Anthony‘s comment on the Whale Cloth Press thread led me back to the Dada Manifesto, written by Hugo Ball in 1916. I hadn’t read it in years, and it struck me how fresh it still is, so I thought I’d present it here for your dadadelectation—in my own translation, since the ones available online are awful, giving no sense of the brio of the original. There seem to be two versions circulating on the internet; I’ll give a translation of the short version because, well, it’s shorter; for comparison (if you read German), here‘s the longer one

Dada is a new direction in art. You can tell this because up to now nobody knew anything about it, and tomorrow everyone in Zurich will be talking about it. Dada comes from the dictionary. It’s awfully simple. In French it means “hobbyhorse.” In German: “addio,” “get off my back,” “see you later!” In Romanian: “Absolutely, you’re right, that’s it. Yeah, really, let’s do it.” And so forth.

An international word. Only a word, and the word as movement. It’s simply awful. If you make it into a direction in art, that must mean you want to get rid of complications. Dada psychology, dada literature, dada bourgeoisie, and you, most honored poets, who have always composed with words but never composed the word itself. Dada world war without end, dada revolution without beginning, dada you friends and alsopoets, posterior evangelists. Dada Tzara, dada Huelsenbeck, dada m’dada, dada mhm’ dada, dada Hue, dada Tza.

How do you achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada. How do you become famous? By saying dada. With noble attitude and fine deportment. Until you go crazy, until you pass out. How can you get rid of everything infernalish and journalish, everything nice and neat, everything priggish and brutish and foppish? By saying dada. Dada is the world soul, dada is the point, dada is the world’s best lily-milk soap. Dada Herr Rubiner, dada Herr Korrodi, dada Herr Anastasius Lilienstein.

Which is to say: the hospitality of the Swiss is to be valued above all things, and in aesthetics what matters is the norm.

I’m reading poems that intend nothing less than to do without language. Dada Johann Fuchsgang Goethe, Dada Stendhal. Dada Buddha, Dalai Lama, Dada m’dada, Dada m’dada, Dada mhm’ dada. What matters is connection, and first interrupting it a little. I don’t want words that other people have invented. All the words have been invented by other people. I want my own nonsense, and the corresponding vowels and consonants along with it. If the vibration is seven cubits long, I want words that fit it, seven cubits long. Herr Schulze’s words are only two and a half centimeters long.

So now you can clearly see how articulated language develops. I just let the sounds fall where they may. Words emerge, shoulders of words, legs, arms, hands of words. Ow, oy, oo. You shouldn’t let too many words show up. A verse is an opportunity to get by without words and without language as far as possible. This accursed language, it sticks to dirt like stockbrokers’ hands that have worn down coins. I want the word where it stops and where it starts.

When each thing has its word, the word itself has become a thing. Why can’t a tree be called pluplusch, and pluplubasch when it’s been raining? And why does it have to be called anything at all? Do we have to hang our mouths on everything? The word, the word, the woe’s the worst you ever heard, the word, gentlemen, is a first-class public concern.

A few notes on the translation. I’ve taken more liberties than I would have with a less dadaish text; notably, I’ve rendered “Aalige und Journalige” as “infernalish and journalish,” because the rhyme seemed more important to me than the literal meaning of the rare word “aalig” (‘eely’). Same thing with “Das Wort, das Wort, das Weh gerade an diesem Ort,” where the last half means ‘the woe right here’ (or ‘exactly in this place’) but I chose to preserve the rhyme instead. The word “allerwerteste” looks like it means ‘most worthy’ but in actual usage means only ‘rump, posterior’; it’s a pity to lose the ghost-meaning ‘most worthy evangelists,’ but given a choice between a real rump and a ghost honorific, I have to go with the former. I linked Rubiner because I’m sure of the identification; I’m not quite as sure that Korrodi is Eduard Korrodi (1885-1955), long-time editor of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, and besides I couldn’t find a good page to link to. I have no idea who Anastasius Lilienstein might be. Oh, and note the pun of Johann Fox-gang Goethe, instead of Wolf-gang. Silly, silly dada!

As an example of the kind of thing with which he would have scandalized the public on such an occasion, read his sound-poem (Lautgedicht) “Karawane.”

If anyone whose German is better than mine has a quarrel with the translation, I beseech you to let me know; I’m willing and eager to improve it. (And if anyone wants to reproduce the translation elsewhere, feel free, but I’d appreciate it if you’d accompany it with “translated by Steve Dodson at Languagehat.”)


