Rediscovering an idiom
Friday, August 31, 2007
Work has been slow, and there are no mystery shops to unload down at the docks, so for the last two weeks I've been investigating new language blogs: The Engine Room and Bradshaw of the Future are the latest additions to my sidebar. Today I've been reading through Omniglot - the blog.
Where I was shocked to discover that Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof — German for "I only understand train station" — is a popular expression.
It's their version of "It's all Greek to me." I've been using it for years, but my high school German teacher introduced it to us as a joke, not an idiom. Since I was always the one saying it (for obvious reasons), I figured it was my teacher's invention. Omniglot has a whole list of equivalent phrases in other languages.
(Yes, their saying actually does work as a joke. The Germans clearly have the better idiom.)
In the online edition of the St. Galler Tageblatt, there's a very nice interview with the Swiss writer and literature professor Urs Widmer. Here's an excerpt:
The language we use is full of Anglicisms. How far are you willing to accommodate Denglish?
Widmer: You know, my relationship to the language isn't a moralizing one. The language does what it does. And I watch what it does, and deploy that sometimes directly and straightforwardly, and sometimes with critical irony. But the language is always right. I'm against language wars, against complaints that too many English words are being used, too few French words, that we need to protect our dialect. I'm one of those people who floats upon the language like a cork, with a clear head.