Monday, December 24, 2007

Bathroom Monologue: A rose by any other name is mislabeled

Most countries have one name that is similar across all of the languages that speak about them. The name may sound a little different or look a little different on paper, but you can tell that "Espagne" and "Spain" come from the same name. The difference is mostly the product of hundreds of years of pronunciation in one dialect or another. "The United States" and "L'Etats Unix" are the same; the latter is just French for the same words, put into the syntax of their language.

But then there's Germany. In English anyway. You see in English it's "Germany," but in French it's "Allemagne," in Polish it's "Niemcy," and in that country itself they call it "Deutschland." These words don't look anything like each other. Their parts don't translate into the same original words. They mean the same country, but they're curiously different names.

The "deutsch" in "Deutschland" comes from the old German word for "people" or "folk." A nice word to name your homeland. It meant people were there. I'm a citizen of the unimaginatively-named United States, so I can appreciate it. The "Germans" still use that name for their country today. But what of the other names?

It turns out that "Germany" from the old Latin "Germania," a murky, generic word for tribes living in the region that we today call "Germany." Similarly, "Allemagne" is a mutation of the original name for a tribe that used to live in Germany, the Alamanni tribe. Say them out loud and you can tell that one was once the other. Speakers of such languages grew to identify the area by the tribe with which they were most familiar. Even "Niemcy" comes from an old Slavic word, "nemoy," a very rude term for people who didn't speak Slavic. That's a pretty rude way to name a country.

Actually, they're all pretty rude. The country is Deutschland. That's what they call themselves. My name is John. I'll understand if you localize it, say it with an accent or even substitute the local equivalent, but calling me "Theodore" makes you seem senile. Calling Deutchsland "Germany" or "Allemagne" boils down to countries lacking the respect to call it by its name, and rather going by the name of a tribe that lived there 2,300 years ago. It's been "Deutschland" long enough that we can call it that now. It's a frickin' world power, people.


  1. This has nothing, really, to do with this monologue. But when I saw this video I thought of you, and thought you might find it amusing.

    Merry Christmas. ~ Ross

  2. The monologues may be more entertaining if you imagine me reading them as that Santa Claus.

  3. What can I say? When I picture a homicidal dancing Santa Claus you come to mind.

    ~ Ross


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