Verschissmuss!

I normally try to avoid posting stuff relating to politics, especially emotion-laden politics, but this is so funny I can’t resist. Kate Connolly reports for the Guardian:

Germany’s Social Democratic party has backed down after becoming locked in a blame game with a florist and a printer over who was responsible for misspelling “fascism” on a war memorial wreath so that it resembled the word “fuckup”.

The error was only spotted once the wreath had been laid on Memorial Sunday, 17 November, when Germany traditionally commemorates the victims of war and fascism. Instead of the word “Faschismus” (fascism) the word “Verschissmuss” had been used. Although the word doesn’t exist, it closely resembles the word “verschissen” – a vulgar term for seriously messing up, close to “fucking up” in English. […]

“It has now emerged that the error on the ribbon of our wreath was not a sabotage attempt but down to human error,” the local party wrote. “There was an unfortunate chain of unlucky events where, despite several people handling it, nobody noticed the mistake … […] Heinz-Jürgen Jahnke, who specialises in ribbon printing, told the newspaper Bild: “We received the order by fax on 12 November. Everything was clearly written and perfectly legible. I print whatever the customer wants,” he said. As to why he didn’t notice the odd spelling and alert the customer, he said: “We sometimes print Arabic, Italian and Polish texts. How can I check if they are correct?” The only reason for calling back a customer, he said, would be “if something is illegible”.

Neither, apparently, did the florist notice anything when she picked up the wreath and delivered it, as requested by the SPD, to the memorial site. SPD members only noticed the highly embarrassing faux pas once the ceremony was under way.

I feel bad for the florist and for anyone who was upset by seeing it, but damn, “Verschissmuss” is hilarious. Thanks, Trond!

Comments

  1. And a Happy New Year.

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    @rosie:

    Also Gesundheit!

    I suppose the mistake is also a fine illustration of the non-rhotic nature of modern Standard German, that David M has been telling us about for a while.

  3. Ah yes, I didn’t catch that. You’re absolutely right.

  4. Stu Clayton says:

    What is this “non-rhotic nature of modern Standard German” ? A claim that no “r”s are pronounced ??? What about the back-of-the-throat so-called “r” that almost everyone here uses ?

    Edit: aha, the following is reasonable, with its “eher”, “mancher” and “partiell” Hintertürchen.

    # Rhotizität ist vor allem ein charakteristisches Merkmal des Englischen mit seinen weltweiten Varianten. Rhotizität wird auch in anderen Sprachen beobachtet, unter anderem im Deutschen, allerdings in geringerer Ausprägung: So wird das nach Kurzvokalen im konservativen Deutschen ausgesprochen (Herr, Wirt), während es nach Langvokalen eher vokalisiert wird (Uhr, Heer). Auch in unbetonten Silben finden man keinen R-Laut in der Aussprache (Mieter, verfallen). In mancher Literatur wird deshalb gesagt, dass das konservative Deutsch ein partiell rhotischer Akzent sei.[6] #

  5. After vowels, Stu, after vowels. You haven’t been paying attention, have you? If you’re not careful, you’ll have to take the course over again.

  6. From here:

    “… Die nhd. Regelung hängt mit der Entwicklung des Binde-r (engl. linking r) im Mhd. zusammen. Als solches wird ein wortauslautendes r bezeichnet, das in den Silbenonset des folgenden, vokalisch anlautenden phonologischen Wortes verschoben wird … Zur Erklärung der heutigen Formvariation von da(r)-, wo(r)- muss bis ins Ahd. zurückgeblickt werden. Seit dem Spätahd. gibt es die Tendenz, das r in einsilbigen Wörtern mit Langvokal zu tilgen … Es wird nur dann erhalten, wenn das Folgewort vokalisch anlautet. … bezeichnet einen solchen Zustand als nicht-rhotisch (engl. non-rhotic). Im Gegensatz dazu ist das Deutsche ca. bis Ende des 10. Jhs. als rhotisch (engl. rhotic) einzustufen, weil das wortauslautende r unabhängig von der Umgebung ausgesprochen wird …”

    — Renata Szczepaniak, “Der phonologisch-typologische Wandel des Deutschen von einer Silben- zu einer Wortsprache”, 2007)

  7. Aha, I see you’ve already had a course correction.

  8. Stu Clayton says:

    Yes, after vowels. Note what the WiPe says about “konservatives Deutsch”. That is the Deutsch of my crowd.

