I called my friend Luis yesterday to rub in the German victory over Argentina. And one of my favorite nieces answered the phone. All my nieces are favorite nieces, of course, but let’s not get distracted. She is known, affectionately, by her loving father, as “Piggy.”
I’m still thinking of her now, the morning after.
The reason is it’s Sunday, and there was no newspaper delivery, and in desperation, since I don’t know how to have my morning toast and tea without a newspaper, I decided to see what I might find left over from yesterday’s newspaper. I ended up in the Sports Section. In the special insert on the World Cup 2010. You may take a moment to wonder if the religious right is right and the signs are everywhere that world is in fact coming to a rapid close.
No, the reason I thought right away of Sol was there’s a big picture of Bastian Schweinsteiger on the ground and Lionel Messi leaping over him. The entire page is given over to speculations of the upcoming game – the day before the event.
Why would that make me think of her? Schweinsteiger. One of the big names on the now heroic German team. His name means “Pigclimber”. Could there possibly be a more unfortunate family name? Not only can pigs not fly, they can’t even climb a fence. How did this name ever come into being in the first place? And why would some family made it their own? Anyway, the point is what his teammates call him for short. “Schweini”. Which, of course, is German for “piggy.”
I’ve always admired Sol’s ability to take that name her father gave her in stride. In pride, even. It marks her as a real trooper.
One of the articles commented on the fact that Schweinsteiger was a mouthful for Argentines, who were turning it into “Eswejnstejger.” At least that’s the German spelling for the Argentine pronunciation of the German name. And that led me to consider what a treasure house of linguistic oddities there are associated with the two teams. To my American ears, because I am an absolute novice to the world of Fußball (nobody here can make sense of the word “soccer” – and that’s foos, rhymes with moose, by the way), I kept wondering what the hell Madonna was doing in the game. With the German r in the back of the throat, that’s what Maradona was sounding like as I walked past one TV screen in the street after another. And Messy? Do the Argentines really have a guy called Messy? Well, yes, although he spells it differently. Messi is from Palermo. I suppose that’s messy.
Also coming into the Outer Hebrides corner of my brain were the names Lion and Lamb. What was that all about? Well, once you stop and have a look, you realize the German trainer’s name is Löw, which is “lion” (with the final –e of Löwe left off for some reason) and the team’s captain is Lahm. I thought I had heard Lamm, which is lamb, which is kind of cute for a soccer team captain, don’t you think? Well, turns out it’s Lahm (long a), not Lamm (short a), which isn’t cute at all, since lahm, of course, means “lame.” Or sluggish or feeble. So if you think Pigclimber is a linguistic burden to the team, what about Lahm?
And for those who like playing in the particularly silly sandbox, there is the fact that the team is routinely referred to in Germany as the “National Elf.” Elf is the German word for Elf, i.e., same as English. It’s also the word for eleven, but why stop when you’re on a roll? If you can imagining a lion leading a lame captain and a pig who can climb to victory after victory, certainly you can handle the notion of a heroic National Leprechaun. Troll. Goblin. Whatever.
And, of course, I’m far too much of a lady to make any comments about the Argentine trainer, José Pekerman.
Also on the German team (although not in the Argentina match) is this Brazilian born Cacau, who gets his name, I suppose from the fact that he’s Afro-Brazilian. His real name is the deliciously Slavic sounding Claudimir. Middle name Jeronimo. And Klose, the guy with the German sounding last name whose first name is Miroslav and really is Slavic. At least born in Poland. Just like Łukasz, who changed his name to Lukas, Podolski when he became a German. What kind of German team is this, with all these Polish names? What happened to all those good German names, like Sami Khedira, Mesult Özil and Jérôme Boateng?
The sports analysis pages were unable to refrain from stereotyping. The lead article made reference to the fact this could become a revenge match from four years ago when the Argentines beat up a German, and there was all this stuff about name calling and the assertion that Latin Americans were “by nature disrespectful and unfair” – people who could become “fuchsteufelswild” when provoked. To go “fox devil wild” is the German way of saying to go apeshit. One German insisted, though, it was only when they were playing soccer that this became true. Otherwise, he found the Argentines “social, cordial, and ‘the nicest people'.”
And this led to efforts from all directions to calm everybody down. Not entirely successfully, said the sportswriter. To him, there was something almost inevitable about the fact that among Germans, the characteristics of the Latin Americans would follow a kind of moral leitmotif.
Man, speaking of stereotypes. Is there any other place on the planet where the word leitmotif would show up on the sports page?