About the German language

Mark Twain


Some German words are so long that they have a perspective. Observe
these examples:
Freundschaftsbezeigungen.
Dilettantenaufdringlichkeiten.
Stadtverordnetenversammlungen.

These things are not words, they are alphabetical processions.

Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen.
Alterthumswissenschaften.
Kinderbewahrungsanstalten.
Unabhaengigkeitserklaerungen.
Wiedererstellungbestrebungen.
Waffenstillstandsunterhandlungen.

Of course when one of these grand mountain ranges goes stretching across
the printed page, it adorns and ennobles that literary landscape but at
the same time it is a great distress to the new student, for it blocks up
his way; ... "
- Appendix D of A Tramp Abroad, "That Awful German Language"
My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years. It seems manifest, then, that the latter tongue ought to be trimmed down and repaired. If it is to remain as it is, it ought to be gently and reverently set aside among the dead languages, for only the dead have time to learn it.
- Appendix D of A Tramp Abroad, "That Awful German Language"
Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth.
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
...mastery of the art and spirit of the Germanic language enables a man to travel all day in one sentence without changing cars.
- Christian Science
It is easier for a cannibal to enter the Kingdom of Heaven through the eye of a rich man's needle that it is for any other foreigner to read the terrible German script.
- photo autographed to Ed. Potzl, 2/1898; Notebook, 1898
A dream...I was trying to explain to St. Peter, and was doing it in the German tongue, because I didn't want to be too explicit.
- Mark Twain's speeches, 1923
The Germans are exceedingly fond of Rhine wines; they are put up in tall, slender bottles, and are considered a pleasant beverage. One tells them from vinegar by the label.
- A Tramp Abroad
A dog is "der Hund"; a woman is "die Frau"; a horse is "das Pferd"; now you put that dog in the genitive case, and is he the same dog he was before? No, sir; he is "des Hundes"; put him in the dative case and what is he? Why, he is "dem Hund." Now you snatch him into the accusative case and how is it with him? Why, he is "den Hunden." But suppose he happens to be twins and you have to pluralize him- what then? Why, they'll swat that twin dog around through the 4 cases until he'll think he's an entire international dog-show all in is own person. I don't like dogs, but I wouldn't treat a dog like that- I wouldn't even treat a borrowed dog that way. Well, it's just the same with a cat. They start her in at the nominative singular in good health and fair to look upon, and they sweat her through all the 4 cases and the 16 the's and when she limps out through the accusative plural you wouldn't recognize her for the same being. Yes, sir, once the German language gets hold of a cat, it's goodbye cat. That's about the amount of it.
- Mark Twain's Notebook
In early times some sufferer had to sit up with a toothache, and he put in the time inventing the German language.
- Notebook #14, 11/1877 - 7/1878
Never knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German.
- Notebook #14, 11/1877 - 7/1878
I don't believe there is anything in the whole earth that you can't learn in Berlin except the German language.
- Mark Twain's Notebook
...the circumstances and the atmosphere always have so much to do in directing a conversation, especially a German conversation, which is only a kind of an insurrection, anyway.
- The American Claimant, Etc., "Meisterschaft: In Three Acts"
It's awful undermining to the intellect, German is; you want to take it in small doses, or first you know your brains all run together, and you feel them flapping around in your head same as so much drawn butter.
- A Tramp Abroad
I would not rob you of your food or your clothes or your umbrella, but if I caught your German out I would take it. But I don't study any more,- I have given it up.
- A Letter to Mr. Bayard Taylor, (reprinted in American Literature, Markh, 1936)

By reading keep in a state of excited igorance, like a blind man in a house afire; flounder around, immensely but unintelligently interested; don't know how I got in and can't find the way out, but I'm having a booming time all to myself.
Don't know what a Schelgesetzentwurf is, but I keep as excited over it and as worried about it as if it were my own child. I simply live on the Sch.; it is my daily bread. I wouldn't have the question settled for anything in the world.
- Mark Twain, a Biography
I can understand German as well as the maniac that invented it, but I talk it best through an interpreter.
- A Tramp Abroad
It is not like studying German, where you mull along, in a groping, uncertain way, for thirty years; and at last, just as you think you've got it, they spring the subjunctive on you, and there you are. No- and I see now plainly enough, that the great pity about the German language is, that you can't fall off it and hurt yourself. There is nothing like that feature to make you attend strictly to business.
- Taming the Bicycle
The Germans have an inhuman way of cutting up their verbs. Now a verb has a hard time enough of it in this world when it's all together. It's downright inhuman to split it up. But that's just what those Germans do. They take part of a verb and put it down here, like a stake, and they take the other part of it and put it away over yonder like another stake, and between these two limits they just shovel in German.
- Mark Twain's Speeches, "Disappearance of Literature"
I don't speak German well but several experts have assured me that I write it like an angel. Maybe so, maybe so- I don't know. I've not yet made any acquaintances among the angels. That comes later, whenever it please the Deity. I'm not in any hurry.
- Concordia speech, 11/2/1897
[On Dutch flat poetry]: It is too smooth and blubbery; it reads like butter-milk gurgling from a jug.
- Answers to Correspondence
How charmed I am when I overhear a German word which I understand!
- Letter to W. D. Howells, 5/4/1878



Günther W. Frank
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75217 Birkenfeld im Schwarzwald
Deutschland

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