Thursday, 28 November 2013

Eierlegende-wollmilchsau: The Perfect Animal


Just a brief post as I'm running round the country giving talks (Booka Books in Oswestry tonight). I met a German-speaking lady in Edinburgh who told me about the lovely compound word:

Eierlegende-wollmilchsau

That's pronounced roughly I-er-lay-gend-er-vol-milk-sow, and it means egg-laying-wool-milk-pig. The idea of this fabulous animal is that it is perfect. It provides eggs, wool, milk and, finally, bacon. It is therefore the German term for a jack of all trades. Something, or someone, who can do absolutely everything.

There's even a Wikipedia page on this best of beasts, but it's in German.

And if that's not enough for you, you can have a look at my article in yesterday's New York Times.

11 comments:

  1. Hi Mark, good article in the NYT! Couple of inputs: Madagascar is on the Indian Ocean. So, it would be natural for Turks to call the bird Hindi and the French to call it Dindon. Note that at the time the Ottoman Empire covered all of the Arabian peninsula and some of east Africa so Madagascar was not too far. It is not correct to limit Turkey to the Black Sea because even now, it borders the Aegean as well as the Mediterranean. The word Turki (pertaining to Turks or Turkey) was used at the time. This word then became the name for the country but the proper name for the country is Turkiye.

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    1. But why is a turkey called 'peru' in Portugal? Also the name of a country.

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  2. How excited was I to discover that your travels included a visit to Sherborne! Well you'll never know because you cancelled. My bubble has burst and gloom has decended. Sad face. Christine

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  4. Being German, I am quite familiar with the "eierlegende Wollmilchsau". It is neither written in one word, nor hyphenated: "eierlegende" is the adjective, and "Wollmilchsau" a compound noun (f). Wiki got it right. I used it a lot when my family was expecting every amenity of life from me and all at once :-) - the term refers to "a thing or person or solution to a problem providing but advantages, meeting all needs and complying with all expectations" (Wiki)

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    1. ... sorry, "eierlegende" is the adverb, not an adjective. Haste makes waste ;-)

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  5. I loved the turkey rundown in the NYT yesterday, not sure if you also picked up on the translation of turkey in Portuguese: peru. Certainly geographically closer to the mark.

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  6. I recall a phrase that was used in the TV series 'Das Boot'. It concerned a re-supply surface vessel that had everything on board, food/fuel etc and it was called a 'milch-sau' - or that's what it sounded like....

    Laurie -

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  7. As for the turkey, even Linnaeus got it wrong.
    The Greeks had already named the guinea fowl Meleagris gallopavo.

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  8. interesting...

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  9. The only downside is that the kiddie's song "Old MacDonald's Farm" would only be one verse long --- "And on that farm, there was an egg laying, wool milk pig"

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