German Homosexual Language [V]
Historically, German and English are sister languages. Over the centuries, though, the two have gone their separate ways. For this reason the cognates linking the two languages sometimes turn out to be “false friends.” Gift means poison in modern German (it is something that is “given” to another person); while After, which once had a meaning similar to the English word, is now avoided in German as it has come to be localized to the after-part of the human body, the buttocks.
English has avidly borrowed words from prestige languages abroad, especially from French and Latin. German also did so for at time, especially during the seventeenth and eighteenth century, as a consequence of the Thirty Years War and the allure of French culture, which captivated such leading figures as Frederick II of Prussia. This did not last. During the nineteenth century a tendency to linguistic purism took hold. This predilection fostered the dominance of vocabulary of native stock (“echt Deutsch”).
In terms of vocabulary this nativist policy dictated “import substitution,” a procedure that takes the substance of the foreign word and reformulates it using indigenous materials. Technically this device is known as loan translation or calque. In this way pudenda (things that are shameful) becomes Schamteile (sixteenth century). Later the word degeneration was rendered as Entartung, a favorite Nazi term of disparagement. The French le troisième sexe, became das dritte Geschlecht, the third sex. Sometimes the attempt at import substitution didn’t take hold, so that homosexuel, for example, did not yield to gleichgeschlechtlich, though the latter term can be used. A second feature which sometimes baffles non-German speakers is the easy formation of compounds, such as Schadenfreude, joy at the misfortunes of others, and Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age.
The barriers erected to keep out foreign words have been successful only in part. German attitudes have in fact oscillated between purism, relying on native roots (though oftentimes these are put into service to render imported ideas), and openness to foreign imports. There remain many words taken from French, including expressions that did not migrate into most other West European languages. Examples are Chantage, blackmail, and Dementi, denial.
After World War II came a tidal wave of English. Some texts are “Germish,” peppered with English words, which are nonetheless embedded in a German grammatical structure. The dimensions of this invasion are enormous. Yet words purloined from English often have a narrower sense, so that Trip usually describes a drug experience rather than travel, and Boy means either a hotel bellhop or the younger partner in a gay relationship. There are also invented words that look English, but are not, such as Dressman, male model (also a euphemism for a callboy), and Twen, person in his/her twenties, as “Teens und Twens.”
All the same, the tension between the two tendencies, purism and receptivity to imports has created a gulf between the two linguistic stocks. The imported words tend to be interpreted as “high class,” even mysterious and obfuscatory in meaning—as distinct from “plain German.” Terms for sexuality adhere to this duality, so that ordinary language supplies schwul for gay, while the learned terms are homosexuell and invertiert (the latter now obsolescent).
Linguistic idiosyncrasies aside, attitudes expressed in German towards homosexual behavior generally reflected the West European consensus. However, there are indications of an indigenous attitude, more specifically of homophobia. Writing ca.100 C. E., the Roman historian Tacitus noted the Germanic scorn of individuals who defiled their bodies (“corpore infames”), who were drowned in bogs as cowards. These attitudes seem to survive in the later Scandinavian concept of the “unmanly man,” for which the term argr is used. This was a fighting word, and a man publicly accused of the fault must fight or live forever after in dishonor. The German cognate of this Scandinavian word was arg, which however less commonly had a sexual connotation.
During the high middle ages, German received Christian attitudes as shaped by scholastic analysis. Sodomiterei is prominent. Generally, despite the views of some, this designates homosexual behavior and not a broader range of prohibited sexual practices. Heresy is common association, at first with reference to the Albigensian (or Dualist) heretics, who were commonly believed to have hailed from Bulgaria—hence Bulgare for homosexual, and the French import bougre. During the fifteenth century these terms were joined by a cognate imported from Italy, where German speakers commonly served as mercenaries. The Italian word buggerone became Buseran, then Puseran with a typical devocalization of the first consonant. The word Puseran appears in a famous 1494 print of the “Death of Orpheus” by Albrecht Dürer, where the Greek hero is labeled “der erst puseran,” the first bugger. Buzerant survives in Czech as a loan word. A latinate variant is pusio, plural pusiones. The alteration of the first consonant appears a little later in Partass, for bardassa, a catamite.
A special German development is the idea of “heresy according to the body.” Sometimes the word Ketzer, heretic, is employed simply to denote a sodomite.
During the late middle ages and the sixteenth century German students, clergy, and soldiers commonly traveled to Italy. There they found morals looser than at home. Hence a tendency to attribute bawdiness to Italians, and to Mediterranean people in general. This tendency to stereotype foreign peoples, often neighbors, by attributing undesirable practices to them is known as ethnophaulism. The city of Florence, reputedly the epicenter, gave rise to a verb, florenzen, to florence. In fact, the recent research of Michael Rocke on the prevalence of homosexual behavior in the Italian city suggests that German observers were not wide of the mark. This verb could be either active (for the penetrator) or passive (the recipient, der lässt sich florenzen, who got florenced.)
