Überbrettl.

I thought I’d pass along couple of tidbits from the Jabotinsky novel that didn’t fit into yesterday’s post. At one point he refers to the institution of the Überbrettl:

Überbrettl […] was the first venue in Germany for literary cabaret, or Kabarett, founded 1901 in Berlin by Ernst von Wolzogen. The German Kabarett concept was imported from French venues like Le Chat Noir in Paris, from which it kept the characteristic atmosphere of intimacy. But the German type developed its own peculiarities, most prominently its characteristic gallows humour.

The distinct cabaret atmosphere was sketched by Otto Julius Bierbaum in his 1897 novel Stilpe, which inspired Wolzogen in the foundation of the Überbrettl. He chose the initial name both to parody Friedrich Nietzsche’s Übermensch concept and to contrast the widespread Brettl (i.e. “(stage-)board”) variety shows without further artistic ambitions.

I don’t know if German speakers will agree with me, but I think that’s a funny word.

And there’s a passage where he mentions the “седьмая держава” [seventh power] in a context that makes it clear the referent is the press — what in similar contexts in English is called the “fourth estate”; a little googling showed me that the “correct” term is шестая держава [sixth power], the term having been coined at a period when the “five powers” were England, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia. I don’t know how or when it got turned into the seventh, but somehow that expression has wound up in a Russian-Hebrew dictionary.

Comments

  1. Bathrobe says:

    I don’t know if German speakers will agree with me, but I think that’s a funny word.

    The first person we should be asking is Brett….

  2. somehow that expression has wound up in a Russian-Hebrew dictionary

    …where it’s completely uninformatively translated as “the seventh power”, which means no more to Hebrew speakers than it does to English.

  3. Even weirder! How did it end up there?

  4. @Bathrobe: Definitely a funny word! It sounds like a word from a Borsht Circuit comedy routine.

  5. David Marjanović says:

    I didn’t know that word at all. But Brettl is extremely Bavarian; it is very peculiar to found anything with that in it in Berlin.

    Brett = wooden board (perfectly Standard). That’s why I remember the name of the 1990s wrestler Bret Hart, which sounds like it ought to be a description of his head or something – bretthart has 171,000 ghits.

  6. @David Marjanović: Yeah, Brettl is the kind of south German word that could easily have become common Yiddish, except that it apparently didn’t. Maybe Brettl is too recent?

    I had always sort of assumed that “Bret Hart” for the wrestler was a stage name, after Bret Harte the writer. However, it is apparently his real birth name—although he apparently came from a family of wrestlers, so maybe he was named at birth with a good stage name by design.

  7. David Marjanović says:

    Maybe Brettl is too recent?

    Would surprise me – the diminutive suffix is productive, as I thought it was in Yiddish? What do you call a chopping board?

  8. @David Marjanović: Yeah, as I said it looks like it could be a good Yiddish word, but it just isn’t. Saying bret is fine for a thin cutting board, but it does not seem like so common a word (in contrast to klots for a heavier butcher block). Maybe the issue is with the centrality of eating bread together to Jewish religious life. A breadboard in a Jewish kitchen may be more like a decorated Seder platter than like an ordinary butter dish. (There are now an endless number of fancy breadboards one can buy online for one’s fresh-baked challah.) So cutting boards may have had their Yiddish terminology replaced by Hebrew relatively early on in the transition of Jews away from vernacular Yiddish. (This phenomenon is apparent with other words too. For another example of everyday household objects which nonetheless have religious valance, there is lighting. Nobody uses the Yiddish vocabulary of lomp and likht, and probably didn’t even seventy years ago.)

  9. b. z. rodney says:
  10. David Marjanović says:

    Ah, that makes sense.

  11. PlasticPaddy says:

    @brett
    No one told wiktionary this is not a word. I have seen other cites, but maybe these are some kind of frozen cooking/food usages from when people used the vernacular.
    https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D7%91%D7%A8%D7%A2%D7%98%D7%9C

  12. @PlasticPaddy: It’s basically true that any German word (except words that are particular to northern dialects) can be found in Western Yiddish. That was why I initially specified “common Yiddish”; I probably should have continued to say “common Yiddish” in my later comment. My experience is that with the –l suffix, the word is not really found in Eastern Yiddish. My Yiddish is basically Eastern Yiddish, and in that dialect, I think bretl sounds like a nonce coinage. It is, of course, possible that bretl was present even in Eastern Yiddish before the early twentieth century, and that it seems to have disappeared for the reasons that I mentioned.

  13. Maybe the interceding sixth was the Ottoman Empire?

  14. Maybe, but usually once an expression like that gets coined, it stays as is.

  15. But Brettl is extremely Bavarian; it is very peculiar to found anything with that in it in Berlin.

    Well, Wikipedia says

    “ Als Namen wählte Wolzogen, der in seiner Münchener Zeit Erfahrungen als Spielleiter gesammelt hatte, mit „Überbrettl“ eine ironische Anspielung auf Friedrich Nietzsches Wort vom „Übermenschen“, womit zugleich ausgedrückt werden sollte, dass es sich weit mehr als um ein übliches „Brettl“, wie man damals kleine Tingeltangel-Klubs nannte, handeln sollte, von denen man sich durch literarisch-künstlerischen Anspruch abheben wollte.“

    So it may just be a direct borrowing from Bavarian. Which has the advantage of sounding rustic to a Berliner and makes the name more amusing.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    Perfect.

  17. Owlmirror says:

    And there’s a passage where he mentions the “седьмая держава” [seventh power] in a context that makes it clear the referent is the press — what in similar contexts in English is called the “fourth estate”; a little googling showed me that the “correct” term is шестая держава [sixth power]

    Wikipedia articles have the translations off to the left on the page (well, the non-mobile version of the page), and from the English page on “Fourth Estate”, one can click on “Четвёртая власть”. Even without knowing Russian, I can search on “держава”, and note that it does not appear. It certainly looks like a discussion of how the phrase arose in England, without once mentioning that there are different homegrown Russian idioms for the same concept.

    somehow that expression has wound up in a Russian-Hebrew dictionary

    …where it’s completely uninformatively translated as “the seventh power”, which means no more to Hebrew speakers than it does to English.

    The Russian phrase does have “(пресса)” as part of the entry, so if one has the presence of mind to look up “пресса”, the Hebrew does have “עִיתוֹנוּת נ’; כּלֵי תִקשוֹרֶת ז”ר”. For non-Hebrew readers: the first definition offered is “journalism”, which is reasonable.

    The second entry is “communication devices”, which doesn’t seem quite right to me. You wouldn’t use the phrase to refer specifically to printing or publishing or broadcasting, which is presumably what the пресса does.

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