When I took German in college, I was not taught any bad German words. This was a surprise to my Uncle Frank. We were on the golf course, and some young guy ahead of us was afraid that he would drive the ball off the tee four-hundred yards to hit the people on the green. When the young man did finally hit the ball, it dribbled out about fifty yards.
That is when my Uncle Frank called him an__________.
I said, “What did you say?”
He said, “__________.”
“What does that mean?”
“You mean to say you don’t know what ____________ means?”
I hung my head.
“Your mother’s family is all German, and your dad’s family is half German. I thought you studied German in college?”
“Well, I’m ashamed of you.”
“Aren’t you going to tell me what it means?”
“You go home and ask your mother. She’ll tell you.”
I had some reservations about doing that. After all, it was Uncle Frank who said that it was my golf ball that had punched through the convertible roof of Doctor Aschenputtel’s Mercedes, that muskies would not attack plastic bobbers, and that the Hodag is real.
Still, I thought I might ask my mother because, if it was a really bad German word, she probably would not know it. After all, where would she learn really bad German words? If it was an innocent bad word like Dummkopf, we would have a chuckle about it.
So, I asked my Uncle Frank what the word was again. He repeated it, and then I tried it.
“No, you forgetting the ‘r’-it has an ‘r’ in it. Try it again.”
I tried it again.
“You don’t roll the ‘r’. It’s just a regular ‘r’.” He repeated it. Then I tried it.
When we had finished practicing, I noticed that some of the older golfers around us were watching us. A few apparently knew the word, thought we were insulting each other, and were expecting a fist fight.
Later that day, I, a person of fifty-five years, married with a decent job and a mortgage, asked my mother what _________ meant. She turned beet-red and seemed ready to slap my face. Instead, she pointed her finger at me and said, “I never want to hear THAT word in this house out of your mouth again!”
“But Uncle Frank said that you would….”
“I don’t care. Never.”
“Never. Why do you listen to Uncle Frank? Isn’t he the one that tricked you into thinking your golf ball went through that car roof?”
Although I now knew that the word was really bad-perhaps the worst of all German words-I could not find a definition. Libraries do not generally have dictionaries of bad German words.
Then I remembered that Dr. Aschenputtel spoke German.
“Who is this?” he demanded over the phone after I asked for an English definition. I explained who I was.
“Aren’t you the kid who drove the golf ball through my roof?”
“That was ten years ago and I only thought it went through your roof. It didn’t actually go through your roof.”
“So, you decided you’d call me and tell me I’m an _________? You’re a ________.” Then he hung up.
I now know two really bad German words. One is the one I do not know what it means but which I can never use in my mother’s house. The other is one that Dr. Aschenputtel called me but, because it is probably a really bad German word, I cannot mention it here or to my mother.
Rhinelander District Library director Ed Hughes is available at 715-365-1070.