The author’s mind during Erholung


By the way, if The Hannibal Blog‘s intellect has seemed to you a bit less incisive than usual in the past week, it’s because its author is on holiday. Really on holiday, for the first time in two years or so.

(Lately, I’ve taken “vacations” mainly to write my book, so they were not “real”.)

A German word comes to mind:


It’s one of those words that have no direct translation. Er- is a syllable that can mean re-; holen means bring. So Erholen means something like bring back. It contains re-juvenation, re-laxation, re-generation and a few other re’s.

Usually, I restrict myself to an average of 30 minutes a day on this blog (writing and/or answering comments). But during this vacation I’ve cut that to 15 minutes a day, giving my wee’uns dibs on my time (or just staring at palms trees, which have a magical effect on me.)

My mind has become temporarily empty, as during deep sleep or coma. I choose to assume that this is prologue to a sort of rapid-eye-movement response as I re-emerge, and then to energetic, take-no-prisoners mental ferocity. 😉

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37 thoughts on “The author’s mind during Erholung

  1. Would you be willing to testify under oath that it takes you on average no more than 30 minutes to compose your average 600-800 word blog post? I find that very impressive, as I happen to be a notoriously slow writer. (In fact, I’ve spent roughly 15 minutes on this response so far.)

    As to your claim that there exists no direct translation of the word “Erholung,” I’d say “recovery” would be the exact English analogue. The cops recovered the lady’s purse, i.e., they got it back. Of course, in German one wouldn’t “erholen” an object, as this verb is used only reflexively. One can only erholen oneself.

    German being my native language and having lived in the U.S. for 16 years, I am somewhat attuned to subtle shifts in loan verbiage in both directions. Where I grew up, the folks are habitually kvetching about the relentless encroachment of English into their mother tongue. For instance, prior to my relocation to the New World, the word “Kinder” was still the standard appellation for “children.” These days, though, German speakers increasingly use the word “kids,” a term previously reserved for young goats.

    On the other side of the linguistic teeter-totter, there are a number of German terms in common use here in the States, such as weltanschauung, schadenfreude, gesundheit, sturm-und-drang, etc. (Never seen or heard anyone use “Erholung,” though.) The other day I was watching Fox News, and to my surprise Michelle Malkin concluded one of her impassioned rants with the words “political correctness über alles,” even though, given the context, the Arabic expression for “above all” (whatever that may be) would have been more fitting.

    Enjoy the rest of your Erholung unter Palmen, and watch out for falling Kokosnüsse. As any pitbull lover will be quick to point out, far more people flatline as a result of getting bonked in the head by falling coconuts than get mauled by an utterly misunderstood breed of canines.

    This was 322 words. What’s the average number of words for a blog post response?

    • Welcome to The Hannibal Blog, Peter G.

      What I’m willing to testify under oath is that I spend on AVERAGE 30 minutes a day on the Blog. So: Occasionally (usually after my deadline at The Economist, which is on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning my time) I will indulge myself with more time. Other days I won’t check in at all except to moderate comments with a click.

      I do happen to write very fast, which is what you learn when you do this for a living. What takes time in my day job is the research (and in that category, mainly the logistics of setting up interviews), not the writing. So I may write a blog post in a few minutes. Or I may write it in an hour, but then I sometimes start it one day and finish it on the next.

      Now that you’ve challenged me, though, I might just time myself to have the actual numbers–after my vacation. 😉

      Re Gerlish: Do you remember that famous Streiflicht in the Sueddeutsche a decade or so ago? It was an article written entirely in modern German, which is to say that every single word was a loan word from English. Hilarious.

      Re Schadenfreude: I once wrote the late William Safire a strongly-worded letter in response to his wilful distortion of that word. He never responded. I must try to locate that letter. It was about the right and wrong ways of making fun of the German language.

