Friday 29 August 2014


Whilst in Berlin I discovered a word, a German compound word to be exact. Now, usually I'm rather suspicious of these, but zettelwirtschaft seems to me admirably useful. Zettelwirtschaft means disorder or chaos amongst pieces of paper.

That's a very useful word, especially in the way that Germans seem to usually use it - ein zettelwirtschaft haben - to have a zettelwirtschaft going on. But it can just be a noun used to describe top of my desk.

It's also rather mysterious etymologically. Zettel is plain enough, it means paper. And schaft is just the German equivalent of -ness or -ship or -hood. It makes it a state of being. But wirt...

Well here I must admit that my German is rather basic, but so far as my dictionaries tell me, wirt is either a verb meaning to host, or it's a noun meaning innkeeper. And wirtschaft means pub or tavern (or sometimes economy, for some weird reason). So zettel-wirt-schaft means paper-tavern-ness.

I suppose that works, the slips of paper cavorting like drunks in a bar at midnight. Indeed, I hope that's the explanation, but it does seem rather odd. Are there any German experts out there who can come up with something better?

The Inky Fool opens a savings account

Monday 11 August 2014

Penetralia and Berlin

Shakespeare and Sons Bookstore and CafeI rather like a word that sounds as though it should be rude and isn't. And vice versa. I like jumentous because it sounds like a mixture of jubilant and tremendous and actually means smelling of horse urine. But I also like penetralia because it sounds like well... something awful, when, in fact, it means the innermost rooms of a building. So you go through the halls and foyers and public ballrooms until you reach the penetralia.

The singular is either penetralium or penetral. Keats preferred the former and said of Coleridge that he:

...would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge

Which almost makes sense if you read it a few times. Penetral is the older form, though, and is stressed on the first syllable. It may not have Keats' seal, but it does have the advantage of sounding like entrail.

My favourite use of penetralia is the first citation in the OED:

From the penetralia—the secret chambers of the soul.

Anyway, I shall be going to Berlin the weekend after next and shall be giving a talk on August 23rd at the wonderful Shakespeare & Sons on Warschauerstrasse. Do come along if you can. There'll be a film screening too and all sorts of lovely stuff.

 Samuel Taylor Coleridge portrait.jpg
Contemplating the penetralia