“No, it's WEE-ner. Like a penis.”
October 2, 2013 8:36 PM   Subscribe


 
Possible discussion point for Jewish mefites: Every Weiner/Wiener in this panel says the name was made up on Ellis Island. We have this story in my family too (and we're not named Weiner) but as it turns out, my family didn't even go through Ellis Island. Anyway, I thought that part was culturally interesting.
posted by latkes at 8:43 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was getting confused trying to figure out who said what until I realized that they were all having similar experiences, and the Elllis Island bit was astonishing.

Wonder how your family acquired the name "Latkes?" :-)
posted by salishsea at 8:47 PM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've never understood the whole "wiener/weiner" thing in the US.

It's spelled "wiener", it's pronounced "vee-ner", and it means "Viennese" (not just "Vienna", as someone claims in this article, that would be "Wien", pronounced "Veen").

Or, its spelled "weiner", pronounced "vhy-ner", and means, either, wheelmaker in some German dialect, or vintner in Yiddish.

The sausages, and, by extension, the dog and the slang for penis, is "wiener", from the wiener sausage (which, interestingly, is called "Frankfurter" in Austria).
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:54 PM on October 2, 2013 [12 favorites]


I now demand a cover of the MeFi classic "Punch'em in the dick", restyled with klezmer instrumentals and titled "Whack'em in the Frankfurter"


make it so
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:01 PM on October 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


so now explain where the wiener picked up the schnitzel (and how it became such a crappy fast food franchise...)
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:17 PM on October 2, 2013


Or, its spelled "weiner", pronounced "vhy-ner", and means, either, wheelmaker in some German dialect, or vintner in Yiddish.


or, one who cries?
posted by readyfreddy at 9:35 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


so now explain where the wiener picked up the schnitzel (and how it became such a crappy fast food franchise...)

The Wikipedia article on Der Wienerschnitzel delves quite thoroughly into the utter wrongness of the name:
The expression der Wienerschnitzel is German—however the correct article to use in this case is the neuter form das, not the masculine der. This is true for both the actual food (das Schnitzel) and the restaurant itself (das Restaurant, das Lokal).

Strictly, Wienerschnitzel might also be seen as incorrect, since the term is a two-word compound expression in German. As one word only it can suggest that natives of Vienna (Wiener) have been processed as Schnitzel. Only in the attribute position - Wiener Schnitzel - it means Schnitzel from Vienna or Schnitzel in Vienna-style, so the grammatically correct usage would be Das Wiener Schnitzel.

"Wiener", from "Wiener Würstchen", is a colloquial name for a hot dog. The actual Wiener Schnitzel however means "breaded veal cutlet, Vienna style", a dish that the restaurant chain does not sell.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:37 PM on October 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


also, house of names disagrees
posted by readyfreddy at 9:40 PM on October 2, 2013




Heh. The article does indeed include my local politician Wiener. With whom I have some political disagreements, but he does indeed have a good sense of humor about his name.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:54 PM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Knappster, that's a really interesting read. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:13 PM on October 2, 2013




Why Your Family Name Was Not Changed at Ellis Island

That article was GREAT! Thanks for posting it. Really makes sense and puts a reason behind some doubts I'd been having.

Years ago someone had arched his eyebrow at my own family Ellis Island story and pointed out that a lot of Jews changed their names on purpose, and that my family name, Goldberg, would be a good name for someone to choose since it would have been a high status kind of name.

In my family, we supposedly had some family name in Europe that is now lost to history, then acquired Goldberg here in the US, then my grandfather promptly dis-enJewed the name by changing it to "Gilbern", whatever that means, then he had two daughters who married non-Jews and changed their names, so that was the end of that whole weird history of made up names!
posted by latkes at 10:23 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


The whole "changed on Ellis Island" phenomenon is sort of true and sort of not.

Nobody's name got mistakenly changed at Ellis Island. Ellis Island didn't ask the names of immigrants or transcribe them into official immigration records. All immigrant information came directly from the ships' manifests. Your name couldn't change at Ellis Island any more than it can change at JFK airport.

That said, there was a common point at which one's name could be changed: the ship company ticketing offices. This could happen for a few different reasons.

Firstly, immigrants weren't stupid and a lot of them knew their names would be hard to pronounce in America. Or maybe they wanted a fresh start with a fresh identity. So they'd change their names under their own power by booking passage under the new name deliberately.

