Sunday, February 14, 2016

Deppen Leer Zeichen

In an earlier blog Red Baron compared the English grocer's apostrophe with the German Deppenapostroph (goof's apostrophe). Last week I read about another disfigurement of my language: the Deppenleerzeichen (goof's blank space) or as those goofs would rather write Deppen Leer Zeichen. What happened?

Even Der Spiegel titles Windmühlen Wahn instead of
 Windnühlenwahn (windmill mania) (©Der Spiegel)
As you know German words can be long. Some German words are so long that they have a perspective as Mark Twain, the special friend of the German language, once wrote. However, what many foreigners regard as an ordeal turns out to be a fantastic tool for creating new words. I already mentioned Martin Luther who had - when translating the Bible into German - invented new German words by combining two existing words, e.g., Schandfleck (spot of shame) for blemish, Gewissensbiss (biting of the conscience) for remorse, Lockvogel (luring bird) for bait, and Landpfleger (caretaker of the country) for governor.

Modern authors invent new words too. Sascha Lobo once proposedAffärmann is the male part in an affair playing on the resemblance with Fährmann (ferryman). Unterlastung is the contrary of Überlastung (overload or overstrain). The neologism verversprechen is playing on the German double meaning of versprechen signifying either to promise or to suffer from a slip of the tongue. Therefore the new word means that a politician's promise before an election was just a slip of the tongue.

What recently happened in my country makes me go up the walls. More and more existing word combinations are separated by Deppenleerzeichen. So in a DIY store you no longer find Gartenhandschuhe (gardening gloves) but rather Garten Handschuhe although admittedly Garten Hand Schuhe have still to be seen. Looking around further I read Gieß Kanne instead of Gießkanne (watering can, more literally pouring jug) and Grab Erde for Graberde (plant nutrient soil to spill on a grave) where Grab Erde rather is an imperative: Dig the soil! Other examples are Curry Wurst instead of correctly Currywurst, Hotel Ausfahrt for Hotelausfahrt (hotel exit), and Kissen Schlachten for Kissenschlachten (pillow fights). In the last example a misunderstanding is likely for when Kissenschlachten is written with a Deppenleerzeichen you may interpret the combination as killing pillows.

I love killing pillows (©Doppelleerzeichen)

Even combinations of Deppenapostroph and Deppenleerzeichen become possible when the delicious Martinsgans (St. Martin's goose) is fragmented into:

©Doppelleerzeichen
Below there is another more serious example where it should read: Qualitätstierprodukte (quality products for animals) and www.Hundeleinen-Shop.de (shop for dog leashs):

My English grammar of 1948



©Doppelleerzeichen
Some people argue that the Deppenapostroph was invented for graphical reasons or just to catch the eye of a potential customer. Others say that we imported the separation of words from the States where they struggle with combinations like shoe store, grocery store, candy store, but bookstore and drugstore. There is battleship and battle cruiser, post office and postcard, and backache and stomach ache. Seventy years ago my English teacher told me that there is a tendency in English to write word combinations in one word (is the trend still observed?) whereas in Germany the opposite becomes reality.

In German the basic rule is simple: Write all composed words in one word. Only since 2006 the possibility exists in German to use a hyphen in words like Biogemüse (organic vegetables). Writing Bio-Gemüse makes the combination easily readable. The same is true for Kaffee-Ersatz instead of Kaffeeersatz (coffee substitute) and even more so for Rohrohrzucker. In fact, this word could be misread as a meaningless "tube ear sugar" while "raw cane sugar" is meant. So a hyphen is essential: Roh-Rohrzucker. For those long German words where even native speakers frequently stumble hyphens now are common. The word Telefonhöreranschlusskabel (telephone receiver connecting cable) is easier read as Telefonhörer-Anschlusskabel but nobody taught us to separate long words by Deppenleerzeichen.


Once having a coffee at a Steh Café one of Germany's linguistic mentors, Bastian Sick, became so frustrated that he proposed to allow "do what you like" spellings for what is correctlly spelled Stehcafé* (standing café) in the next edition of Der Duden, Germany's Webster.
*Red Baron likes to savor his coffee seated and takes a coffee in an upright position only at an Italian coffee bar for an espresso - although not spelled expresso - must be consumed hot, very hot and therefore fast.

There is another mistake on the photo. It should read:
Tasse Kaffee (cup of coffee) instead of Tassekaffee.
Did they remove the blank there to reuse it in Steh Café? (©Bastian Sick)

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