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Appendix D

The Awful German Language

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 in "HABEN SIND
GEWESEN GEHABT HAVEN GEWORDEN SEIN," 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

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 can:

"But when he, upon the street, the (in-satin-and-silk-covered-
now-very-unconstrained-after-the-newest-fashioned-dressed) government
counselor's wife MET," etc., etc. [1]

1. Wenn er aber auf der Strasse der in Sammt und Seide
gehuellten 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

"Gretchen. Wilhelm, where is the turnip?

"Wilhelm. She has gone to the kitchen.

"Gretchen. Where is the accomplished and beautiful English maiden?

"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 ENGLAENDER; to change the sex, he adds
INN, and that stands for Englishwoman--ENGLAENDERINN. 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 Englaenderinn,"--which
means "the she-Englishwoman." I consider that that person is

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 VERMAEHLT: 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
dictionary, 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 examples:




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
demonstrations," 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 euphemism 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

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 consumptive 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--Hoelle--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 boat."

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, repose, 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

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

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 reparenthesis, 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 hauptsaechlich degree, hoeflich sein, dass
man auf ein occasion like this, sein Rede in die Sprache des Landes
worin he boards, aussprechen soll. Dafuer 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 muessen 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
spaeter dasselbe uebersetz, wenn er solche Dienst verlangen wollen haben
werden sollen sein haette. (I don't know what wollen haben werden sollen
sein haette 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

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-
versammlungenfamilieneigenthuemlichkeiten? 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 fuer die Augen in a foreign
land and a far country--eine Anblick solche als in die gewoehnliche
Heidelberger phrase nennt man ein "schoenes Aussicht!" Ja, freilich
natuerlich wahrscheinlich ebensowohl! Also! Die Aussicht auf dem
Koenigsstuhl mehr groesser ist, aber geistlische sprechend nicht
so schoen, 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
vorueber, waren die Englaender 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!"

Mark Twain