An American in Berlin
24 March, 2018
Right, so I just posted the post which I’d written last week but only now just posted, which is redundant, but I kinda wanted to see how many times I could get the word “post” into the first sentence of this post, which, as a result, may not be the best first sentence of all the posts I’ve ever posted in my history of posting posts. Am I…? Yes, I think I’m done.
Since I’ve just posted published a post piece, this post edition will be a bit light in the news department. One or two work stories, and some riffing on Torah and music. And then Monday, I’m off to New York, bitches!
So it’s always tough when there is a big turnover in the class. The new group needs to establish a new dynamic and relationship amongst themselves, and then we need to do the same between us. And today (Friday) was my first day with the new advanced group (which includes three holdovers). But it came together pretty nicely and they’re all very sweet.
I earned some cred when I wowed them with some off the cuff linguistic etymologies. And I think they’re sufficiently interesting that I shall post them here. Because I even dare to think that you people reading this might find them interesting.
So one student asks me, “What’s the difference between perhaps and maybe?” To which I (too) casually reply, “Ain’t no difference.”1 So then she’s like, “But which one do you use?” What, me personally? “Yes.” Well, I use maybe almost exclusively. I hardly ever say perhaps. But that’s not a right/wrong thing. It’s not a more/less common thing. It’s not a formal/informal thing. It’s not even a British/American thing. It’s just a Dave thing.
But OK, let’s look at these words, since you bring it up. Because etymologically, they mean the exact same thing. See, one thing that we don’t normally do, is break these kinds of words down; especially when we use them all the time; and extra-especially when they’re so small. Right? I mean, you just have a translation value in your head. They mean vielleicht.
So let’s break them down. may|be : [it] may/can be [possible]. per|haps : (Latin) according to chance. Which is another way of saying “it can happen” or “it is possible.” And in German, another way of saying vielleicht (maybe)2 is es kann sein: literally, “it can be.” And in French (because one of my students speaks French), peut être: also literally, “it can be.” So in all our languages, we express this idea with words meaning something like “it can happen, but it doesn’t actually have to happen.” And the English words mean this too. It’s just that they’ve been condensed down into single words that we take for granted.
So they were all pretty impressed with that. You know, they had the “holy fucking shit, now it’s so obvious” faces on. And one of the guys – actually, the guy I snapped at a few weeks back – he’s like, “You know, I really appreciate this. I’ve never had a teacher who’s been able to explain things the way you do.” Which was rather gratifying to hear, if I’m being honest.
Fast Forward. We’ve just completed an exercise. And I ask if anybody has any questions. And this same dude, he’s like, “Yeah, what’s the difference between reimburse and indemnify?” And I’m like, What the actual fuck? And he’s all, “Yeah, I know it’s not related to what we’re doing, but you asked if we had any questions and this is my question.” Touché, salesman. I too have an uncle.
Fine. But it kinda put me on the spot. Because “indemnify” is not a word I use. So I tell him, I’m not exactly sure, and I probably need to look it up in the dictionary, “which you are old enough to do your own damned self,” I absolutely said. And he’s like, “I cooooulllllddddd….”
Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m the teacher.
So I start thinking. Like, I know reimburse means to get back money you’ve spent. And I have this feeling that indemnify has to do with righting a wrong. But I’m not so solid on that that I’m prepared to teach it as fact. But I figure, let’s have some fun with this.
“You guys wanna do a little experiment?” And they’re like, Yeah, let’s do it. So I put the first word up on the board. “Let’s break this apart.”
“What does re- mean, as a prefix?” ‘Again,’ they answer. “Good. And -in- (because -im- is really -in-) just means in. So far so good. Now, German has a word like -burse, no? Bürse? Bourse?” ‘Börse,’ they tell me. “OK, and what does it mean?” Something about stocks, stock exchange, etc. Fine. “Good, OK and French has bourse, which also means this, but also something like wallet. In fact, it’s connected to English purse. So let’s just agree that -burse- is a place you put money, broadly speaking. So reimburse literally means something like ‘to again-in-the-money-bag.’”
And you can see their minds are already half-blown. But that was easy. Because I already know what reimburse means and I’ve already defined it. So that was just a parlor trick. Now for the hard part. Because remember, I don’t exactly know what indemnify means. “OK, so now let’s do an experiment.” And I put the word on the board.
“Right, so here, in- doesn’t mean in, it means un-. And -ify is word ending with a specific job. It’s a verb marker that describes the process of turning an adjective into a noun that is the condition of that adjective. Sounds confusing, but let’s look at an example: simplify. The adjective is simple. So the verb simplify means to make something simple. Or solidify, to make something solid. OK, that’s clear. So whatever this word indemnify means, it means to make something un-demn. So what’s –demn- then?”
