A feeling for the language/Bayern bleiben bei Götz-Zitat manchmal straffrei

Passauer Neue Presse:

bq. Nur gebürtige Bayern haben so viel Sprachgefühl, dass sie das abgewandelte Götz-Zitat „Mich leckst am A…“ nicht nur als Beleidigung, sondern auch als Ausdruck des Erstaunens verwenden dürfen. Diese Erfahrung musste ein Bosnier machen, der sich in Landshut wegen Beleidigung vor Gericht verantworten musste. Er wurde zu einer Geldstrafe von 1000 Euro verurteilt.

A newspaper in Passau reports that a Bosnian was cycling in the pedestrian zone in Landshut. A man from the Sicherheitswacht , that is, a kind of Neighbourhood Watch figure authorized to supervise traffic, asked him to dismount, and, when he didn’t dismount, pulled the Bosnian off his bike by grabbing the handlebars. To avoid spammers, I have to rephrase the Bosnian’s words – he suggested that the man should apply his tongue to the Bosnian’s nether regions. Germans sometimes call this the Götz phrase, because the words were used by Götz von Berlichingen in Goethe’s play of the same name which I had the misfortune to study for A Level (I like a lot of Goethe a lot, but not this play).

The Bosnian was fined 1000 euros for insult. He said in court that he did not mean the words as an insult, but as an expression of astonishment at the speed with which he was grounded. I suspect this argument cooked his goose.

There was an academic discussion between the defence, the prosecution and the judge. The judgment stated inter alia that only a Bavarian, who had ‘imbibed the finer points of language with his mother’s milk’, could appreciate the nuances of this expression.

I got this from Udo Vetter, who says a Bavarian wouldn’t have been punished. I don’t know quite how to read this sentence of the court’s myself. The expression is not limited to Bavaria, nor is it only Bavarian breastfeeding mothers who use it. And of course, that might be all the more reason to treat a non-German more leniently (I’m thinking of all the Germans I’ve encountered who think certain English words are part of everyday British conversation).

6 thoughts on “A feeling for the language/Bayern bleiben bei Götz-Zitat manchmal straffrei

  1. Swearwords are such a delicate theme! When I teach Italian, I always suggest non to use them and yet so many love to say the most terrible words without recognizing what they are saying for my ear. Once I was totally appalled when an Austrian secondary school teacher wanted to show off in front of me and said a blasphemy and laughed loudly. She behaved as though it had been a joke, but I felt really hurt…Yet, I think the Bosnian has had a too severe lesson.

  2. Prentiss: I don’t know.
    (and FF): I really don’t think this was necessarily a bad decision, reading between the lines. I mean, apart from the fact that it is bizarre to fine people for insult at all, but that’s German law. It sounds to me as if the Bosnian’s excuse (‘I was just expressing my surprise’) wasn’t believed. He’s cycling through an area where he’s not allowed to, refuses to stop when asked to, is thrown off his bike and then swears. Personally I think he should be fined the ten euros or whatever for cycling in a pedestrian zone, and not even taken to court on the criminal insult. But did the judge really mean that seriously when he spoke about only Bavarians knowing the subtleties?

    On the basis of such a short newspaper account it’s impossible to tell. We don’t even know what court this was. I would like to see another account, but I see the story’s a week old already.

    I think we would have to see the Bosnian and hear his account before we can tell what to make of the case.

  3. Although, looking at the report again, I should add that there was quite a discussion and the case was almost dropped. One of the reasons why the judge decided to penalize the Bosnian was because he didn’t want the unpaid traffic assistant to get the feeling his work was undervalued! This doesn’t sound too intelligent.

  4. Well yes, of course my American belief that governments shouldn’t tell us what we can and can’t say is part of why I believe that the ruling is foolish.

    But what makes it really strange is that it recognizes that swearwords often express surprise and emphasis rather than literal obscenity — as supported by the work of linguist Timothy Jay that I linked to — but then it takes that observation away and says it only applies to native speakers! If anything it should be the other way around, that non-native speakers get the benefit of the doubt and only the natives should be required to uphold the nuances.

    This case is like ruling that Bosnians should obey the walk-don’t walk signs but Bavarians are permitted to jaywalk because only they know when it’s safe. Absurd, and probably racist to boot.

  5. Yes, it does sound racist. And I agree about the treatment of non-native speakers. But I quite often find it bizarre to hear judges opining about language.

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