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German animal names: Does it look like a pig? No? Are you sure?
May 22, 2014 9:08 PM   Subscribe

A number of different languages utilize compounded words, but German has a number of fun examples in the animal kingdom: how to name animals in German (Compounding German words, previously)
posted by filthy light thief (77 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oooooo, another linguistics thread.

I love me some wordies.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:35 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


"Threatening chicken"!!

One hopes the word for duck is "water chicken", goose is "large asshole water chicken", swan is "large white asshole water chicken", ostrich "tall asshole chicken", etc.
posted by NoraReed at 9:44 PM on May 22 [20 favorites]


If my extremely rusty German serves me correctly, Wasserhahn - or "water chicken", as you would have it - is actually the word for a faucet. You may or may not be relieved to know that it is sometimes called a Wasserkran (i.e. a water crane). Which one imagines is a particularly long legged and elegant water chicken.
posted by not the fingers, not the fingers at 9:59 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


creepy tall freakishly fast aggressively weird asshole chicken = the dreaded emu
posted by elizardbits at 10:00 PM on May 22 [4 favorites]


A lot of German animal names work the same way, where Tier – the word for animal – is preceded by a word describing that animal’s “super power”: Stinktier – stink animal (skunk); Faultier – lazy animal (sloth); Gürteltier – belt animal (armadillo) etc.

The Author tries to make some Rules up how German compounded Words work.

If some of these were actually true a Pig would be name something like "Schnauzentier" (Snout Animal) or Fetttier (Fat Animal), but that is not true. Having said that a German Synonym for Pig is actually "Borstentier" (Bristle Animal) - a Description that would only fit wild Boars.

Since many modern Day English Words are often related to Middle Low German, Fresian and Anglo-Saxon - which in turn share many Attributes with Indo-European the Roots are often hard to find.

In the Case of "Schwein" it is closer to the old (Proto Germanic) "swinan" - see also the Englisch "swine", Dutch "zwijn", Swedish "svin" etc.

So yes, some German (and other Compound Words) are "funny", but I must honestly say that all that Anglo-Saxon Humour about the German Language goes mostly back to War Propaganda and most Americans & Brits being Monoglots.
posted by homodigitalis at 10:01 PM on May 22 [8 favorites]


Same thing happens in Chinese! A squirrel is a Pine Rat. An owl is a Cat Head Hawk. A kangaroo is a Pocket Rat. A dove is a Peace Pigeon. A panda is a Bear Cat. And I don't know who you are trying fool, but a giraffe is clearly just a Long Neck Deer.

And sure to threaten your next Thanksgiving: a turkey is a FIRE CHICKEN.
posted by steveminutillo at 10:02 PM on May 22 [14 favorites]


Duck - Ente
Goose - Gans
Swan - Schwan
Ostrich - Strauß (which can also mean bouquet - just as the Ostrich spreads his Wings)


Wasserhahn - water faucet (no, not a name for any Animal)
posted by homodigitalis at 10:04 PM on May 22


Playing with Google translate:

Chipmunk - Streifenhörnchen.
Streifen Hörnchen - Croissant strip.

Hippo - Nilpferd.
Nilp ferd - Nile horse.

Heuschrecke - Grasshopper.
Heu schrecke - Hay shrink.
posted by unliteral at 10:06 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


I love this, especially because English speakers hate this and lecture you and even change the language to avoid it.

Example: "star fish"
"It is not a fish. Think about the children! They'll get confused. We hereby rename it the 'sea star'. If you call it a star fish you are an evil person and will be banished!"

I'm amazed we are allowed to say 'Guinea pig'.
posted by eye of newt at 10:11 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


panzerschwein!

(Colloquialism)
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:11 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


It's funny, I speak both German and Chinese, but before clicking on that Wikipedia link for "compounded word" I would never have thought of Chinese as a "compound word" language. I imagine it has to do with how I think of each individual character (字) as a discrete unit of contextually-determined meaning, to be joined up in short phrases (词) that define said context. So in my non-linguistically-oriented mind there isn't really a direct equivalent to the concept of "word", let alone one that has to be compounded, especially when the meaning of individual characters can vary so much depending on context.

On the other hand, the Chinese equivalent of teaching kids the meaning of new words by getting them to use that word in a sentence is an activity called 组词, which would probably translate most directly to "creating (compound) words".