“Well, to me, it looks an awful lot like damn. I mean, the vowel is basically meaningless. But if – and big “if,” because I don’t actually know; this is an experiment, remember – but if I’m right, let’s say, broadly, that –demn- means to put somebody or something into a bad condition.”
At which point the dude who asked the question in the first place yells out, “Oh, like condemn!” Motherfucker, yes! Exactly like condemn! Well done.
Right, so having done all that: “OK, so my guess – and I stress, this is a guess, albeit an educated one – is that indemnify wants to mean something like ‘to un-bad-condition somebody/something.’ Now, can anybody get me a German translation of this word?”
One guy has it ready. He has entschädigen. Which translates as indemnify, but which literally means, ‘to un-misfortune somebody/thing.’ Well, holy fucking shit, the experiment is a success! Oh, and by the way, what’s the German word for reimburse? Apparently it’s just zurück zahlen – literally, “to pay back.”
Well, there you have it. Reimburse is just getting money back which you’ve already spent. But indemnify means to redress a wrong, usually by getting money back. And we just figured that out.
This time, their minds were fully blown. I mean, I’m hearing oohs and aahs, the whole nine. But the funny thing is, I’m like, “Y’all can do this already. As German speakers, your brains are specially trained to break words apart like this. You can look at a word like entschädigen, and yeah, you can know what it ‘means.’ But you can also see the two parts of it (three, if you count the verbal ending), and know what they mean individually. And you know enough about English to at least sort out the prefixes and suffixes. That at least gets you in the door. After that, if you happen to know a bit of French and/or Latin, you’re basically unstoppable. But even if you don’t, you can do an awful lot.”
And look, I’m not trying to toot my own horn here. Yeah, I mean, OK, maybe a little. But honestly, I’ve never blown a class away like that before. Not to that degree. It felt really good, I can’t lie about that.
But also, it was crazy fun for me. Because, in real life, if I want to know what indemnify means, I’m going to walk through all those steps mentally before I ever open up a dictionary. So that, hopefully, when I do open up the dictionary, I’m doing it to confirm my mental research rather than simply asking it for the answer. And that, that was fun to share. To maybe give them those tools a little bit.
And maybe this doesn’t work with every group, you know? Maybe some groups don’t give a flying one and just want the answer. But this bunch was genuinely interested. You know, like for a minute there, they were seeing the numbers behind the Matrix. Which I’m always trying to get them to do.
To sum up, I love my job. I’ve said it before. But I really do. Also, I’m so ready for a fucking vacation, you guys.
Timo was in town. He was in town last year, so I feel like he’s come up before. But Timo is one of the festival dudes, from Joschka’s hometown. So we all went out last night (Thursday). Good times. Timo’s a riot. He speaks a crazy kind of German, which I don’t always understand. But this time, I understood a helluva lot more. I was quite pleased with myself, ain’t gonna lie.
Also, I took my shoes off at Joschi’s; as you do. And Timo’s all, “Du hast Käseweiße Füße.” Which literally means, you have cheese-white feet. Which is hilarious. And I honestly don’t know if that’s a Timoism or a thing Germans actually say. But it’s great.
Anyway, it was just a lot of joking around and eating and drinking. But absolutely great times. I feel very lucky with the people I’ve gotten to know through Joschel. Timo. The Bavarians. Actually, me and J are going to make another road trip to Bavaria in May. I’m super looking forward to that.
Speaking of German, it’s starting to fuck with my English. And I don’t like it. I might have mentioned that one of my colleagues lives in some kind of hippie kibbutz thing. And they make their own honey. So he brought a jar of it for one of our students. And she’s all, You gotta try this. So I did. And she’s all, What do you think?
And I say: “For me, it’s OK.” For me, it’s OK? What the fuck is that??? I’ve never said that before in my life. That’s not English! That’s a thing German people say when they speak English. Jö, for me, it’s OK. Like, it’s clearly just a 1:1 translation of what they would say in German. Because no native speaker would ever say that.
We’d say, “Hey, yeah, not bad.” Or, “You know, this is pretty good.” Or something. But certainly not that. “For me, it’s OK.” Fuck me.
Staying with German for a moment longer. One thing English loves to do, is turning nouns into verbs. The classic example is to google something. Right? Google is a proper name, a noun. But we’ve turned it into a verb. You might even say, we’ve verbed google. E-mail is another example. When was the last time you said you “sent an email”? No, you’ve simply “emailed” somebody.