And then you really do have the cases where names "got changed", either due to simple spelling or transcription errors in the ticket office, or because the immigrants weren't buying tickets in their home country or native language but had to transit through other countries to get to the port in the first place (this was especially common with Russian Jews in my understanding). In that case, the effect of having your name misunderstood was the same as the "Ellis Island" story, it just wasn't Ellis Island but Amsterdam or Liverpool doing the mangling.
posted by Sara C. at 10:36 PM on October 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also, I always assumed Wiener = person from Vienna, no?

I could see Wiener becoming Weiner at a non German speaking shipping office, though.
posted by Sara C. at 10:37 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the Ellis Island story.
posted by salishsea at 10:50 PM on October 2, 2013


Fun fact: the pizza Fry was delivering on that fateful December 31, 1999 was for a Mr. I.C. Wiener.
posted by MoxieProxy at 11:40 PM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Seems like anybody who didn't want to put their kids through hell could just anglicize it and go by "Vienna" or "Vintner". I would. Ancestral/hereditary pride is kinda bullshit anyway.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 11:49 PM on October 2, 2013


In my family we had Swedes named "Andersen" who on arrival became "Smith". We did used to have a funny story about an immigration officer with a perverse sense of humor declaring, "There are too many Andersens! You're a Smith from now on." I can understand a person named "Vrjynski, or something as equally horrible" wilfully changing their name, but I don't get how this one happened. I suppose the urge to assimilate was a powerful one (my grandfather, for one example of a first-generation immigrant, forbade the family to speak Swedish at home, so my mother never learned it).

On my German side I inherited the name Hartung, which as you can imagine was quite easy to deliberately mangle, something I had to deal with through middle school, but not since. I sympathize with the Weiners out there and hope the jeers lead them all to create TV series like Mad Men.
posted by dhartung at 12:06 AM on October 3, 2013


It occurs to me that a generation or two ago "wiener" probably didn't have the penis association nearly as much as it does today, and would have been more prevalent as a synonym for hot dog.

I know people around my parents' age (baby boomers) who continue to call hot dogs wieners and weenies with a straight face as if it's totally normal. Whereas I don't know anyone my age who calls them that. And I think the whole "change your name if it sounds ethnic" thing is not done as much anymore.
posted by Sara C. at 12:11 AM on October 3, 2013


If I were a Wiener or Weiner in America, I would just change my name to Vienna or Viennese or Vintner or Carter or Cartwright and have done with it. My descendants would thank me for going through the bother.
posted by pracowity at 12:33 AM on October 3, 2013


Russell Wiener (WEE-ner), musician: Generally anyone with i-e is WEE-ner, or they're lying. People with e-i usually pronounce it WHY-ner.

It's FRANKENSTEEN.
posted by three blind mice at 1:41 AM on October 3, 2013


Knappster - that link is worth reading alone just for the story of Mr. Frank Woodhull, born Mary Johnson. What he has to say about his case and about how women were expected to behave, dress, and of the types of work open to them are amazing and relevant today. Who would have thought immigration officials in 1908 would have been more practical about these kinds of issues than many people of this era?

Thank you for sharing.
posted by _paegan_ at 2:46 AM on October 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


This seems appropriate to this discussion somehow.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:39 AM on October 3, 2013


Weiner & Wiener LLC - Developers of the premier complaints desk software for the processed meats industry.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:49 AM on October 3, 2013


Names aside, there are plenty of errors in the manifests. My dad's grandparents are listed as living in non-existent Wein and people who probably weren't Jewish are recorded as Jewish and so on. I did, however, figure out that they didn't give up on the correct pronunciation of their/my surname right away. It seems the census taker in 1920 was German, as they show up with their name spelled phonetically in German. In 1930 it's spelled correctly, so there's no way to know what the pronunciation was then.
posted by hoyland at 4:55 AM on October 3, 2013


So a Weiner can be a weiner, a weiner and also a whiner if you're willing to be loose on spelling.
posted by tommasz at 5:04 AM on October 3, 2013


Hard to believe many people would allow their name to be permanently changed by a mere spelling error or even by an officious clerk.

Many immigrants may have been escaping from something or someone - oppression, enemies, family (easiest divorce ever), debts, responsibilities - and hence understandably preferred not to be traceable. If that were so they might often also prefer not to explain the true reason for the change of name and would naturally prefer the Ellis Island story.
posted by Segundus at 5:48 AM on October 3, 2013


Yes, "ei" is pronounced as "eye" (said the fellow named Eikner (a phoneticized Eichner)). My wife's family was Czech (via Ellis Island) and they wound up with a rough phonetic equivalent of what was probably almost all consonants in the original ("Can I buy a vowel, Pat?").
posted by jim in austin at 6:27 AM on October 3, 2013


that link is worth reading alone just for the story of Mr. Frank Woodhull, born Mary Johnson.

