January 07, 2003
Bad German Alert II

James Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review writes (in his only post on 1/6)* that Ben Shapiro "proposes Palestinian-rat for Israel". In an update, he credits Shapiro for a correction: "I should have written Palestinian-rein not Palestinian-rat, and so I have corrected my error". In fact, he has not corrected his error, since he has not changed his text and even the correction in the update is (through no fault of Shapiro's) incorrect.

I won't say that he should have used the German form of 'Palestinian' and written Palästinenserrein. A hyphenated English-German hybrid could be defended in this context: it would certainly be more intelligible. But the Nazi term judenrein, "cleansed or purified of Jews" (as if they were filth or poison) is an adjective, and the sentence "proposes Palestinian-rein for Israel" is therefore nonsense. The noun form of the original term is Judenreinheit, 'the condition of having been cleansed or purified of Jews'. (Typical German: the noun can't be translated without either extreme awkwardness -- Jewcleansedness? -- or way too many words.) My own German's a little rusty, but a look at the Oxford Superlex German-English dictionary suggests that the word Capozzola wants is Palästinenserreinheit or at least Palestinian-reinheit. I trust my readers will correct me if I am wrong. He could also have written "proposes a Palestinian-rein status for Israel".

By the way, I believe that a Palestinian-rat would be a Council of Palestinians: a noun, but not at all the right one, unless you are talking about collaboration. I hope Capozzola does not mean to imply that collaboration with Israelis is as contemptible as collaboration with the Nazis. Perhaps he was misled by the spelling of the German word for 'council', which only looks like it refers to a rodent.

This is not the first time a pretentious lefty blogger has tried to use Nazi-era German to insult someone on the right and ended up shooting himself in the foot through gross ignorance of the language. (For a previous 'Bad German Alert', see this post.) It's best to avoid jokes and wordplay in a language one does not know well.

*Sorry, I have a firm policy of refusing to link to anyone who refuses to link to anyone who links to Little Green Footballs.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at January 07, 2003 11:54 PM

I vaguely remember reading somewhere words to this effect:

If you want to understand the German mind, just consider the fact that the German expression for "cross the street" is «überdenstraßegehenumzunachdieandereseitzukommenwerden», whereas the German expression for "Hans, what do you say we put together an army and sack Poland?" is «Hans—Poland, ja?»

Or more (slightly) more seriously--I remember being amused in high school that the German word for war is Krieg, and the German verb "to get" is kriegen. Tells you something right there.

Posted by: Andrew Solovay on January 8, 2003 12:36 AM

P.S. Speaking of pretentious lefty bloggers, don't miss Hesiod's latest...

Posted by: Andrew Solovay on January 8, 2003 12:38 AM

I'm reminded of the mythical tome Unaussprelichen Kulten(technically, Die Unaussprelichen Kulten), invented by the fantasy writer Robert E. Howard. The usual English translation would be "Unspeakable Cults." There was some debate with the editor of Weird Tales as to whether a literal translation would actually be "Unpronounceable Cults". It was settled by an old German janitor who serviced the building where the offices of aforesaid magazine were located.

Posted by: Frank C on January 8, 2003 01:37 AM

I think what must have happened is that he remembered seeing the words Judenrat and judenrein and just got the two muddled. That sort of thing can happen when you skim your Holocaust history extremely rapidly ;-)

Posted by: Michelle Dulak on January 8, 2003 02:30 PM

Required reading: Mark Twain's essay, "On the German Language."

There's a bit in Connecticut Yankee where the narrator is listening to Sandy speak, when all of a sudden it hits him: "I'm listening to the mother of the German language!" he realizes. This is after quoting Thomas Mallory verbatim, making Sandy the narrator of that story.

Posted by: Meryl Yourish on January 8, 2003 09:41 PM


Yes, the Twain piece is marvelous. When I was taking introductory German our TA passed out selected excerpts from it, and for some years afterward I poked around bookstores occasionally trying to find the whole thing. It's actually a sort of appendix to A Tramp Abroad, a hilarious book itself (including, among other things, a description of the sensation of listening to a mouse gnawing something in your room while you're trying to sleep that is one of the most vivid things in all literature).

