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Anglo-German Dictionaries
by [?]

The German dictionaries, compiled for the use of Englishmen studying that
language, are all bad enough, I doubt not, even in this year 1823; but those
of a century back are the most ludicrous books that ever mortal read:
read, I say, for they are well worth reading, being often as good as a
jest book. In some instances, I am convinced that the compilers (Germans
living in Germany) had a downright hoax put upon them by some facetious
Briton whom they had consulted; what is given as the English equivalent for
the German word being not seldom a pure coinage that never had any existence
out of Germany. Other instances there are, in which the words, though not of
foreign manufacture, are almost as useless to the English student as if they
were; slang-words, I mean, from the slang vocabulary, current about the
latter end of the seventeenth century. These must have been laboriously
culled from the works of Tom Brown, Sir Roger L’Estrange, Echard, Jeremy
Collier, and others, from 1660 to 1700, who were the great masters of this
vernacular English (as it might emphatically be called, with a reference
to the primary[27] meaning of the word vernacular): and I verily believe,
that, if any part of this slang has become, or ever should become a dead
language to the English critic, his best guide to the recovery of its true
meaning will be the German dictionaries of Bailey, Arnold, etc. in their
earliest editions. By one of these, the word Potztausend (a common German
oath) is translated, to the best of my remembrance, thus:–‘Udzooks,
Udswiggers, Udswoggers, Bublikins, Boblikins, Splitterkins,’ etc. and so on,
with a large choice of other elegant varieties. Here, I take it, our friend
the hoaxer had been at work: but the drollest example I have met with of
their slang is in the following story told to me by Mr. Coleridge. About the
year 1794, a German, recently imported into Bristol, had happened to hear of
Mrs. X., a wealthy widow. He thought it would be a good speculation to offer
himself to the lady’s notice as well qualified to ‘succeed’ to the late Mr.
X.; and accordingly waited on the lady with that intention. Having no great
familiarity with English, he provided himself with a copy of one of the
dictionaries I have mentioned; and, on being announced to the lady, he
determined to open his proposal with this introductory sentence–Madam,
having heard that Mr. X., late your husband, is dead: but coming to the last
word ‘gestorben’ (dead), he was at a loss for the English equivalent; so,
hastily pulling out his dictionary (a huge 8vo.), he turned to the word
‘sterben,’ (to die),–and there found—-; but what he found will be best
collected from the dialogue which followed, as reported by the lady:–

German. Madam, hahfing heard that Mein Herr X., late your man,
is—-(these words he kept chiming over as if to himself, until he arrived
at No. 1 of the interpretations of ‘sterben,’–when he roared out, in high
glee at his discovery)—-is, dat is–has, kicked de bucket.

Widow. (With astonishment.)–‘Kicked the bucket,’ Sir!–what–

German. Ah! mein Gott!–Alway Ich make mistake: I vou’d have
said–(beginning again with the same solemnity of tone)–since dat Mein Herr
X., late your man, hav–hopped de twig–(which words he screamed out with
delight, certain that he had now hit the nail upon the head).

Widow. Upon my word, Sir, I am at a loss to understand you: ‘Kicked the
bucket,’ and ‘hopped the twig—-!’

German. (Perspiring with panic.) Ah, Madam! von–two–tree–ten tousand
pardon: vat sad, wicket dictionary I haaf, dat alway bring me in trouble:
but now you shall hear–(and then, recomposing himself solemnly for a third
effort, he began as before)–Madam, since I did hear, or wash hearing, dat
Mein Herr X., late your man, haaf–(with a triumphant shout) haaf, I say,
gone to Davy’s locker—-

[27] What I mean is this. Vernacular (from verna, a slave born in his
master’s house). 1. The homely idiomatic language in opposition to any mixed
jargon, or lingua franca, spoken by an imported slave:–2. Hence, generally,
the pure mother-tongue as opposed to the same tongue corrupted by false
refinement. By vernacular English, therefore, in the primary sense, and I
mean, such homely English as is banished from books and polite conversation
to Billingsgate and Wapping.

Further he would have gone; but the widow could stand no more: this nautical
phrase, familiar to the streets of Bristol, allowed her no longer to
misunderstand his meaning; and she quitted the room in a tumult of
laughter, sending a servant to show her unfortunate suitor out of the house,
with his false friend the dictionary; whose help he might, perhaps, invoke
for the last time, on making his exit, in the curses–‘Udswoggers,
Boblikins, Bublikins, Splitterkins!’

N.B. As test words for trying a modern German dictionary, I will advise
the student to look for the words–Beschwichtigen Kulisse, and Mansarde.
The last is originally French, but the first is a true German word; and, on
a question arising about its etymology, at the house of a gentleman in
Edinburgh, could not be found in any one, out of five or six modern
Anglo-German dictionaries.