Other contexts named the Lombards (Lumbarden, a generic term for North Italians), as in England. In 1474 in Basel eighteen captured Lombard soldiers were tried for sodomy, with a characteristic deployment of the stereotypes against them. They were all executed. Not surprisingly, in view of his long struggle with the Catholic hierarchy, Luther shifted the epicenter of Italian sinfulness to papal Rome. He claimed that the Lateran Council of 1515 granted each cardinal an allotment of pusiones et ganymedes (boys and ganymedes). The German version of this text makes it clear that the youths were intended for sexual purposes.
The Italian link fostered the further spread of the borrowed form buseran, noted above. Note also the somewhat later term welsche Hochzeit, an Italian (i.e. homosexual) wedding. Somewhat coyly, Martin Luther preferred to render this expression in Latin.
In his translation of the Bible and other writings, Martin Luther was a harbinger of linguistic puritanism. Thus he rendered catamite as Schandbube (shame boy). The term Schande, shame, sometimes appears as a euphemistic stand-in for sodomy.
Humanist scholars began to use classical terms, as cynaedus (properly cinaedus) and Ganymedes. Lesbica may mean simply a loose woman rather than Lesbian in our sense. Latin was also preferred when the writer was seeking to limit his audience to the educated and discreet.
Preaching in Strasbourg in 1506, Geiler von Kaisersberg evoked the pan-European concept of homosexual conduct as the mute or unspeakable sin. Such expressions-—stumme or ungenannte Sünde—-were widespread. But here a problem arose. If one could not even utter the name for it, how was one to oppose it? A further paradox ensued. Mentioning the sin of sodomy could be suggestive, implanting the concept in young minds previously untainted by it. Thinking might lead to action. Oddly enough, the idea of unspeakability applied also to divine matters, in what was sometimes termed the apophatic theology. Things are undiscussable either because they are vile and lowly or, conversely, too exalted for human understanding.
Occasionally we learn that “decent languages” such as German and Latin lack any words for such horrors as sodomy. Yet the bawdy Italians were not so restrained, so that sometimes, holding our nose, we need to borrow these words. These claims notwithstanding, German popular language could be blunt, as in arsbrutter, buttfucker.
Rotwelsch is a jargon that has been traced back to the thirteenth century. Also known as the Gaunersprache, this “secret language” was used by vagabonds, traveling artisans, thieves, and confidence tricksters. The words derive from various sources, including Hebrew, Romany (Gypsy), and Slavic languages. The word in this cant for homosexual is Kodesch (deriving from the kadesh/kedeshim of the Hebrew Bible). In the modern expression kesser Vater, bulldyke, the adjective kess, cheeky, stems from the Gaunersprache, and also ultimately from Hebrew.
During the eighteenth century, the French language enjoyed great prestige in Germany. Homoerotically inclined, Frederick the Great of Prussia preferred to write in the Gallic tongue. Yet sexual borrowings from French are relatively rare at this time; some in fact arrived later. Sokratische Liebe (cf. amour socratique) may owe something to this source, but more to the German concentration on classical philology (other) . King Frederick, though, left a souvenir, in Frida, a feminine sobriquet for a male homosexual paralleling English Mary and Nelly.
The expression warmer Bruder, warm brother, is curious and so far not completely explained. The brother part seems to reflect the notion that homosexuality was rife in the religious brotherhoods and monasteries. The notion of warmth is something else. The related term schwul, which is a cognate with English sultry and swelter, combines the idea of warmth with humidity. Perhaps there is again here a link with Mediterranean lands, the supposed home of sodomy. Alternatively, the idea could have been influenced by the traditional medical theory of the humors, still prevalent as late as the eighteenth century. In this theory women are cold and wet, while men are hot and dry. Schwule, who are warm and wet, fit neither pattern, possibly illustrating the idea of homosexuality as intermediate.
During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries prudence fostered the use of camouflage words or Tarnverzeichnungen. Classical studies, very much in vogue among the educated, made significant contributions. Die griechische Liebe, Greek love, and die Platonische Liebe were used generically. There were also proper names, such as Zeus and Ganymed to reflect an older man and his younger lover. The term vernüftig, rational, is ultimately classical, reflecting the Greek idea that homosexual behavior, ostensibly not found among animals, characterizes beings of reason, that is humans. Two camouflage words popular a hundred years ago are die Anderen, the others, and der Eigene, the special. The latter was the somewhat arch term for a monthly, founded by Adolf Brand and others in 1896, possibly the first homosexual periodical.
In the general population (and sometimes among gays themselves) negative expressions abounded. Some were formed with the prefix halb-, half, suggesting that homosexuals were but half men. Confusingly, the term Mannweib, can refer either to an effeminate male homosexual or to a lesbian.
