Wild boars and Rumpelstiltskins/Wildsau und Rumpelstilzchen

While we’re wondering about public viewing as an English term in German, the Economist’s new language blog, Johnson, turns to how to translate Wildsau and Gurkentruppe into English. (Rumpelstilzchen is no problem: Rumpelstiltskin is the English for him). These are terms of abuse exchanged between the CDS/CSU and FDP this week.

Germany has a cranky coalition government and garrulous politicians, and so conditions are good for political insults. In one intramural fight a health ministry official from the liberal FDP likened the CSU—Bavarian conservatives—to a Wildsau, or wild pig, for its rough handling of the liberals’ health-reform ideas. But the better insult was the riposte by the CSU man, who called the liberals a Gurkentruppe, literally a troop of cucumbers. Anglophone journalists have been puzzling over how to turn this into recognisable English.

Wild pig is an odd term – the animals are usually called wild boars in English. I suppose you could say wild sow, but I don’t think that is the natural term. Schwein and Sau are both terms commonly used to refer to pigs, so there’s no intended emphasis on the female.

The Gurkentruppe makes me think of a kind of Dad’s Army battalion. Wiktionary says it’s football slang. It was taken as a name by a group who sang football songs, and it is said to be a football term Leipzig University has a lot of 2005 examples, when the term was used as an insult for a political party, but nothing earlier. A Google search ordered by date shows that before this week the term was being frequently used, often for football teams and sometimes for politicians. According to the article, there are even theories that the term came from cricket, but that sounds very far-fetched to me.

(Google Books search also throws up some older examples of Gurkentruppe).

Meanwhile, Maurice Claypole in the Guardian has an interesting article about the importance of translating into one’s own language when learning a foreign one, and the importance of learning to translate.

Although translation exercises are included in the syllabus of state schools, they are generally absent in the further education sector. The majority of Germany’s 957 Volkshochschulen, which provide over six million hours of language training to just under 2 million learners each year, favour communicative language teaching (CLT) which focuses almost entirely on oral practice in the target language.It is perhaps also significant that while state-schools teachers are drawn almost entirely from the local population, the adult education sector includes a high percentage of native English speaker teachers who received their training in an English-only environment in which translation was not an option.

The foreign languages courses at Volkshochschulen (evening class institutes) in Bavaria have certainly been completely taken over by communicative teaching. I once tried to learn Turkish that way. The teacher promised the first week he would never use German again, but fortunately the opposite was the case. However, the book we were obliged to use, picking out which of the pictures showed my uncle Ali with the moustache and so forth, was both useless and prescribed. It may be possible for Germans to learn English that way – I don’t know.

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