      All best, A

    • No, I don’t remember that Streiflicht article. Not only do I not remember it, I never knew about it in the first place. I’d love to read it, though. My attempt at googling the piece produced zero results. Do you happen to remember the title?

      I once wrote a strongly worded letter to one Mark Twain regarding his piece “The Awful German Language.” He never responded, either. Perhaps my letter was too long and not deep enough. Didn’t have time to write a short one, so I wrote a long one instead.

      I like the term “morose delectation.” Perhaps we could get the Germans to adopt “morose Delektation” in place of Schadenfreude, given their longstanding fetish for anglicisms. Oh how I love to make fun of the Germans. (I’m Austrian.)

    • I will (once I stop erholen) google around for that piece. It may have been in the FAZ, come to think of it.

      And I will post my letter to Safire as I remember it if you post yours to Twain.

      PS: Tyrol, by any chance? My parents spend most of their time in Kitzbuehel.

    • Pressbaum. Small town in Lower Austria, about 10 miles west of Vienna. Perhaps 12 miles. Or seven. I’m still a bit of a kilometer-mile conversion dyslexic.

      I’d love to post my Twain letter, but the problem is that it was handwritten and snail-mailed. Although I had made a copy for my personal records, a roaming pitbull ate it. The dog informally confessed, but shortly before a sworn confession could be obtained, the animal was tragically struck and killed by a coconut falling off a delivery truck. On my way home from the defendant’s funeral, I myself was hit in the head by a five-pound turnip falling off a different delivery truck. (Both incidences occured in the early morning hours, which explains the prominence of delivery vehicles in the story line.) While I luckily survived the turnip collision, I suffered a rare case of selective amnesia, whereby everything I’d ever written is now permanently expunged from my cerebral database. Therefore, I am unable to recreate my Twain letter from memory.

      I know all this may sound a bit contrived, but every word is absolutely true. After all, why would I lie about something like that?

    • I know he never would shoot,
      E’en though it were Andreas Kluth
      With his chivalrous ways
      To all waifs and strays
      And ignorant ones, to boot.

      [Which is true – I haven’t a Klue]

    • There is a twist, Peter G: The dog had an autopsy–as you yourself surely know–and it was discovered that he had indeed eaten the letter. The letter was retrieved and cleaned up–though by no means to an extent that we would call appetizing–and ended up on eBay, where I found it.
      It is now in my possession, and I am contemplating what to do about it…..

    • Take good care of it. I may want to buy it back some day for display in my presidential library. Or at least my gubernatorial one, in case they’re giving me a hard time over that pesky “natural born” clause (which, in my humble opinion, simply means “no cesarian”).

  2. (thought I would use a West Coast term) have gotten away for a rest. Enjoy.

    No kvetching, as Peter would say.

    Just stare at the ocean, the palms, the kids and have a one of those tall drinkipoos with fans, pineapples, and cherries.

    • To return to my one-dimensional whinge from Cheri’s multi-dimensional words, is the injunction to enjoy a rest, no kvetching, the present, the future, life… or the evolution of English in the safe hands of talented, lively people.

      Since I am not on holiday, perhaps I’m staring at sour grapes. Either that or I made the observation because I’m nearly old, ossified and stupid.

    • The Google translator has still a long way to go!!

      I realised only afterwards that “eindrucksvolle” was incorrect. But I was blissfully ignorant about “Woerter”.

      I would like to ask either Andreas or you, who are both equally fluent in English and German, which of the two languages you consider the most difficult, and why.

      Even as a native English-speaker, I consider English extremely difficult, since there are so few ironclad rules. With English, one has to rely on “Das Sprachgefuehl”.

      On the other hand, I find German grammar a pain. But my expertise in German is too woefully inadequate to know how it compares in overall difficulty with English.

      In my opinion, French is easier for the English speaker than German. A paradox, considering that English is a Germanic language.

    • For my whole bilingual life, I’ve always heard the following rule of thumb: English is easy to learn and hard to perfect; German is hard to learn and easy to perfect.