  1. I love it!
    I’m at home with limited net access, but very soon I will be writing a smashing blog entry about why I like What’s-His-Name Willits that translates Solzhenitsyn, and why translations like this one make me pleased. 😀

  2. Thanks! Praise from a fellow translation addict is especially welcome. I look forward to the post.

  3. A paragraph from the chapter “Satanopolis” of Ball’s novella “Tenderenda the Fantast” contains the following excerpt: “This wasn’t hsi big problem. He felt well and filled his time by studying the 27 different ways of sitting and spooking. His name was Lilienstein.” After mentioning the ‘Anastasius Lilienstein’ in Ball’s manifesto, the footnote to this excerpt in ‘Blago Bung, Blago Bung, Bosso Fataka!’ (a Dada anthology I have) says that in the Tenderenda passage Lilienstein “would seem to contain one of Ball’s alter-egos,” although I don’t honestly know how anyone makes much sense out of Tenderenda.


    peptill sylagg arkram euphonium
    peptill sylagg arkram euphonium
    peptill sylagg arkram euphonium
    peptill sylagg arkram euphonium
    gulla gulla hoo
    gulla gulla ho
    gulla gulla h

  5. Thank you for this.
    The well-known English translation from Wikisource contains a word „europeanised“ which seems to be absent in German version (but it is present in French translation too). I’m currently pondering where did it came from.
    I’ve found something that looks like an alternative German version: „„Wie kann man alles, das nach Journalismus schmeckt, loswerden … alles, das nett und richtig, engstirnig, moralistisch, europäisiert, entkräftet ist?“ (from the book called “Joan Miró”, available in Google Books). But perhaps this is a translation from English or Spanish?..
    By the way, your link to the longer German version doesn’t work anymore.

  6. Thanks, I love new comments on old threads!

    By the way, your link to the longer German version doesn’t work anymore.

    Sadly, such is the life of an internet link. There are doubtless hundreds such in the archives of LH. But I’m distressed about this one, since I can’t seem to find any longer version now; if anybody reads this and knows of one, please let me know!

  7. How about this?

  8. Thanks, I’ve made the change!

  9. marie-lucie says

    br: „europeanised“

    It must be the French word européanisé, which could be applied to, for instance, an Asian or African person more or less “assimilated” to (Western) European culture. This word is the past participle of the verb européaniser or s’européaniser ‘to give’ or ‘to acquire European characteristics’.

    The TLFI gives the first attestation in 1806 (perhaps meaning ‘adapted to Europe’ – no example of context given), with most citations from the 20th century.

  10. „europeanised” – This way of having the first quotation mark as a double comma at the beginning of the quote appears to me as very German, but I could be completely wrong in this respect. Whatever the case may be, this habit is used by the Trésor de la langue française, especially in its etymologies.

    Dada – This is how my (younger) sister used to call me when we were kids. This is funny when you think that in Hindi dada is the paternal grandfather.

  11. appears to me as very German

    So it is. German opening quotes are technically called “low-9” after their position and shape: however, the German closing quotation mark is “high-6” like the opening English quotation mark. Thus quotation marks open away from the quotation itself in German, and for the same reason, the German use of guillemets is right-pointing at the beginning and left-pointing at the end, the opposite of French usage.

    All these quotation marks come from the Greek diple sign, which looked like > and was placed in the left margin next to any line containing quoted material. The diple was shrunk, paired with an anti-diple, moved into the line to be directly around the quoted words, and aligned vertically in various ways depending on typographical tradition. It was (and is) not unknown for a language to switch from one typographical tradition to another: compare the various ways that Latin-script languages have used and ceased to use the long s (ſ). In particular, the further back you go, the more likely you are to find typographical conventions that today are strongly associated with another language.

  12. John, thanks for lighting my lantern. I’d say that placing a “diplê” sign in the margin of a text is still a habit people have nowadays, to mark the line where something is worth of note; or they put a vertical line along a whole passage, or use a highlighter, which is definitely not a light thing to do.

    It can be seen on the internet that other languages, from Estonian to Albanian, use that type of quotation marks. I got it wrong then when I changed the direction of the closing quotation mark, which in German should be outward. The way I did it — “upper 9” — seems to be the way Serbs, Romanians or Poles do it but not the Germans.

    My German lessons in school didn’t go as far as quotation marks, and it was a bit of a shock to learn that les cousins germains used guillemets pointing towards the quote and not away from it as any normal person would do. »Peter, die Blume ist schön«: with something like that my interest in German might have been sufficiently aroused for me not to lose interest during the (compulsory) German class.

  13. « Siganus (Dada) Sutor says:
    « March 1, 2014 at 1:55 am
    « Your comment is awaiting moderation. »

    This inopportune moderation might have something to do with dadaism.