Other forms of negativity stem from medical and professional usage, as Abartung and Abirrung, deviation, and Entartung, degeneration.
As in other nations homosexuality was sometimes defensively ascribed other countries. Above we noted above the tendency to shift it to Italy. In more recent times the Middle East came into play, hence Araber, Sidonier, Syrer, and Levantiner. Ironically, during the 1970s and 1980s young Turkish youths (generally straight-identified) became prominent as street hustlers. As with the English slang expression “French culture,” Franzose stands for oral sex.
The Imperial German Penal Code of 1872 had an article (175) directed against male homosesuality, hence the expressions Hundertfunfundsiebsiger and 17 Am Mai [17.5] geboren. Nowadays well-heeled gays are said to drive a Mercedes 175.
A net importer of sexual terms until the 1860s, the German language then entered into a nova-like explosion of creativity, coining many expressions that have achieved international acceptation—-with homosexuell in the lead. Some of these terms this ebullience generated did not survive. An example is Pygismus, anal sex, a noun deriving from the Greek pygos, buttocks.
A key figure in rethinking sexual conceptualization was the psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebbing (1840-1902), who added Masochismus alongside previously existing Sadismus (derived from French) to make a pair. The period is characterized by a general tendency to stark contrasts as indicated in binaries, each term having its antonym. The “money shots” the franker passages of Krafft-Ebing’s book Psychopathia Sexualis, are in Latin, serving as a kind of medical jargon designed to hide the content from outsiders.
Krafft-Ebing was famous from the first publication of his book in 1886. However, even more fundamental contributions to homosexual vocabulary came from less prominent scholars and writers, beginning in the 1860s. These authors realized that existing terminology sagged under the burden of negative value judgments that impeded a true understand of same-sex love. Accordingly, a series of proposals were advanced for new terms
1) Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825-1895), and independent scholar and early fighter for gay rights, took the first step. Ulrichs started from the classical goddess Venus Urania, whom he identified with same-sex attraction; her counterpart the Venus Dione. This source yielded his first tentative coinage of Uranier in 1862. Soon, however, Ulrichs decided that the term would have more success if it were presented in a native guise, hence Urning. The lesbian was termed Urninde. The “normal” man was a Dioning, his female counterpart the Dioninde. The bisexual Ulrichs termed Uraniodioning. Uraniasters, or “pseudohomosexuals” were essentially straight men, who nonetheless could engage in homosexual activity, sometimes for pay. As the abstract forms he used the nouns Uranismus and Urningtum. The more classical forms, Uranian and Uranism, made their way into English and the Romance languages. Today all these terms are rare, but they represent a valiant effort to find a linguistic form for a thoroughgoing rethinking of the problems.
2) In 1869 the physician Karl Friedrich Otto Westphal introduced the expression die conträre Sexualempfindung (“contrary sexual feeling”). This enjoyed currency for a time, but eventually died out as too cumbersome.
3) It was a friend of Ulrich, however, a Hungarian-German journalist named Károly Mária Kertbeny (1824-1882) who had the honor to introduce the standard term homosexual to the public in 1869. The term combines the Greek prefix homo- with the Latin –sexual. Those who engaged in such contact were called Homosexualisten. Kertbeny tended to contrast his new term homosexual with normalsexual. The antonym, heterosexual, which is usual today, appeared a few years later.
4) At the end of the nineteenth century the Berlin physician Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) emerged as the leading authority on same-sex behavior. He favored the expression sexuelle Zwischenstufen, sexual intermediates, regarding both gay men and lesbians as tending in their physiognomy to a kind of androgyny. In 1910 Hirschfeld invented the term Transvestismus, which spread to other languages. He also the terms Androphilie (attraction to adult men as distinct from youths) and Gerontophilie (attraction to older men), which are useful though unfamiliar
5) In 1924 Karl-Günther Heimsoth (1899-1934) published his Rostock Ph.D. dissertation on “Hetero- und Homophilie.” This introduced the term homophil, which was to enjoy popularity for a time after World War II in the Netherlands and the United States.
The period beginning with German unification (sometimes known as the Second Reich) saw an emphasis on purism, and native equivalents were found for many international words. While this lightened the burden of learning for native speakers of
German, it contributed to the impression that foreigners have that the language is hard to learn.
Around 1900 appeared two novels entitled Anders als die Anderen, other than the others, a title also used in a 1919 film. Also found are der andere Bahnhof, the other train station, and der andere Bahnsteig, the other platform, as well as die andere Feldpostnummer, the other address, von der anderen Konfession, of the other (religious) denomination, von der andere Rheinseite, on the other side of the Rhine, and vom anderen Ufer, on the other shore.
