Humor of German Sentences

Humor of German Sentences by Mark Twain is adapted from his book A Tramp Abroad [1880]:

An average sentence in German is a sublime and impressive curiosity;

it contains all the ten parts of speech—not in regular order, but mixed;

it is built mainly of compound words constructed by the writer on the spot, and not to be found in any dictionary—six or seven words compacted into one, without joint or seam—that is, without hyphens;

it treats of fourteen or fifteen different subjects, each enclosed in a parenthesis of its own, with here and there extra parentheses, making pens within pens: finally, all the parentheses and reparentheses are massed together between a couple of king-parentheses, one of which is placed in the first line of the majestic sentence and the other in the middle of the last line of it—


and you find out for the first time what the man has been talking about.


Now here is a (the first part of a) sentence from a popular and excellent German novel—with a slight parenthesis in it.

I will make a perfectly literal translation, and throw in the parenthesis-marks and some hyphens for the assistance of the reader—

though in the original there are no parenthesis-marks or hyphens, and the reader is left to flounder through to the remote verb the best way he can:

"But when he, upon the street, the (in-satin-and-silk-covered-now-very-unconstrained-after-the-newest-fashioned-dressed) government counselor's wife MET," etc., etc.

(Original Sentence): Wenn er aber auf der Strasse der in Sammt und Seide gehuellten jetz sehr ungenirt nach der neusten mode gekleideten Regierungsrathin BEGEGNET, etc., etc.

(That is from The Old Mamselle's Secret, by Mrs. Marlitt.)

And that sentence is constructed upon the most approved German model.

You observe how far that verb is from the reader's base of operations.

A writer's ideas must be a good deal confused, a good deal out of line and sequence, when he starts out to say that a man met a counselor's wife in the street,

and then right in the midst of this so simple undertaking halts these approaching people and makes them stand still until he jots down an inventory of the woman's dress.

That is manifestly absurd.

It reminds a person of those dentists who secure your instant and breathless interest in a tooth by taking a grip on it with the forceps,

and then stand there and drawl through a tedious anecdote before they give the dreaded jerk.

Parentheses in literature and dentistry are in bad taste.


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