    Mais Dada vaincra !

  14. I am pleased to announce that Alfred Brendel’s NYRB review essay, “The Growing Charm of Dada,” is online in its entirety, free to everyone, and I would like to single out this quote:

    A Dadaist sentence by [Max] Ernst reads, “Thanks to an ancient, closely guarded monastic secret, even the aged can learn to play the piano with no trouble at all.”*

    *“Nach uraltem, ängstlich behütetem Klostergeheimnis lernen selbst Greise mühelos Klavier spielen.

  15. “Thanks to an ancient, closely guarded monastic secret, even the aged can learn to play the piano with no trouble at all.”

    That anticipates a whole universe of internet ads. PIANO TEACHERS HATE THIS MAN!

  16. marie-lucie says

    From the quotation in the post: meanings of “dada”:

    In French it means “hobbyhorse.”

    Yes, but incomplete.

    Dada is the baby word (used in addressing babies and later picked up by them) meaning ‘horse’ (possibly from trying to say cheval). So it was naturally used as a word for ‘hobbyhorse’, a children’s toy either in the shape of a little horse (usually with curved pieces of wood linking the front and back legs, allowing the rider to sway back and forth), or consisting only of a stick similar to a broomstick but with a horselike “head” as the working end, which stick the child could straddle while pretending to trot or gallop as if on a horse. Such toys were very popular at a time where horse riding was very widespread as a means of transportation as well as in some military practices. Like English “hobbyhorse”, French dada acquired the meaning ‘hobby, favourite pastime’ and then ‘fixed idea or topic that a person insists on discussing ad nauseam’.

    In German: “addio,” “get off my back,” “see you later!”

    So “dada” or “tada” is of German origin? It does not sound Germanic at all.

  17. I’ve never encountered Dada as a German word except as the name of the art movement. Perhaps it’s a Swiss regionalism.

  18. David Marjanović says

    Same for me; the closest thing I’ve encountered in Austria is a “bye” word, papa or, in the leniting east, baba. (Final stress.)

  19. Just got to this in Anna Karenina: “Это его dada теперь.” Garnett renders it “that’s his hobby just now,” and Magarshack also uses “hobby,” but I think “hobbyhorse” would be better.

  20. John Cowan says

    In the 18-19C, anglophones used to talk about riding their hobbies ‘pastimes’ rather than practicing them or engaging in them or whatever: this clearly indicates the etymology < hobbyhorse.

  21. @John Cowan: It’s more complicated than that, naturally. The oldest English meaning of hobby was (per the OED) “a small or middle-sized horse; an ambling or pacing horse; a pony.” This was followed by the pleonasm hobby-horse (still referring to an actual animal). From that came the name hobby-horse for faux or toy horses—firstly “in the morris-dance, and on the stage (in burlesques, pantomimes, etc.), a figure of a horse, made of wickerwork, or other light material, furnished with a deep housing, and fastened about the waist of one of the performers, who executed various antics in imitation of the movements of a skittish or spirited horse,” then the more familiar “stick with a horse’s head which children bestride as a toy horse”; both of these are attested from the sixteenth century. By metaphorical expansion, the toy meaning of hobby-horse gave rise to the meaning of “a favourite occupation or topic, pursued merely for the amusement or interest that it affords, and which is compared to the riding of a toy horse…; an individual pursuit to which a person is devoted (in the speaker’s opinion) out of proportion to its real importance” in the seventeenth century. It was natural at that stage to talk about people “riding” their hobby-horses, and that phrasing continued for a while after hobby-horse was shortened back to hobby in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century.

  22. David Marjanović says

    Riding hobby-horses all the way down to PIE. Less brutal than it sounds.

    “stick with a horse’s head which children bestride as a toy horse”

    The obsolete German word for “hobby” is just that, Steckenpferd.

  23. PlasticPaddy says

    I am surprised no one picked up on Wort = Weh (W) an diesem Ort (ort). The only sufficiently dadaesque equation in English I can think of would be parse = pee + arse , which is too vulgar for the context.

  24. Lars (the original one) says

    Danish kæpheste are not found in toy stores any more, and their figurative sense is more like idées fixes.

    Akismet has ceased to be my friend, so I’m trying to post without a home page link. EDIT: It worked, so let’s see if it survives editing.

  25. I am surprised no one picked up on Wort = Weh (W) an diesem Ort (ort).

    Hence my “woe’s the worst you ever heard,” which preserves the relationship (w … ɚd).

  26. PlasticPaddy says


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