But if you're trying to learn German, you need to read that Twain; it'll cheer you up. Or if not, at least you can drown your sorrows in company with the English student who "would rather decline two drinks than one German adjective."

Posted by: Michelle Dulak on January 9, 2003 12:25 AM

Sounds like a fascination with all things German. Have you been reading Mein Kampf in the native tongue? Studied Mussolini too, eh?

[Ed. Fake email address edited to remove obscenity and improve accuracy. The message came from]

Posted by: nofundy on January 9, 2003 08:47 AM

Wow, you sure told him!

Ol' Rittenhouse tried to condemn ethnic cleansing -- but his German syntax was in error. Boy, his face must be red, huh?

I've learned my lesson -- I'll NEVER speak out against ethnic cleansing. If I did, I might make some kind of bi-lingual goof. Better just to let you folks alone with your enthusiasm for ethnic cleansing and keep my non-sprechen-sie trap shut!

As one of Sideshow Bob's jurors once said: "No one who speaks German could be evil."

Posted by: slacktivist on January 9, 2003 01:59 PM

Dr. Weevil:

I made a post after yours on counterspin. I thought you would like it. However the comments section was taken down.

Posted by: robodruid on January 9, 2003 02:38 PM

Just saw the scorecard you put up on hesiod's. Touche Doc. I handle the language well enough to get through a tech spec, but that's extracting info, not reading really. Your translation of skimble's comment will either shut em up, or fan the flames much higher.

Posted by: Gary on January 9, 2003 06:57 PM

When I was studying German I decided that the German system of noun declensions (which mostly governs the way you indicate plurals)were responsible for everything bad that the Germans ever did. As I remember, there are four declensions, one of which takes two distinct forms, plus about a dozen rules as to which noun goes into which declension, plus over a hundred individual exceptions to the dozen rules. If you learn German at an early age, it all makes sense and you despise anyone who hasn't mastered the "system". But if this system makes sense to you, then anything makes sense to you, no matter how mostruous. Hence Hitler.

The German verbs were fine, often much like the English. I thought the noun cases were great and very useful. Noun gender was stupid and annoying, but without the declensions would have been bearable.

Some of the peculiar sentence structures in the dialogue of the movie Fargo seem to be taken straight from German, for example beginning a sentence with "So then...." or asking a question in the form "So.......then?"

Posted by: zizka on January 9, 2003 07:06 PM

I wonder if I'm the only one who remembers the words to the Blue Danube?

«Aus, außer, bei, mit, nach, zeit, von, zu!»

Posted by: Andrew S. on January 9, 2003 08:41 PM


No, you're not the only one. Bloody dative ;-)

Posted by: Michelle Dulak on January 9, 2003 09:30 PM

Though of course it's "seit," not "zeit" — one of the charms of that list was that, like a lot of the most useful mnemonics, it was in alphabetical order.

Posted by: Michelle Dulak on January 9, 2003 09:40 PM

D'oh! (But it's pronounced "zeit"!)

Though as for mnemonics, it'll never top my all-time favorite (from TV Funhouse):

Stages of Grief:
denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance = "Drink Alcohol Before Doing Anal"

Posted by: Andrew S. on January 9, 2003 10:37 PM

Poor 'nofundy' -- too cowardly to give even a hotmail address -- thinks (or at least writes) that I have a "fascination with all things German". A glance at the archives would have shown him that I'm actually fascinated with Latin most of all, then Ancient Greek, English, and language in general: German comes in no better than fifth or sixth among languages I've mentioned here.

I also wonder what kind of narrow-minded bigot can't even conceive of a reason to learn German or Italian other than to read Mein Kampf or the works of Mussolini. For the record, I've never read a page of either in the original or in translation, and my German is nowhere near strong enough to tackle a book as long as Mein Kampf anyway. My Italian is just as bad, though I do catch about 10% of the words when listening to Verdi -- maybe 20% if there are subtitles, 50% with a libretto that has a facing translation.

