the Wikipedia article I see that the Friesians had an official called a Potestaat from the time of Charlemagne. Norwegian uses podest to mean stair landing (I think tysk does too).

  107. Trond Engen says:

    Norwegian uses podest to mean stair landing
    I’ve designed stair landings for years without knowing other words than the technical repos and the vernacular avsats. This goes to show that Language Hat makes me a better structural engineer.

  108. So have I, Trond, but now I see it’s not in the dictionary. Perhaps it’s just my wife who uses it, from the German? And me now.

  109. Nobody bats an eye when I use the word. Perhaps they’re asleep.

  110. Trond Engen says:

    In the project meetings I attend we’re all busy looking like we’re up to the job and understand what’s going on, so the more specialized the terminology, the more thoughtful and interested the nods.
    Of course, you and your wife is just prolonging the old trend of linguistic influence I used to handwave away Stu’s questions somewhere above. Even avsats is a half-naturalized loan of German Absatz, apparently replaced in its most central meaning in German by Podest, but since I can’t back it up I won’t say so when Stu can hear me.

  111. Trond Engen says:

    Arcane was the word I was aiming for. >The more arcane the terminology, the more etc.

  112. Yes, unfortunately arcane and specialized are usually transposable.

  113. Language Hat makes me a better structural engineer
    You’ll be getting a bill from my secretary.

  114. Given its demographic’s history of somewhat increased bureaucratic attention, I feel that Yiddish must have a veritable wealth of nouns for your uberzwerg and your jobsworth; I lament that I cannot think of a single one right now.

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