German words have a reputation for being long, and at times very expressive. Two of my descriptive favorites are Zahnfleisch (literally ‘tooth meat’ or ‘gums’) and Schneebesen (which literally translates to ‘snow broom’ but means ‘whisk.’)
Since we’ve been living in a village with a name of mammoth proportions these past months, it’s no surprise when friends and family (who aren’t German) have a tricky time saying Oberammergau. We playfully instruct them to just say ‘O-gau’ instead.
Imagine my delight a few weeks ago, when I learned that Oberammergau is famous not only for its woodcarvings and Passion Play, but also a tongue-twister. (If you’re curious, Germans call tongue-twisters Zungenbrecher, literally ‘tongue-breakers.’) When we were at a New Year’s celebration a few weeks ago, this tongue-twister had even been inserted into a modern song.
First, here’s the English Translation, so you know what you’re saying:
Today Hans is going to visit me,
Lies is looking forward to it.
But if he arrives via Oberammergau,
or if he arrives via Unterammergau,
or if he arrives at all,
is not certain!
(Unterammergau is a village that is situated lower in the Ammer River Valley than Oberammergau. unter=below; ober=upper)
And now, I challenge you to say the German version three times.
Heut’ kommt der Hans zu mir,
freut sich die Lies.
Ob er aber über Oberammergau
oder aber über Unterammergau
oder aber überhaupt nicht kommt
ist nicht gewiß!
The German language’s penchant for precision is perhaps best described in Mark Twain’s humorous essay, The Awful German Language, which you can read here. Twain penned the essay in an attempt to describe the frustration he felt in learning German during his visits abroad; the essay has been a favorite for German language learners for more than a century. If you’ve struggled with German, as I have, and continue to do so, it’s a fun read.
Have you studied German? What are some of your favorite, noteworthy words?