For real. What a story.
posted by rtha at 6:35 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


It occurs to me that a generation or two ago "wiener" probably didn't have the penis association nearly as much as it does today, and would have been more prevalent as a synonym for hot dog.

Yeah, this. Plus, why would anyone expect the average German/Austrian immigrant to know all the potential slang words in English? Americans still make confused snarky noises at any Brit who refers to their cigarette as a fag, and British people find it hilarious when Americans refer to their butt as a fanny, even right now in 2013. And that's between people who speak almost the exact same language.

Anyway I still have the ship's manifest of my maternal grandfather's passage to NYC with his brothers and sisters and I will have a look and see how many names in general appear to have been preemptively anglicized.
posted by elizardbits at 7:10 AM on October 3, 2013


W.hen I would hear stories a bout names being changed, I used to wish some one had opted to change our Czech vowel-less collection of random letters. No such luck--my ancestors came through Baltimore, or so went family lore.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:46 AM on October 3, 2013


It occurs to me that a generation or two ago "wiener" probably didn't have the penis association nearly as much as it does today, and would have been more prevalent as a synonym for hot dog.

People have been using sausage words to describe male genitalia for centuries, for example the term "pud" is short for "pudding" which is an archaic word for a stuffed intestine, aka sausage. According to Mark Morton's The Lover's Tongue (p. 110) the use of the word wiener to refer to the penis appears around 1910, about 5 years after it came into use for the sausage as a shortened version of wienerwurst.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:14 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't so much mean that it was unknown, just that it was more used for the food than the body part until the point at which people were unlikely to change their name for assimilationist reasons.

I mean, I guess I've heard the slang term "pud" for penis, but I have no problem saying the word "pudding" without giggling. However, I never call a hot dog a wiener. Because a wiener is a penis.

Compare, for example, the last name "Wang". Is a wang a penis? Sure. But it's not such a ubiquitous expression that you can't help but think of it. I can say Wang without blushing. I'd think that someone named Wang who wanted to change it because of the penis thing was probably being a little over-sensitive about it.

It also occurs to me that a lot of words that used to be both perfectly normal words and slang for genitalia have skewed over the last generation or so to be almost exclusively for genitalia. Pussy, for example. Nobody calls a cat a pussy anymore. If Pussy was a somewhat common last name we could all be wondering why in the hell immigrants named Pussy didn't change their name.
posted by Sara C. at 9:25 AM on October 3, 2013


Okay so here is a page from the 1912 Red Star Line Antwerp-NYC manifest. It looks like about 25% familiarly-spelled/anglicized names, although this is thrown off a little bit by the prevalence of French/Belgian names that are unfamiliar to me but might be perfectly mundane in France or Belgium.
posted by elizardbits at 9:32 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Okay so here is a page from the 1912 Red Star Line Antwerp-NYC manifest.

Tee hee, I hope nobody had to share a berth with Miss Maja Fauter, especially when the mess was serving beans!

I can say Wang without blushing.

Actually, that name is pronounced "wong" anyway. But the point I was trying to make is there was already precedent for a sausage/penis usage before "wiener" came into parlance and it only took five years to make the jump in print. There has never really been a time in English when a wiener was just a wiener, so why did it take so long for people to start caring?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:38 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not really about when sausage slang for penises first appeared in print. It's about the shifting meaning from a type of sausage to more exclusively a penis synonym.
posted by Sara C. at 11:04 AM on October 3, 2013


There have been two Presidents of the United States of America named Johnson.

The most recent was ousted by a man named Dick.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:04 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


(To say nothing of Slick Willie.)
posted by Sys Rq at 11:09 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess I should tell you also that at one point my mom tried to get my entire family to change our last name to something else. She wanted to sit down and try to come up with a new name, but my dad was not in favor of it.

This is the best thing I've read today.
posted by Sara C. at 11:27 AM on October 3, 2013


elizardbits, you can safely assume that all the names on that page that start with De* are Belgian (or Dutch, but most likely Belgian).
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:30 AM on October 3, 2013


DUTCH. Yeah, I don't know why I always forget where in Europe Belgium is located. It's like I think they float around at will on a glorious cloud of chocolate and beer and diamonds.
posted by elizardbits at 11:58 AM on October 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


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