    I wouldn’t say “Veschissmus” anyway. The word is VeRschiss . The joke is ok as is, there’s no need to drag somebody’s rhotic dreams into it.

  9. Stu Clayton says:

    Correction: arhotic dreams. I prefer that word over “non-rhotic”.

  10. “somebody’s rhotic dreams into it.”

    I am so stealing this one!

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Stur:

    The article assures us that this was not actually meant to be a joke, but was a genuine error: my arrhotic diversion was intended to shed light on why this might be more plausible than it seems at first blush.

    The depressing aspect is that the hapless florist doesn’t seem to have been familiar with the word Faschismus (kids today eh? etc etc.) But then I don’t suppose fascism comes up all that much in the blessed and useful realm of floristry.

    I myself am staunchly rhotic. I indignantly repudiate all malevolent insinuations about my dream life, which is (I’ll have you know) full of rolled r’s, many of them both uvular and fricative.

  12. David Marjanović says:

    I suppose the mistake is also a fine illustration of the non-rhotic nature of modern Standard German, that David M has been telling us about for a while.

    Oh yes. Reportedly, the initial order passed through a telephone; the difference between [ɐ] ( = unstressed -er-) and unstressed [a] is minuscule, and unstressed [a] isn’t native in German to begin with. On top of this, some accents have merged them completely; Berlin is famous for this, and Merkel does it, too.

    Rhotizität ist vor allem ein charakteristisches Merkmal des Englischen mit seinen weltweiten Varianten.

    Wow, that misses the point epically.

    Im Gegensatz dazu ist das Deutsche ca. bis Ende des 10. Jhs. als rhotisch (engl. rhotic) einzustufen

    Huh, that’s much, much earlier than I thought. I guess arrhoticity must have spread very slowly.

    That is the Deutsch of my crowd.

    Yeah, because you’re in Cologne. For me, harten, zarten and Taten all rhyme.

  13. Trond Engen says:

    The story has got some nice little linguistics in it. One, as pointed out already, it illustrates non-rhoticity in that the florist trying to make meaning of the call guessed that initial [fa] meant ver- . Two, it’s an eggcorn. I don’t know if the florist knew the word from before or heard it for the first time when she got the call, but either way, Verschiss- did make sense in context — maybe also -muss “necessity, must”. Three, it was prefered over *Verschießmuss, which also might have made some sense. Last but not least, as somebody said in a comment section my wife found,:”Finally we have a German translation for ‘shitstorm’!”

  14. David Marjanović says:

    Three, it was prefered over *Verschießmuss, which also might have made some sense.

    That would be pronounced noticeably differently.

    Last but not least, as somebody said in a comment section my wife found,:”Finally we have a German translation for ‘shitstorm’!”

    Day saved, I can go to bed.

  15. In the German parts of the internet, that also caused jocular remarks about how it was about time that the victims of dysentery finally receive recognition.

  16. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    Im Gegensatz dazu ist das Deutsche ca. bis Ende des 10. Jhs. als rhotisch (engl. rhotic) einzustufen
    Huh, that’s much, much earlier than I thought. I guess arrhoticity must have spread very slowly.”

    Consider what happened in English, with early sporadic loss of preconsonantal /r/ starting c. 1300. It is from this 1300-1700 period that we get ‘ass’ in addition to ‘arse’, ‘bass’ (OE bærs) and ‘Worcester’ being pronounced Wooster etc. But proper non-rhoticity that later became ubiquitous in England and Wales only starts in the late 18th century around London.

    So maybe this is what they mean, maybe German started showing this early sporadic loss around the 10th century?

  17. Stu Clayton says:

    @DM: I guess arrhoticity must have spread very slowly.

    I think I have an iron-clad peeve here, but I will cloak the clad in silken square-bracketed tentativeness.

    Ancient Greek [is it not the case ?] has an initial a-privative. “Rhoticity” is an invention in English based on “rho”, so it’s not ancient Greek. And yet [I propose] there’s no good reason for adding an “r” between the initial “a” [intended as a-privative, surely] and “rhoticity”, as if “ar” were from a Latin prefix like “ad”, in which it can happen that the “d” is assimilated to the following consonant, here “r” in “rhoticity”.

    Apart from that, the very possibility of my little joke with “arhotic” may explain why the standard expression is “non-rhotic”.