As for 'slacktivist', no one has objected to criticism of supporters of ethnic cleansing. Whether arguing for expulsion of the Palestinians from Israel and the West Bank counts as support of ethnic cleansing is an interesting question. After all, killing someone who is trying to kill you is not murder, and a majority of Palestinians support the mass murder of Jews and the ethnic cleansing of the entire Middle East. Quite a few seem to think it would be better to kill the Jews than to drive them away to live on some other continent. What if the only way to prevent that is to expel them? I certainly hope that it is not, but my hope may be foolish.

Finally, even if you find Ben Shapiro's opinions loathsome, that does not justify using Nazi language to criticize someone you know is an Orthodox Jew. Only an asshole does that. And only a pretentious asshole like Capozzola tries to do that and fails through gross ignorance of German.

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on January 9, 2003 10:48 PM

P.S. to 'slacktivist':

Go ahead and speak out agains ethnic cleansing. The only way you can "make some kind of bi-lingual goof" is if you insist on making a bilingual post without learning one or both of the languages first. This is a mistake most of us find very easy to avoid.

Also, just to be pedantic: Capozzola's mistake had very little to do with syntax and everything to do with vocabulary and word-formation.

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on January 9, 2003 10:58 PM

Well whaddaya know - it's Franz Liebkind!

[Ed. Fake email address edited to remove obscenity and improve accuracy. The message came from]

Posted by: dave on January 10, 2003 01:53 AM

My apologies. I didn't know you had a no-links-to-Theoingummy policy. I seem to have attracted a troll. The bad kind of troll.

Posted by: Andrew Solovay on January 10, 2003 03:14 PM

No problem, A.S. Your link seems to have inspired another dishonest post over on Counterspin, which 'Hesiod' is now pretending was a "joke", and which has also attracted some hilariously stupid comments, many of them from 'dave'.

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on January 10, 2003 06:05 PM

Oh, I know. I've been there, too. ("Andrew S.", the first post on that thread!)

I think there's some projection going on. I'm making notes for a possible rant-topic over on my site--the idea that the Left is, on some level, ashamed of its failure to come to terms with its cheerleading for Communism, and soothes itself by fantasizing that everyone on the Right is actually a Nazi.

I'm impressed by Hesiod's cowardice, though. Having ham-handedly insinuated that we're Nazis, he's afraid to even acknowledge that that's what he did--he pretends that "Isn't it interesting that people on the Right know German" was meant to be no more political than, say, "Isn't it interesting that people in the West like cinnamon".

Posted by: Andrew Solovay on January 10, 2003 06:33 PM

Actually, Andrew, the projection's even simpler. The Left has been trying for decades to make everyone forget that the "Nazis" were the "National *Socialists*". Seen in that light, Hitler was essentially a Mugabe-style racist Marxist dictator with a good army.

Posted by: Ian S. on January 10, 2003 11:42 PM

I find it amusing that the likes of Hesiod and Cappazzola, after having had mistakes pointed out to him, immediately go on the defensive rather than acknowledging and learning from them.

It's pretty hard to improve yourself if you can't ever admit your mistakes.

Posted by: David Perron on January 15, 2003 09:28 AM

When I was younger I loved German and was also quite left-leaning (though I am less so now). I wonder how that fits in with the "all people who know German are right-wing" theory.

The theory that the structure of languages probably does influence thought and therefore behaviour is well known, and up to a point I agree with it. German allows (and at times demands) great precision in the form of expression, and permits a very high density of meaning to be packed into a small number of words. This probably does change the way native speakers of it (and those who have learned it?) think.

But the idea that knowing German makes you invade Poland or elect Hitler is preposterous. Read a bit of history, please.

Posted by: David Pritchard on September 24, 2004 06:22 AM