Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Cromileptes altivelis
The German word "Barsch", viewed from an English-language perspective, is a generic term for several varieties of fish.  It is used to describe not only bass, but perch, cod, and groupers.  If I am not mistaken, it is used to designate all the "perciforms," the 6000 (Wikipedia says 10,000, but they probably exaggerate) species of fish in 150 families that make up 40% of all the fishies in the brook, daddy catch 'em on the hook.  The ones that look like perch, we are told.  Fin-spined.  Very tasty.

Micropterus punctulatus, if you're a chef preparing lunch at the Vatican and want to put "spotted bass" on the menu.

Or possibly "Cromileptes altivelis", if you're an Ozzie and you're serving what you call "barramundi cod", and what we in the U.S. call a "humpback grouper."  It's also known as a "panther grouper."

Micropterus punctulatus is the symbol of Kentucky, in case you didn't know that and want to make a note of it.

barsch, small b, is an adjective in German, and a trusty German-English translation source I know tells me it means gruff, rough, curt, harsh, brusque, short, rude, brisk, angular or crusty. Nothing to do with fish.  Unless you want to say "a rude bass", which, of course, would be "ein barscher Barsch." 

This is called a homophone.  Homophones are words that sound alike but mean entirely different things (and are sometimes also spelled differently.)

But if you are an English teacher, be careful not to include the word homophone in your curriculumespecially if you teach in Utah, because you might lose your job.  Check out what happened to this poor fellow who used to teach at the Nomen Language Center, Utah's largest private ESL enterprise.  His boss decided he had no business using words that suggested homosexuality.

But back to fish.  "Punctulatus" is Latin for "spotted."   A synonym for "spotted" in English is "dotted."  Another synonym is "with little points all over it."  Which is what the Germans call it. "Point" in German is "Punkt."   So if you've been "pointed" you've been "gepunktet."  Micro means small.  Pterus comes from the Greek, meaning "winged," and can't you just see some young Aristophenes noting one day that while birds have wings, fish have fins and since there is no danger of mixing these two animals up, we might as well economize on vocabulary.

In any case, these days the Germans call a spotted bass "ein gepunkteter Barsch."  Or sometimes a Grace-Kelly Barsch.

Still with me?

Now earlier I said that another word for micropterus punctulatus was cromileptes altivelis. But that can't be right, since one of the characteristics of the latter is that it has spines on its anus.  And that is not true for the former.  Or is it?  I tried typing "anus of micropterus punctulatus" into Google, but they were not helpful.   Well, they did give me several more names for this fish, and a YouTube link to a kid hand-feeding frogs to a "bad-ass largemouth bass," which has some educational merit, I suppose.

But in the end one must conclude that you've got to be very careful with your words.  Don't believe the dictionary until you've checked around.

Now about this Grace Kelly Barsch...

The folks down at "Association Blaster" are furious.  That's a web site run by people who think of things and then want to know what else those things make you think of.   They're trying to find the origin of the Grace Kelly reference and are drawing blanks. Is it because she used to dress in spotted clothing like a Dalmatian? one person asks.  Is it because the fish can't make right turns? speculates another.  A third asks, is it because "Grace Kelly hat die allerallersch√∂nste Nase auf der Welt?  (because Grace Kelly has the very very most beautiful nose in the world?)"

And because this is internet discourse, there is of course somebody out there who has to ask, is this not a typo?  Should it not be "Arsch" (ass) instead of "Barsch"?

I came across the word barsch in a book by a Viennese theologian ruminating on whether Jesus wasn't a bit "barsch" with this Canaanite woman who comes to him to get him to cast a demon out of her daughter.  My job, Jesus tells her, is to take care of the lost sheep of Israel, the implication being "and not you other people."   The harshness gets worse.  "It is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it unto the dogs."  

What the hell is Jesus saying here - that "the children" are "the children of Israel" and you guys are dogs?  

Not nice, even if he relents in the end because she offers to wash his feet and dry them with her hair (never figured that one out either - since feet dry in no time why muck up your hair with feet-water?) So many things I don't understand.

(If you want to check out the text, it's from Matthew 24.)

The theologian was all hung up on whether this "barsch" treatment of the woman was because Jesus was being macho?  Or was it because she was a non-Jew?   Or was he simply testing her faith and suggesting that she had to make him believe she knew she was talking to a real healer here?

In any case, I didn't know the word barsch and figured if I spent the morning on it, I'd have no further need to look it up again.  With any luck, I've got it down now for time and all eternity.

The fish was a distraction.

And one of the delights of being retired is that after all the years I spent at work struggling not to be distracted, I can, at long long last, surrender to any and all distractions and really enjoy the ride.

Did you know that today is Lucille Ball, Andy Warhol, Vera Farmiga, Robert Mitchum, and Alfred Lord Tennyson's birthday?

photo credit

1 comment:

William D. Lindsey said...

Brilliant, Alan. Just brilliant. I for one am grateful you're retired and can now share the benefits of your years of learning with the rest of us via this brilliant blog.