Anyway, for whatever reason, German doesn’t like to do this. I mean, it certainly could if it wanted to. But it just doesn’t. The fuck knows why. Fine, that’s their business.
Now remember, in a previous post, I mentioned that the German word for “to look (something) up” in the dictionary is nachschlagen? Well, obviously we now look things up on the internet as well.
Right, so Timo is telling me about something he’d just looked up online. And he says, “Ja, das hab ich nachgegoogelt.” Nachgegoogelt. He looked it up with google. He googled it up. Excuse me? What the actual fuck did you just say, pal? You literally took an English noun/verb and conjugated it Germanly. Like, if that’s what you people are about now, then fuck it. I’m done. I refuse to learn even one more German verb. From now now on, I’m just going to use English verbs and conjugate them Germanly. Ab heute, ich werde nur englische Verben usen. Hav kein Lust mehr, deutsche Verben upzulooken. Understandst du?3
So Torah. I’m confused. Like, so confused. Where do I even start?
OK, so the Exodus. So my understanding is, they get the hell outta Dodge with not even time for the bread to rise. And then they’re wandering in the desert. That’s my understanding. So where I get confused is, the next part of the story is God’s instructions on how to build the Tabernacle and the Ark and the Altar and all that jazz.
And he’s all, Thou needest so many cubits of acacia wood for this and so many cubits of acacia wood for that and so many cubits of acacia wood for…and wait a sec. Are they not in the desert? Where is all this lumber coming from? I mean, he made it rain manna. Which, already is a stretch. But if you’re inclined to believe this shit, then fine. He’s God. He can make it rain whatever he wants. But I didn’t see anything about him making it rain timber. So where are they getting it?
And also, another building material is defined by my dictionary as “dolphin or porpoise skin” (תחש – thachash4). Like, I was having a hard enough time with the wood. Now they’re gathering (or have brought with them) fucking dolphin skins? I mean, if I can paraphrase Scotty here, Ye can test me faith, but ye canna test the laws of physics!
But this interesting. Because there’s a lot of debate on whether or not the Exodus was a “real” historical event. Plenty of people have gone digging around the Sinai looking for archaeological evidence. And so far, bupkis. But maybe this is a place to start. I mean, if we accept that they must have had access to these materials, then where, reasonably, could they expect to find such things? Has anybody done research from that perspective? I don’t know. But it’s interesting.
Whatever. What else can I say? But now I’m in Leviticus. And it’s all about how to deal with religiously unclean shit. Skin diseases and whatnot. And I mean, sure, why not. Anyway, you’re supposed to perform certain rituals and sacrifices. And when I say “you,” I mean the Cohenim, the priests.
It’s not that important. To me. What I find interesting is, what do Christians do with all this stuff? Because, this is also word-of-god shit for them too, right? But I don’t see them keeping up with all this. And in Exodus, there were the rules about wearing tfilin. And they sure as shit don’t do that. So how do they decide? How do they choose what to keep and what not to keep? To me, that’s what’s interesting. Super interesting.
But enough of that. I’ve been on a Judas Priest kick of late. Because last week, The YouTubes recommended to me a live video from 1983. And it blew me away. Rob Halford, the singer, blew me away. He had the flamboyant showmanship of Freddy Mercury mixed with the metal-godness of Bruce Dickinson. And his voice. Oh my god, you guys. Oh. My. God.
And look, it doesn’t have the intangible magic of Dio.5 It doesn’t have the, shit, I don’t even know. But whatever makes Bruce so great, it doesn’t quite have that either. But it’s got this range. Like, he’s simultaneously a tenor, alto and soprano. And he’s completely metal about it. He’s doing things that shouldn’t be humanly possible, and he’s doing it like it’s nothing. Like he’s singing in the fucking shower.
And the guitarists are super special. If you’re a guitarist and a metal fan, then, fuck, Glen Tipton and KK Downing. No explanation needed. Actually, Charlotte’s cousin and uncle played (or still play?) in a Priest tribute band. And while I was there, I totally nerded out with her cousin over Priest, and Tipton’s guitar playing.
We were both just like, “Dude, that solo, in Beyond the Realms of Death.” And that was the whole conversation. Because we both knew exactly what that meant. We both knew the perfection, the glory, the infallible phrasing, the exquisite tone, the divine melodies of that work of art. Instant respect.
So yeah, I’ve just been listening to a ton of Priest lately. And in the 80’s, they got a bit cheesy, sure. And now, Halford is old and his mid-range is shot. But man. Like, I forgot how good this band was.