Language is cool.
posted by Phire at 10:13 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Oh but what's that great German word like "Pig-cow-duck-hen" or some such that means something that is a little bit of everything?
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:19 PM on May 22


This reminds me of the disappointment I felt when I decided the word "aardvark" was so cool I wanted to know where it came from.
posted by darksasami at 10:19 PM on May 22


I think it was more like "Milk-pig-dog-hen". A thing with too many parts.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:30 PM on May 22


Turducken = trutentehanhinnen?
posted by rue72 at 10:37 PM on May 22


Wait, what monsters call it a Sea Star??
posted by ominous_paws at 10:39 PM on May 22


This is precisely why everyone will be speaking Esperanto within 20 years.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:44 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


"Nilpferd" is actually really close to the meaning of "hippopotamus": horse of the river. (Hippo as in hippodrome, potamus as in Mesopotamia.)
posted by baf at 10:54 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


Chinese has some great compound animal names too:

squirrel = tree rat
panda = giant bear cat
owl = cat head eagle
kangaroo = pocket rat
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:11 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


So for my next fantasy setting, I am totally putting in a culture that pretty much names everything in terms of goats (obviously previous pastoralists).
Large single-hoof goat.
Spiney goat.
Small hopping goat.
Black smelly goat.
Huge long-nose goat.
Super-long neck goat.
Huge white sharp-toothed sea goat.
posted by happyroach at 11:16 PM on May 22 [7 favorites]


> Anglo-Saxon Humour about the German Language goes mostly back to War Propaganda

I think it's funny because it makes Germans seem like daffy beer-addled Jenna Marbleses. But English is not one bit better.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:17 PM on May 22


can any chinese speakers here confirm or deny for me that "uterus" in mandarin is in fact "baby palace"?

i don't even care if this is a derail, this is vital hilarious information
posted by elizardbits at 11:25 PM on May 22 [8 favorites]


So for my next fantasy setting, I am totally putting in a culture that pretty much names everything in terms of goats (obviously previous pastoralists).

You may enjoy Goat Simulator, where you can play as a Tall Goat* or Feather Goat.

*not to be confused with a long horse
posted by knuckle tattoos at 12:18 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


The noble Waschbär!
posted by kafziel at 12:18 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


Mei's lost sandal: I believe you're thinking of "Eierlegende Wollmilchsau" perhaps. Which roughly translates to "egg laying wool-milk-sow".
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:21 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]


"Shield Toad" sounds like it belongs in Beowulf.
posted by Sara C. at 12:28 AM on May 23 [6 favorites]


The German for ovary is "Eierstock" which roughly translates as "egg store"
posted by Omission at 12:39 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


Goat Simulator is wonderful. I got my dad to play it and he said "oh dear" a lot.

Also, thanks all of you for ruining my dreams of some language somewhere having bird assholery front and center in the names of birds.
posted by NoraReed at 12:42 AM on May 23


Or the common squirrel "little oak horn", or "little oak cat" in the nether regions of Germany, where pronouncing the name of its tail is a shibboleth.

(I know, etymologically not correct, a linguistic retcon.)
posted by pseudocode at 12:59 AM on May 23


pseudocode, that would be (some of) the upper regions of Germany. And most of Austria and a small part of Italy.
posted by wachhundfisch at 1:08 AM on May 23


Sara C.: ""Shield Toad" sounds like it belongs in Beowulf"

More like Super Mario Bros.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:48 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


Reisswolf (Rip Wolf) = Paper shredder

Overheard in Döner shop:

Kind: Papa, wo kommt das Fleisch her? (Points to the cone of meat rotating on the spit)

Papa: Dönertier
posted by chillmost at 2:09 AM on May 23 [30 favorites]


I've noticed that a lot of Northern Europeans, who often have excellent English, tend to overuse hyphens when they write. (Example: "John Entwistle was an English bass-guitarist...") I wonder if that comes from this compound noun business - maybe the hyphens seem to them like how to do this in English.
posted by thelonius at 2:19 AM on May 23


Kind: Papa, wo kommt das Fleisch her? (Points to the cone of meat rotating on the spit)

Papa: Dönertier


Well well, looks like I remember just enough of my high-school German to LOL at that.
posted by Jimbob at 2:46 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


I've noticed that a lot of Northern Europeans, who often have excellent English...

The Wikipedia page "List of countries by English-speaking population" claims that Germany has nearly as many English speakers as Britain does, constituting 64% of its population.
posted by XMLicious at 3:03 AM on May 23


IIRC, the "Dönertier" originated in a German comedy program. You can even buy plushies.

But even though German likes its compound nouns (esp. after some reforms) and English has a huuge vocabulary, sometimes you get traffic in the other direction: "hedgehog" mirrors the "pig" construction of the linked diagram. I wonder how many similar constructions were simply outstripped by Latin or French words.

