Saturday, April 15, 2017

On Dairy Diarrhea




In an episode of Twin Peaks, David Lynch’s eccentric TV program broadcast in the early 1990's, someone mentions a "dairy" maintained by Laura Palmer. As everyone knows, Laura Palmer is the Twin Peaks’ homecoming queen whose murder initiates the 30 episodes of the show. Laura Palmer kept a secret diary in which she chronicled her degradation as a secret cocaine addict and prostitute. The diary contains clues as to the identity of her killer and, so, that writing is significant to the story. One of the show’s characters, apparently, mishears a reference to her "diary", translating the word into its almost identical anagram, "dairy". Thus, the dead girl is imagined to be operating a "dairy".

A native speaker of English hears the similarity between "diary" and "dairy" as a fait accompli, a coincidence that doesn’t have any significance. We don’t jump to the conclusion that there is any relationship between the words other than one that is purely accidental and fortuitous. And, indeed, the two words are wholly unrelated and have completely different historical sources. The etymology of "dairy" is the Old English word daeg (that is, a "kneader of bread", "female servant" or "housekeeper") combined with the Norman French suffix signifying a place "–erie." Thus, a "dairy" is a place where milkmaids (who knead a cow’s teats as they might knead bread) ply their trade. By contrast, "diary" derives from the Latin diarium, a word for a "book of days" that has its origin in the word dies, also Latin, for day – in a "diary" we record the events of our days.

One reading in a foreign language lacks the nuanced ability to understand similar looking words as wholly dissimilar. If I see two German words that look like one another, lacking a daily, spoken sense for the context of these words’ usage, I am prone to confuse them. At minimum, I will likely believe that the two words have similar meaning, a concord based upon their etymological history. An interesting example of this problem arises in Viktor Frankl’s concentration camp memoir. Trotzdem Ja zum Leben Sagen – ein Psycholog erlebt das Konzentrationslager (Nevertheless saying "Yes" to Life – a Psychologist experiences the Concentration Camp). Frankl’s book is well-known in English under the title Man’s Search for Meaning. In his book, Frankl uses the word Jauche. Hence:

Wenn dann bei der Abfuhr ueber holprige Felder die Jauche – wie gewoehnlich – ins Gesicht spritzt, wird ein Zusammenzucken oder derVersuch des Wegwischens sicher nur mit einem Stockhieb seitens des Capo quittiert werden, der sich ueber die "Zimperlichkeit" seines Arbeiters aufregt.

When liquid manure transported over the bumpy fields sprayed (as it did usually) into a worker’s face, the man’s reflexive repulsion or his attempt to wipe it off would certainly be met with a blow from the Capo upset by his worker’s "delicacy".
Translation in Man’s Search for Meaning (Ilse Lasch): If, as usually happened, some of the excrement splashed into his face during transport over bumpy fields, any sign of disgust by the prisoner or an attempt to wipe off the filth would only be punished by a blow from the "Capo."

The word Jauche was unfamiliar to me. However, the word looks similar to the German verb Jauchzen. Jauchzen means to express one’s jubilation with audible cries of happiness. This meaning is startlingly different from the nasty excremental meaning of Jauche and, so, I was interested to see if there might be any relationship historically between the two words.

Not surprisingly, nothing links the two similar-looking words. Jauche is a technical term for manure slurry – it has an agricultural origin. The word originates in Slavic terms – jecha in Lower Sorbian and juha in Croatian. These words are etymologically related to the German Bruehe – that is, "soup." The terms mean a foul smelling combination of liquid dung and stall detritus such as straw bedding and feed. This slurry has the consistency of "soup" and, hence, the Slavic words were imported into German, probably by eastern European (Slavic) agricultural workers resulting in the German term Jauche for liquid manure.

(The echt-High German word for manure slurry is Guelle this means the same as Jauche and derives from the German word Pfuetze or "puddle". Again the nasty substance is named for the fact that it has liquefied – at a farm with animals in stalls, the Pfuetze are treacherous with puddles of liquid manure.)

The German term for "cries of jubilation," jauchzen derives from a German exclamation Juch! Juch! is an ejaculation taken to signify joy and happiness. Juch!, Germans are reputed to cry when they are so jubilant that mere words no longer express their joy.

My equation of Jauche with jauchzen is naive and completely false. A native-speaking German would no more confuse the words than I would mistake "diary" for "diarrhea." ("Diarrhea" is derived from the Greek dia – that is, to "flow through". The Greek word initially meant "funnel." Thus, Diarrhea is related to Diabetes – the latter term meaning that the body has become a mere "funnel" or "conduit" for urine.)

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