“Let Me Fix Your Language, Germany,” by Robert McGee

Aug 15th, 2018 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

Learning German is hard. For an English speaker, it’s nearly impossible to figure out why pizza is feminine unless it is an object. “Die Pizza—feminine subject—schemeckt fein,” but, “Kann ich ein Stuck von der Pizza—masculine object—haben?” I would like to think this happens because Germans are progressive, but I know that’s not true. Part of me knows it would be easier to remember if it were the other way around—masculine things become feminine when they are objects—but I hate that part of myself.

But I must say, aside from some weird grammar, parts of German are easy. I like the compound words because if I know the parts, I can usually figure about the whole. Since I know ‘Kinder’ and ‘Wagen’, it’s pretty easy to figure out ‘Kinderwagen’. It’s a transporter for children, a stroller. A ‘Krankenwagen’ transports the sick—an ambulance. A ‘Lastwagen’ transports loads, so that’s a truck—or maybe a testicle. So, all things considered, it’s pretty easy to learn German vocabulary.

But, sometimes Germans coin ugly words. Horribly ugly words that do no justice to the beautiful things they name. And I am, of course, thinking about the word ‘Brustwarze.’

At one point, the Germans looked at one of my favorite things in the world, the nipple, and named it by combining ‘breast’ with ‘wart’. A breast wart. It’s nearly unforgivable that the same word for the tumorous growths found on witch’s noses is used in the word for nipple. And, more importantly, warts are high on my list of things I never want in my mouth, so that alone should prevent them from being associated with nipples.

How did that even happen? At some point was a man licking a nipple and think, “You know, this is a lot like Aunt Helga’s nose, we should call these things breast warts”? I don’t know what’s worse: that someone thought that way or that the other Germans of the time agreed with him.

But, I’m not here to criticize, I’m here to help. So, here are my suggestions, as an outsider, for alternative words for ‘Brustwarze’:

Number one. Well, the first one is a bit lewd, but I think it still works. Tittenknubbel. Tit bump. It’s simple and direct, but I’m still not sure how I feel about bumps in my mouth—it reminds me of herpes, so it’s not perfect. But, on the other hand I do like saying it. Tittenknubbel. So, let’s put a pin in that one for now.

Number two: Brustknopf, the breast button. Buttons have lots of cute associations, plenty of women love their button noses, for example, so why not have breast buttons? Plus, as a person who likes video games, I rather like pressing buttons, so that association works, too.

Number three: Milchhahn, the milk rooster. My thinking here is that since the Wasserhahn, a water faucet—but literally a water rooster, spits out water, the nipple could be called a Milchhahn for the same reason. Plus, going this route would finally allow women to have a body part named after a rooster. At the end of the day, I really am in favor of equality—and I like that part of me.


Rob is an English lecturer and writer living in Germany. He is currently working on a book about his life in Europe. He has written comedy and short stories for The American Bystander, Robot Butt, Points in Case, Literally Stories, and Defenestration (obviously). Follow him on Twitter @Robert__McGee.

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