(And by the way, you really can't compare the average English of Germans and Scandinavians. I blame TV)
posted by pseudocode at 3:03 AM on May 23


Guess who's going to call his dog EVERY ONE of these names when he gets home?
("Nugget, are you a BEAK ANIMAL? I think you are. I think that's what you are.")

This guy ↓
posted by jake at 3:10 AM on May 23 [8 favorites]


The compound word fascination of English speakers is fascinating in itself. It's just a rather arbitrary spelling choice; in spoken language you say "compoundwordfascination of englishspeakers" anyway. Ask anybody who's tried to make a computer identify those word boundaries (or just look at a spectrogram).
posted by dhoe at 4:07 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


Chinese fun, continued:
Camel deer = moose
Stinky weasel = skunk
Hunting dog = hyena
But my favorite is
Heroic pig = porcupine
Ant-eater is "ant-eating beast." The "beast" part kind of throws me.
posted by 1adam12 at 4:15 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


"Schnauzentier" (Snout Animal)

That is what this excellent buddy is. Snout Animal! SNOOT BEAST!
posted by louche mustachio at 4:29 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


A marmot is a Murmeltier, literally "marble animal". Explain that one.
posted by madcaptenor at 4:53 AM on May 23


I do prefer the translation 'beast' for some of these.

Stinkbeast! Beltbeast! Beakbeast! Lazybeast!
posted by Drexen at 4:53 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


thelonius: "I've noticed that a lot of Northern Europeans, who often have excellent English, tend to overuse hyphens when they write. (Example: "John Entwistle was an English bass-guitarist...") I wonder if that comes from this compound noun business - maybe the hyphens seem to them like how to do this in English."
Much to my consternation, we have now become so inured to English that many Danes have started splitting up the compound words when writing Danish which is of course Just Wrong™.

The hyphenation thing seems like an attempt at compromise.
posted by brokkr at 5:21 AM on May 23


elizardbits: "creepy tall freakishly fast aggressively weird asshole chicken = the dreaded emu"

It's actually Liebelisabetchenhahn, or "lover of elizabeth(-diminutive) chicken."

In a few parts of the German-speaking world it's known as the Elisabetchenjagthuhn, or the elizabeth(-diminutive) chasing chicken, which is believed to chase elizardbits in order to give them kiss-pecks, but I'm sure you'd never get stranded there so I don't need to tell you where it is.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:22 AM on May 23 [6 favorites]


Is German really that unusual in this, though? Why is lazy animal bizarre and funny, but, uh...sloth is normal I guess?

As noted with hippopotamus, a lot of English words for animals are compounds, some from Germanic roots (hedgehog, guinea pig, groundhog, warthog, sea cow, sea lion, catfish, dogfish, zebrafish, flying fox, flying squirrel, seahorse) and others reflect compounds in other source languages where the compound is kind of lost in the translation (from the article: armadillo is 'little armored one' in Spanish, platypus is 'flat-footed one' in Greek, porpoise from porcus + pois[on] 'pig-fish', porcupine = porcus + spina 'thorny pig', squirrel from Greek skiouros 'shade tail', rhinoceros from Greek 'horn' + 'nose', racoon from an Algonquin word that means 'one who scratches with its hands').

Also, on Eichhörnchen/squirrel. I don't speak German, but am I the only one who sees a very obvious acorn cognate in there and not "oak croissant"?

Thelonius, I wonder how much of that has to do with being educated in British English, and perhaps in a somewhat antiquated version thereof; Brits tend to use hyphens more often and have kept hyphens in compounds that have long been closed up in American English.

madcaptenor, my guess is that Murmeltier is a corruption of a compound using murmeln 'mutter', given that one proposed etymology of marmot is French marmotter, 'mutter'--see also the colloquial 'whistle pig' for the American groundhog, a member of the marmot family.
posted by drlith at 5:31 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


A marmot is a Murmeltier, literally "marble animal". Explain that one.

Could also be a "murmuring animal". But it's actually the same etymology as "marmot", essentially tracing back to the Latin for "mountain mouse" via the Swiss who apparently never could pronounce things the proper way.

Staying within the same range of animals, there's also the "Erdmännchen" ("little earth men"), what the Anglos call "meerkats" (which, incidentally, isn't what the Dutch originally called by that name).

And the squirrel's name seems to derive from "eichorn" which strangely enough seems to have nothing to do with either oak, horn (or acorn).
posted by pseudocode at 5:40 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


Pineapple —

was ist da los?
posted by romanb at 6:00 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


goose is "large asshole water chicken"

The elusive Hatnenvogel.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:15 AM on May 23


"Eierlegende Wollmilchsau"

That's it!
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 6:40 AM on May 23


darksasami: This reminds me of the disappointment I felt when I decided the word "aardvark" was so cool I wanted to know where it came from.