  18. David Eddyshaw says:

    Classical Greek words beginning with r always change this to rrh after a prefix ending in a vowel. This is not due to assimilation of a prefix-final consonant: it reflects the fact that Greek initial r is always derived from an earlier consonant cluster. Thus in dia-rrhoea (to keep with the theme) the initial of the second bit (as in the cognate verb rheein “flow”) derives from *sr (via *hr): it’s cognate to “stream.”

    Another example after alpha-privative: arrhythmia.

  19. Stu Clayton says:

    Thank goodness for silken tentativeness ! I’ll have to try it out more often.

  20. Trond Engen says:

    8David M.: [*Verschießmuss] would be pronounced noticeably differently.

    Yes. I’m not sure there’s a linguistic point to make at all (and I ended up dropping my attempt to expand upon it, since I couldn’t decide what to do with it), but I found it interesting that the difference isn’t neutralized in that context, which I hadn’t noticed, and thought that might say something about the phonemic realities* behind the ß.

    *) Yes, I know.

  21. David Marjanović says:

    phonemic realities

    I think the synchronic linguistic point that can be made here is simply that German tolerates overlong syllables and distinguishes them from long ones.

  22. I reckon Stu has never seen a Greek text that rendered /rr/ as ῤῥ. From which Hermes preserve us.

  23. Stu Clayton says:

    Sure, everybody knows διάρροια ! Conservative German is still διάρροτικός, that is to say, durch und durch fällig as the tide of arrhoticity rises.

    I have no explanation for why my Pape: Griechisch-Deutsch always refers the double-rr-ed form to the one with only one r:

    αρράζω = αράζω, knurren, von Hunden, Ael. H. A. 5. 51.

    [Pape: Griechisch-Deutsch, S. 12774
    (vgl. Pape-GDHW Bd. 1, S. 359)
    http://www.digitale-bibliothek.de/band117.htm ]

    I can’t get the text there to show up here. Above the first rho in the pair is a comma-to-the-left, above the second rho a comma-to-the-right. Like “breathing marks”, haeresis or whatever that thing is called. I thought they appeared only in initial position above a vowel, when needed.

  24. January First-of-May says:

    that rendered /rr/ as ῤῥ

    …Funnily (and mildly ironically), in my current browser and font, the two Greek symbols are entirely identical – both show up as ρ with a three-pixel vertical line above it.

    [EDIT: though they’re distinct in the slanted “cursive” font.]

  25. John Cowan says:

    Gotta love what GT does to Rhotizität, which becomes rotality, and nicht-rhotisch, which becomes non-romatic. I hardly know which is the worst.

  26. I like the way it translates Harakkamylly ‘smock mill’:

    Harakkamylly on tuulimylly, jota käännettäessä ei käänny koko tuulimyllyn rakennus ja myllyn jauhatuskoneisto, vaan ainaostaan voimansiirron myllylle sisältävä tuulimyllyn yläosa. Nykyiset tuulivoimalat jatkavat harakkamyllyn toimintaperiaatetta, koska niissä on kiinteä torni ja vain laitteen yläosaa käännetään tuulen mukaan.

    Suomessa ehkä harakkamyllyä yleisempi tuulimyllytyyppi oli varvasmylly, jossa tuulen suuntaan käännettiin koko myllyrakennus. Varvasmyllyä sanottiin myös konttimyllyksi.

    __________
    The Magpie Mill is a windmill that turns not the entire windmill building and the mill grinding machine, but always the upper part of the windmill containing the transmission to the mill. The current wind turbines continue to operate the magpie mill because they have a fixed tower and only the top of the unit is turned to the wind.

    Perhaps the most common type of windmill in Finland was the toe mill , where the whole mill building was turned in the direction of the wind. The toe grinder was also called a container grinder.
    _________
    OK, ainaostaan is a typo, should be ainoastaan ‘only, just’, and harakka & varvas ARE ‘magpie’ and ‘toe’, respectively. But what about the rest?

  27. I’m not sure anybody has actually said so explicitly, but this is all about initial /r/ in Ancient Greek being both trilled and (like trilled /rr/ medially) devoiced.

  28. Stu Clayton says:

    @Rodger C: I’m not sure anybody has actually said so explicitly,

    Indeed no one had so far, so thanks for that as far as I am concerned !

  29. Lars Mathiesen says:

    This reminds me of the situation in Spanish where /ɾ/ and /r/ are separate phonemes, spelled r and rr intervocalically — but word-initial a lone r is /r/ (and /ɾ/ does not occur, I think), so it is doubled when the morpheme follows a vowel. (Cf. rollar / arrollar).

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