Linear, Germanic, and impressively gothic in appearance (it’s the ä, the scher and the unfamiliar arrangement of familiar alphabets), the italicised word at the bottom of the page enticed and incited in me what can only be described as a rush of desire accompanied by the urge to gratify it, like a neon sign that blinked
instead of the usual. The sentence was carried over the next page, a vague aside about some old cinematic archetype. Academic jargon or not, the book—more precisely its writer (schriftsteller!)—had me at mitteleuropäischer. So I stopped and did my education in sociology and English literature proud: I looked it up.
Mitteleuropäischer: Central European.
Ouch. The europäi; less obvious but entirely possible on a day of Linguistic Perkiness honed from years of scrutinising the backs of chocolate boxes, the mittel? Should have seen it coming. But can you understand the excitement of one pleased as a newly minted prefect upon learning the word bildungsroman and the genre of literature it encapsulated, aged fifteen sitting in English class in front of a dog-eared, tenthhand school copy of Catcher in the Rye? Who went off to college, loose sheets of lined paper and brand new pens, sitting as close to the podium as pride permitted, stimulated by mind-blowing eye-opening soul-soaring lectures that bordered on religious epiphanies, gemeinschaft-gesellschaft echoing in her ears, heart pounding with pleasure on her way home?
For some sex is educational; for me education is sex. And language is a big turn-on: I am trilingual but if you are attuned to the subtleties of words, their meanings, sounds and interrelations within and between the languages you can understand, speak, read, and write in, as well as that of languages you have a faint grasp of, no amount of languages is ever enough. Given the choice, time, and opportunity, you’d want to learn them all, or at least a few more, in my case German, Russian, and French.
To capture my view of these complex languages respectively in too-simple words: cool, badass, beautiful. There is beauty too in the steel-cut cool of German, a stoic kind unlike but not at all inferior to the soft, oft feminine look of italicised French words and phrases, and regardless of it being a mundane compound noun lacking in the ascenders and descenders that can make a word attractive depending on its spelling, mitteleuropäischer was a book-stopper. Anyone operating under the erroneous notion that German is nothing but harsh, angry, and uninviting is a sitzpinkler, and if sitzpinkler doesn’t toll the bell of good literature I urge you to obtain a copy of The Book Thief immediately.
As for me, I’m already on the look out for the next big long German word to savour. Let’s hope the next book dishes up something a lot more chewier.