The German gay movement was both an effort for legal reform and a scholarly endeavor, supported by its great periodical, the Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen. Since this movement sought to have an international effect, its word coinages generally resisted purism, preferring word forms that would be internationally recognized. Also, many were physicians, a profession with a traditional preference for Greek and Latin. Note, for example, the triad: homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual. As we have seen, homophile came along in the 1920s. Some coinages (as those suggested by the homosexual theorist Kurt Hiller) did not last. In the interest of respectability, slang terms were generally avoided.
Still, novels and other sources document a lively popular current. Street hustlers were called Strichjunge, reflecting an old meaning of Strich, the beat that a prostitute or hawker would follow. The hustler’s client was euphemistically termed the Freier, or suitor. Specific practices are named. The old prefix After-, buttocks, appears in Afterlecker, anilinguist. Blunter are Arschvermieter, one who rents his anus, and Arschficker, buttfucker. Blasen, to blow, has a connotation similar to English.
Certain colors are regarded as gay, especially rosa, pink, and lila, mauve. These have been explained because they are intermediate shades. The Nazis required homosexual inmates of the camps to wear the rosa Winkel or pink triangle. Since World War II the term rosa has been widely adopted by German gays as a positive badge. Occasionally, one finds pink, a borrowing from English.
Some given names were regarded as typical of gay men, especially Detlev and Herbert. Compare Bruce in the US and Emile in France. Some women’s names, including Else, Frida, Lilli, and Trine (a shortened form of Katharina) are applied to effeminate homosexuals.
Bridging the learned and the popular is the main term for lesbian, which reflects international usage: Lesbierin or Lesbi. Tribade proved too learned, but Sapphist has enjoyed considerable circulation. There is also a familiar term for the assertive lesbian or bulldyke, kesser Vater, kickass daddy. An English borrowing Butsch, is sometimes used, especially by those adhering to the controversial butch-fem dichotomy.
The American and English occupation of West Germany, together with the overall prestige of English led to much outright importation of English words. This body of words is sometimes known as Germish or Denglish. Sometimes though they have a restricted sense, as Tip, which means a piece of advice not a gratuity. Popular culture—as seen in rock music and movies—served as a powerful agent of this linguistic invasion. While the term schwul is native, it achieved new prominence in the German gay movement as the equivalent of “gay” or “queer.” This promotion of a formerly taboo expression reflects the “detoxing” process found in various liberation movements—the key example being the American term black, formerly avoided for African Americans, but embraced as part of the new forthrightness.
HIV-AIDS has fostered certain terms, notably Positiv and Negativ (designating a person who is infected and one who is not, as in English).
In recent decades somewhat halting efforts were made to link up with the first German gay movement, which had been suppressed by Hitler in 1933. As many of the pre-Nazi coinages had been absorbed into the general language, they persisted. After 1969 (Stonewall) there was a flood of English terms: gay, come out, softie. The verb outen, to out, has currency. An indirect influence from English is the promotion of slang terms, preeminently schwul as has been noted, to standard usage, at least within gay circles.
Commendably, contemporary Germany has engaged in a full reexamination of the Hitler era, including the matter of the arrest and confinement of gays and lesbians in concentration camps. This interest has led to a new study of the euphemisms employed by the Nazis to disguise their terrible activity. In due course perhaps this trend will produce a salutary reexamination of the negative role of bureaucratic and “scientific” language in the formation of sexual, specifically homophobic, attitudes.
Conclusion: As with the other languages surveyed in these profiles, the point of view espoused in the previous paragraphs permits a comparative survey of more than a thousand years of language evolution. To be sure, owing to the disappearance of much potentially relevant evidence the heaviest emphasis must fall on the more recent period. Still it is possible to observe an overall pattern with respect to the similarity and dissimilarity of the vocabularies surveyed. The pattern looks something like this: (1). During the Middle Ages, representing the first major phase of the development, the terminology of same-sex love was similar in the various languages, owing to the intervention of Bible-based Christian concepts. (2) Then there was considerable divergence, characterized by a growing number of popular and slang terms, which are specific to each language. Other things being equal, popular language resists importation of material from abroad, preferring to rework native expressions or invent new ones that sound native. The unsettled nature of Central Europe, especially stemming from the Thirty Years war, produced a number of terms from abroad. (3) The learned, who pride themselves on their cosmopolitanism, take a different stance, welcoming foreign terms and creating new ones out of Greco-Roman materials. This learned intervention began in the second half of the nineteenth century, with the major contribution of German scholarship (from Urning/uranian to Transvestit). (4) A century later, the American gay movement, riding (linguistically) on the coat-tales of the worldwide expansion of English, created a common body of terms in all the major West European languages, even though the degree of receptivity varied. In German, it is has been very marked, contrasting with the earlier tendency to linguistic purism.
REF. Jody Skinner, Bezeichnungen für das Homosexuelle im Deutschen, 2 vols., Essen,1999, an extensive dictionary emphasizing recent German usage.