And you know, they sort of invented metal. OK, we say that about a lot bands. Sabbath. Purple. Zeppelin.6 Motörhead even. And there’s some truth to all that. But Priest was the first band that accepted the metal moniker. They’re the first band that said, “Yes, we are heavy fucking metal.” Because all those other bands insisted – still insist – that they “just play rock’n’roll.”
And Priest is also the first band to really do the twin lead guitars with harmonies thing, in a metal context. I mean yes, Thin Lizzy was doing it before them.7 And I love Thin Lizzy. No, I love Thin Lizzy. To me, they’re a truly special band. In the way that Queen is a special band. I’m not saying they’re as good as Queen. Nobody is. But for me, they’re on that level. I could go on about Thin Lizzy.8 All I wanted to say was, although Thin Lizzy predated Priest with the twin lead guitar harmonies, they weren’t metal about. Oh, they were glorious about it. Just not metal.
Priest brought this to metal. And every single metal band since, owes them a debt. Iron Maiden included. Also, I think I’m rambling now. And I haven’t said half as much about Priest as I could, or even would like to. But I think I’ve said enough, when I say, I’ve been enjoying the shit out of them lately.
No, wait. One more thing. In that travel camp summer, when I was 15 or however old I was, the one where Rob taught me how to play Iron Man and Paranoid in the back of the bus. That summer, at some interstate rest stop, I bought a cassette of Priest’s live album “Unleashed in the East.”
I’d been reading about Priest in guitar mags for years already, but somehow, I still didn’t have any of their records. And there, in some (possibly) Ohio gas station, was this cassette. So I bought it. Because this was 1995-ish, and I had a Walkman. And I put the tape in and press play. And I didn’t know what to expect. Like, every guitarist I ever gave a shit about, in every interview I could get my hands on, all they said was, Priest was a major influence. But what would that mean?
So I press play. And oh my god shut the fuck up! The first track. Exciter. The guitars. Halford’s voice. Never heard anything like it. Changed my life. And every track after that. Sinner. The Ripper. And get this. The most metal cover of Joan Baez’ Diamonds and Rust. To this day, I don’t know what the original sounds like. Don’t care either. The Priest version is definitive. I texted Jared about it last week, or the week before. He agrees.
Fuck yes, Judas fucking Priest.
And now a bit of copy paste. Just my thoughts on Danzig and Van Halen, which I cut from my last post…
From the Day-Drinking with Anne post (3/17):
Towards the end, we switched to my iPhone. The first thing I put on was Danzig I. Because that’s a great fucking album. Do I need to a Danzig thing here? OK, fine. Glenn Danzig was the singer for the Misfits.9 Then he went solo…
…Well, actually, first he did Samhain. Which, come on, November Coming Fire. Great album name. Great album art. Great music. But after Samhain, he went solo. Rick Rubin produced the first four albums, which are the ones that matter.
And I’m telling you, friends, these are special albums. Dark. Bluesy. Heavy. Evil. But with a lot of soul. They don’t call him “The Evil Elvis” for nothing. And each one is unique. Danzig I10 is a proper heavy rock album. Danzig II: Lucifuge is bluesier, heavier and probably better. Except when it’s not. No, but if nothing else, the slide guitar on 777 is fucking…well, I’ve used the word already, but…Evil. Then you get Danzig III: How the Gods Kill. Which, first of all, as far as I’m concerned, is the greatest album name of all time. And it’s less bluesy, but also heavier. And darker even, if that’s possible. And it has Anything, which, if you don’t like that song, then probably honestly you should think about going and fucking yourself. No, seriously. If you don’t like this song, you had better be some kind of special human being for me to want to still be friends with you. It’s possible, yes. Just, it won’t be easy, is what I’m saying.11
And then, yeah, Danzig IV. Which is somehow Jared’s favorite. Well, to each his own. I mean, it’s a great album, no doubt. It’s one of the Sacred Four. But this is where he starts to introduce some techno shit. And yeah, it works. And yeah, there are great tracks. But it’s my least favorite of the four. Which means it’s still better than anything most bands have done.
Anyway, one of the great things about Danzig is the atmosphere it/he/they create(s). I don’t know how he does it. But you put on a Danzig album, and it doesn’t matter where you are. You put on a Danzig album, and it’s automatically a cold, grey, rainy, autumn day. And when it is actually a cold, grey, rainy, autumn day, well, it’s that…squared. I love Danzig is what I’m saying.