Would you feel better if you could call it an African antbear?


unliteral: Playing with Google translate:

Chipmunk - Streifenhörnchen.
Streifen Hörnchen - Croissant strip.


From the end of the German animal names page:
I’d like to end this list by giving one animal a category all to itself: the humble squirrel.

Eichhörnchen:

little oak horn: Eiche (oak tree) + Horn (horn) + -chen (little)
oak croissant: Eiche (oak tree) + Hörnchen (croissant)

alternate names:

Eichkätzchen (regional name) and Eichkatzerl (Austria) – oak kitten
Apparently, naming little woodland mammals [something] croissant is common.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:00 AM on May 23


Hörnchen is the German name for animals of the Sciuridae family, so yes, it's very common. You have Riesenhörnchen, Kleinsthörnchen, Baumhörnchen, Zwerghörnchen, Borneo-Hörnchen, Berghörnchen, Rothörnchen and dozens of others.

Hörnchen simply means little horn (as in the ones on a bull). Croissants are named the same in German because they look like little horns.
posted by brokkr at 7:40 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


I’d like to end this list by giving one animal a category all to itself: the humble squirrel.

If you study etymology (and I recommend you do not, unless you wish to be distracted by every goddamn sentence you read for the rest of your life) you see that even the sensible English words we are holding up next to the outré foreign-language one are often just as bad. Squirrel derives from the Greek skia-oura, or shadow-tail, because that joker Aristotle and his buddies figured that the reason for the bushy tail was so that squirrels could walk around in their own shadow all day.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:07 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


I always enjoy when these threads are visited by people who tell us that it is wrong to be amused by something.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:26 AM on May 23


I always enjoy when these threads are visited by people who tell us that it is wrong to be amused by something.

The Germans have a word for that.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:02 AM on May 23 [8 favorites]


OMG squirrels and chipmunk and such would be so much cuter if they had tiny horns. Can we make that happen, scientists?
posted by Sara C. at 11:06 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


The Germans have a word for that.

Eh, it's more of a paragraph.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:08 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


It's German, so a word and a paragraph can be the same thing.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:23 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


So yes, some German (and other Compound Words) are "funny", but I must honestly say that all that Anglo-Saxon Humour about the German Language goes mostly back to War Propaganda and most Americans & Brits being Monoglots.

Mostly? Perhaps. Don't forget that there were plenty of German speakers to mock relentlessly living in the US throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

And then there is this:

The Awful German Language, by Mark Twain (first published in 1880 as an appendix in A Tramp Abroad.)

As we used to say in Cincinnati in the old days, "Throw the cow over the fence some hay. Throw Mama from the train a kiss."
 
posted by Herodios at 11:24 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


It's annoying how much of this stuff is just plain wrong, like the hörnchen/croissant thing.
It's bullshit that "Truthahn" means "threatening chicken". "Trut" just mimics the sound the bird makes.

It just seems like the person's going for cheap laughs without even the most basic fact checking (oh yay stereotypes!) and it's not as funny as something more precise would be.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:16 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]


The Germans have a word for that.

Eh, it's more of a paragraph.


Or a music video.

The paragraph.
posted by frimble at 1:53 PM on May 23


and it's not as funny as something more precise would be.

Forget the "eierlegende Wollmilchsau", that's the most German thing I read in this thread so far.
posted by pseudocode at 3:23 PM on May 23 [3 favorites]


Thank you for posting this filthy light thief. I am not familiar with the German language (I just know French and some basic Polish), but I went to your link and it made me smile and consider learning a little. I see from reading the postings here that the site with animal names may not have been particularly accurate, but it appealed to my basic love of animals and burning desire to bestow all cute furry/feathered/slimy things with as many adorable nicknames as possible. I am now inspired to learn a few phrases of this extremely pretty-sounding language. The very long compound words of German are quite attractive to a novice of the language (think of how much I will be able to somewhat understand even with a limited vocabulary) and not at all something to poke fun at.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 3:37 PM on May 23


Oh but what's that great German word like "Pig-cow-duck-hen" or some such that means something that is a little bit of everything?

