Sick Sister

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September 19th 2010
Published: September 25th 2010
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If you didn’t grow up speaking English (or Italian), could you figure out what the word “hospital” means? Once you have a basic German vocabulary, you don’t have many problems like this. Here in Germany, if you get sick, a sickwagon will take you to a sickhouse where a sicksister will take care of you. If you eat too much greasy train station food, you’ll end up with fall-through, though that’s certainly never ever happened to me. Where on earth did the word “diarrhea” come from—and how on earth would someone new to English know it?
Over breakfast this morning, I read the local scandal sheet the hotel provides for its guests. I didn’t need fluent German to be horrified that a 66-year old woman was “skalpiert” when she had a crash in her “Smart”—which I’m guessing is “Smartcar.” Nor did I need a dictionary to know that it’s Not A Good Thing that a man attacked a sleeping 24-year old sicksister with a knife and a “Brecheisen.”
A “break iron”? Oh man. I got the point, but looked it up anyway—crowbar. If I was a tourist in an American hotel trying to puzzle through the newspaper, would “crow bar” make any more sense to me than “magpie bar”?
I love the beautiful illogic of English—probably because it is my native language—but I can’t argue with Germans who say that it makes “unsense.”


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