Thursday, 1 September 2016

Das Mensch

If my grandmother refers to you as "das Mensch" two things are certain: you are female and you've pissed her off.

If you know a bit of German, you may be confused. Doesn't Mensch mean human being? How can that be an insult?

Some of you will also be questioning the use of the neuter article "das". Mensch is a masculine noun, so shouldn't it be taking the article "der"?  Well, it's precisely the strategic deployment of the "wrong" article which turns an innocuous human being into a slur.

Just a couple of days ago, I stumbled across a definition, of sorts, in an anthology of Bavarian women's writers I had bought recently (click here for a post on this book). See below for the relevant passage.

Source: Von Menschen, Menschern und einem Abendrot, by Margaret Kassajep (1916-2008), published in Bayerische Schriftstellerinnen

So, the upshot is that, in southern Germany, das Mensch is a traditional derogatory term referring to women and girls of suspect morals. Nowadays, it's roughly equivalent to the b-word, but perhaps a tad less strong.

My granny simply labels any woman she doesn't like as das Mensch. Which, in her case, applies to pretty much any female she's ever met. She doesn't like men much either. Or, in fact, anyone who happens to fall under the wider category of der Mensch.



9 comments:

  1. Heh heh, she sounds like a character :)
    I guess you could translate it as wench, which also rhymes :)

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    1. Yes, good thinking, hahaha! Trust you to come up with that one :)

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    2. I know - not like I've ever been called one ;)

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  2. In Northern Hesse, "das Mensch" (pl. die Menscher) refers to a woman, plain and simple. It is not a very polite term, but it is perfectly acceptable among family, friends and neighbours. A neighbour used to refer to my cousins and myself as "diese langen Menscher" (those tall women).

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    1. Interesting! Thanks for chipping in. I love these regional variations, as you know :)

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  3. Either this is a Bavarian thing or it's a grandma thing... or I'm just too nice to have ever been called das Mensch ;-)

    Could get verrrry awkward if a learner was to accidentally use the wrong article. Not that *I* ever use the wrong articles. Nope... of course not. Jan doesn't correct me constantly at alllll...

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    1. I don't think learners have to be worried about this one, thank God! If I said it, it'd be quite a different matter, haha

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  4. I really want to get my hands on this book!!

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    1. It is very good! I only skipped a couple of the extracts. Unfortunately, as I have just discovered, hardly any of the books listed in the bibliography are available in digital format :(

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