So is a platypus a Hässlichehaarige giftanspornweb mauleierhhund?
posted by BlueHorse at 3:51 PM on May 23


And yet, both a duck and a frog "quack" in German.
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 4:32 PM on May 23


Wait, what monsters call it a Sea Star??--ominous_paws

Well, the National Aquarium, for one (among many), and my elementary school, thinking that it would make things less confusing. They ended up so befuddling my mind so much that I still haven't gotten over it many decades later.
posted by eye of newt at 6:50 PM on May 23


I don't see why the Germans would need another word for squirrel.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:57 PM on May 23


If there is any mean-spirited making fun of German going on in this thread, rather than just enjoying different etymologies, then I haven't seen it.

Anyway, I've been studying German a lot recently and adore the language, and one of the things I love about it is how "from the outside" it looks like it must conform to this strict and efficient set of rules when so much of it is actually anything but intuitive in practice. Like the three genders of nouns, where you just have to memorize each nouns gender on its own because fuck context clues. (or, rather, there are context clues within the noun, but only just enough and with just enough consistency to make sure you get it wrong about half the time.) Or the yoda-speak syntax of any sentence with distinct clauses, as alluded to above.

But my favorite is pluralizations, which can be done by adding an "e" to the end of a word, so something like Pferd (horse) becomes Pferde (horses). Sometimes it is done by adding an "n," so "Katze" (cat) becomes "Katzen" (cats). Sometimes you add both (Hund/Hunden.) If your word ends in an "e," then you can be pretty damn sure it pluralizes with an "n," but otherwise you better just know that stuff. And then for some neologisms or borrowed words, they'll just use an "s" like in English, as in "Autos" and "Babys."

That very last bit there is why German plurals tickle me so much - because how in hell does a language need to borrow a word to cover the concept of "babies"?

(all of this said with genuine love and a deep knowledge of how much crazier, less consistent, and difficult English is, etc.)
posted by Navelgazer at 5:13 AM on May 24


That very last bit there is why German plurals tickle me so much - because how in hell does a language need to borrow a word to cover the concept of "babies"?

Well, among the words used to denote a human infant is "Schätzchen". Schätzen being a verb meaning to value or appreciate, and -chen being a suffix to denote smallness. So, their word for baby basically meant "thing of little value".

That's so very German.
posted by kafziel at 10:46 AM on May 24


No, kafziel, "Schätzchen" neither means "thing of little value", nor does is it mean "baby". It's avery tender expression meaning "little treasure" and can be applied to children of any age, or (often ironically) to adults. The traditional (and widely used) word for babies is "Säugling", i.e. suckling.

I'm kind of annoyed by how it's okay to be casually Germanophobic and spout the dumbest prejudices ("Them Germans are so cold and efficient, their language even shows that they don't love their children!"), while similar statements about most other groups (African Americans, gays) are (rightly) a complete no-no.
posted by tecg at 11:34 AM on May 24 [7 favorites]


So I could call a muskrat either a Bisamratte or a Moschusratte? I'd be interested in knowing the etymology of Bisam.

And I like the compounding. it makes it easier to learn nouns, knowing that the last word in the compound is responsible for assigning the gender. It's the grammar that's still plaguing me as much as it did in middle school.
posted by droplet at 12:30 PM on May 24


Hahahaha seriously? Your complaint here is actually for real saying the only race it's okay to make fun of is white people?
posted by kafziel at 3:06 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]


tecg: Thanks. I've been studying German online, and "Säugling" hasn't come up, just "Babys."
posted by Navelgazer at 3:22 PM on May 24


kafziel: what about not making fun of people at all? It would make a welcome change.

And tecg is right by the way - your comment is complete bullshit.
posted by brokkr at 3:47 PM on May 24


... uh, of course it's complete bullshit. Most jokes are.
posted by kafziel at 4:26 PM on May 24


Argh. Okay, a language doesn't "need" to borrow words for anything, that's just what languages do. "Baby" is the German term for baby. "Säugling" (which basically means "sucker". No, really.) is a bit oldfashioned and clinical, the type of thing a doctor would say.
posted by Omnomnom at 9:29 AM on May 26


Also, a duck says "quack", a frog says "quak". It's a long drawn out sound.
I just wish people would make fun of things Germans actually say, instead of making up shit that sounds about right.
posted by Omnomnom at 9:32 AM on May 26


So for my next fantasy setting, I am totally putting in a culture that pretty much names everything in terms of goats (obviously previous pastoralists).

I mentioned Goat Simulator's Tall Goats and Feather Goats. Heifer International is using this concept for Games for Goats. You can buy Clucking Goats, Wooly Goats, Lumpy Goats, and more for people in need, and you'll get Goat Simulator and Escape Goat 2. (blog permalink) At $20 minimum for two already cheap games, it's not a deal like Humble Bundles, just a neat incentive for charity.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 6:43 PM on May 31


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