      Which is to say: In English, you can get to the point where you can take a taxi or order food in a few weeks. But once you are proficient you keep discovering new layers of complexity.

      In German, it takes a lot longer to get around, because of the ridiculous cases, declensions, inflection, etc. But once you’ve got that, there is very little left to go. You are …. Goethe.

    • I remember once hearing an observation (I’m aware that “hearing” and “observation” don’t normally go together) that English is a sort of pidgin language, in that it doesn’t have many of the characteristics of most traditional languages eg masculine and feminine nouns; and formal and familiar forms of address (“sie” vs “du”; “vous” vs “tu”) when speaking with someone.

      Since you think English is relatively easy to learn to get around in, this would accord with it being a pidgin language……….well………of sorts.

    • There was a young priest they called Crotchety,
      When grumpy, he’d snarl “Fetch a tea.”
      Then one awful day,
      With ellipsis halfway,
      I went and split his infinity.

      Quite often he’d read his thesaurus,
      E’en though he looked like a torus!
      And wobbling with laughter
      From now till hereafter
      Conducted this side-splitting chorus.

    • There was an old man who tried haiku
      But he couldn’t do it like you do
      The dipthongs he’d count
      And odds he’d surmount
      But never achieved a senryu

    • While the Wort-Wörter distinction I presented is accurate, on second thought I have come to the conclusion that “Wörter” may, in fact, be the correct term for giving the word count in a written composition. Perhaps Andreas could weigh in.

      As to which language is easier, on its face that would be English, of course, until one begins to appreciate its idiomatic complexity and the sheer vastness of the English vocabulary. Had I known the English language comprised this many words and inside-baseball colloquialisms, I’d never have expended all that effort at attempting to achieve near-native level fluency, thinking it would be hopeless anyway. Sometimes it’s best not to know what one can’t do, or else one stops trying.

      Regarding English being a “pigin” language that doesn’t have many of the complicated grammatical characteristics of other languages, I believe this is, in large part, due to the fact that so many non-children immigrants have learned it over the centuries. Grownups generally don’t pick up on all the nuances, and as a collective result a language tends to simplify. Somewhat counterintuitively, the most complex languages are usually found among relatively isolated and “primitive” tribes that haven’t had contact with the rest of the world in a long, long time, i.e. no influx of grownups who would then pass on an incomplete version of the language to the following generation.

      English used to have cases and genders, just like German, but then lots of adult Normans and Norsemen dropped in and couldn’t hack the various word endings, so they fell by the wayside. Or maybe the dog ate them. Who knows.

    • “…….English used to have cases and genders, just like German……”.

      I would add to what you said, that the further one goes back, for instance to the 1600s when the King James version of the Bible came out, the more English demonstrably resembles German eg “thou hast”, “knowest thou” usw.

    • Exactly, and if one goes even weiter back, zum Bleistift to the 500s, dann is there überhaupt kein difference mehr und die zwei languages sind identical.

    • ha ha, love it! I also had great fun Jag reading the blog discussion of your book in The Guardian, I think it was. Something about a pope shitting in the woods made me laugh whenever I thought about it. I’ve got a book next to my bed called “The Story of Yiddish: How a Mish-Mosh of Languages Saved the Jews” by Neal Karlen. Have you read it?

    • Thanks – that Guardian blog post was fun.
      As was this one on Canada’s National Post Book Blog
      On “language addiction (it’s our most ubiquitous mind altering drug) and the thrill of the novel (semantic ambush)”

      Re the Story of Yiddish – have added it to the ever growing to be read list.
      One of the many dangers of reading this blog – keep finding more that must be read. And not just from the illustrious host. His commentators are a frighteningly bright (and poetic) lot!

  3. Perhaps this gaffe’ll
    Make you laugh, Ill:
    “Did you come in to Die?”
    No, I came in yesterdie”

    [In respectful memory of my father-in-law and his Newcastle short “a”.]

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