Right. So I put on Danzig I. Which wasn’t even the point. The point was, after that, I put on Van Halen II. Ugh, do I need to do a Van Halen thing now? And the answer is yes, because apparently I can’t ever get to my actual point. But this will be shorter than the Danzig thing…
…OK, so Halen. It’s a weird band. Like, you can either love them or hate them. You can even do both. But it’s hard to be in between. I tend to do both. Sometimes I love VH. Sometimes I think it’s the stupidest most self-indulgent shit ever. But they’re fun. Ok. They’re more fun with Roth. But it’s probably better music with Hagar. Or is it? I usually think so. Except, do I? Fuck, no, we’re not doing the DLR/Hagar debate here.
But I recently watched a live video of Dance the Night Away, which by any metric is just a good fucking tune. And you watch this band, and you just see how much fun they’re having. And that’s not nothing.
But also, Van Halen has this going for them. They were always Shyer’s favorite band, along with Rush.12 Shyer, you may remember, was the drummer in my band and also my brother’s best friend; the band I played in with Jared and my brother and Rob. Also the most wonderful, gifted drummer I’ve ever played with. He visited me in Berlin last year. Well, he visited Berlin last year. Not for me. But we met up. The point is, I love Shyer. And Shyer loves the Halen. So I can’t listen to that band and not think of that guy. And that always makes me happy. Because I love Shyer…
So, uh, that’s what I cut from the last post. And that’s where we’ll stop. But first let me say this. If you’re a metal fan, go listen to some Priest. And while you’re at it, listen to some Halen. Not much, because they get old fast. But listen to Dance the Night Away. And if you have “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge,” listen to Runaround, Top of the World and Right Now. Trust me, it’s worth it.
And if you like dark, heavy stuff, acquaint yourself with the first four Danzig albums. The best way is to just go through them chronologically. But if you can’t be bothered, then just listen to
“Danzig II: Lucifuge.” And if you really can’t be bothered, at least listen to Anything, off “Danzig III: How the Gods Kill.” Which again, is the greatest album name of all time.
And if you’re any kind of music fan…no, you know what? If you have a beating heart, go listen to Thin Lizzy. If you want an album, it’s “Jailbreak.” Or “Fighting.” Or “Live and Dangerous.” If you need a song, well, we all know The Boys are Back in Town. But if you want a new song, heres’ three: Running Back, Angel from the Coast and Song for While I’m Away. And yeah, Whiskey in the Jar.
And if you somehow don’t like Thin Lizzy, after listening to those songs or albums, then do me a favor. Keep it to yourself, yeah? I mean, I love you. And I’d like to keep it that way.
- I’m not sure how I feel about using “ain’t” in the classroom. On the one hand, if they’re learning English for the workplace – which they are – it’s not only not useful, but possibly even counterproductive. On the other hand, if they’re going to interact with music and television – which they do – I feel like it’s something they should know. [↩]
- As I’m proofreading this, it occurs to me that if you break apart viel|leicht, what you get is something that literally means “very light.” And, like, that’s an interesting way to think about a possibility, about a ‘maybe.’ There’s a very light chance of it happening. [↩]
- I assume that’s lost on all but J-Dawg and Joschel. [↩]
- What a beautiful language! [↩]
- Bless his soul and may he rest in peace. I love you, Dio. [↩]
- Other people say that about Zep. I don’t. For my money, Zeppelin is shit. If you want heavy, listen to Sabbath. If you want actual good musicianship, listen to Purple. Because Page isn’t fit to carry Blackmore’s guitar case, imho. And Jon Lord alone is worth ten Led Zeppelins. And maybe Robert Plant is “better” than Ozzy. But he ain’t better than Ian Gillain or David Coverdale or Glenn Hughes. Fuck Zeppelin, is what I’m saying. Even though I know I’m pretty much alone on this. [↩]
- And apparently Wishbone Ash. But I never got into them. [↩]
- I really want to go on about Thin Lizzy. I won’t, but I want to. I will say this though. If you somehow don’t like Thin Lizzy, I’m going to have to think long and hard about if we can be friends. I’m not saying it’s impossible. But I am saying I’ll have misgivings. That’s where I hold Thin Lizzy. [↩]
- If you don’t know The Misfits, then, I dunno, I can’t help you. Get out from under whatever rock your living under and go know The Misfits. [↩]
- Really, it’s just called “Danzig.” But this is easier. [↩]
- So apparently, I feel about Anything the way I feel about Thin Lizzy. [↩]
- No. We’re definitely not doing a Rush thing here. I mean, we could. Even if we take two albums: 2012 and Grace Under Pressure…No! Stop! [↩]