Date: Thu, 27 Nov 1997 12:37:23 -0500
From: Gerald Cohen gcohen[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UMR.EDU
Subject: "Ich bin ein Berliner"
On Nov. 25, l997 Jim Crotty sent a message under "Vernacular Mishaps,"
which included mention of JFK's famous statement in Berlin "Ich bin ein
Berliner." The meaning, of course, is "I am a resident of Berlin" and drew
a thunderous, emotional response from the large crowd of Germans who heard
Mr. Crotty passes along the interpretation that the real meaning of
JFK's famous statment is "I am a jelly doughnut," but this interpretation
has already been forcefully rejected by Reinhold Aman (a native German) in
his journal _Maledicta_. I don't have the exact reference handy, but the
article appeared a few years ago.
Incidentally, _Maledicta_ is available from Dr. Reinhold Aman, P.O.
Box 14123, Santa Rosa, CA 95402-6223. It is the only scholarly journal
that regularly prints (indeed, specializes in) articles that would make a
longshoreman blush. Anyone interested in the scholarly treatment of
various off-color topics pertinent to language should be familar with this
publication. The "Ich bin ein Berliner" article is an exception to the
usual range of topics treated there.
Also, too, although the "Ich bin ein Berliner" item should be removed
from Mr. Crotty's list, the overall list itself is an interesting one. The
marketing of the Nova ("It doesn't go") in Latin America--with its
disastrously low sales for a while and with no one in management aware of
the implication of the car's name--is breathtaking in retrospect.
When time permits, I'll send along some other examples of gaffes in
communication. Two come to mind now. During his presidency, George Bush
visited Australia, and flashed the V (for Victory) sign when getting off
the plane. I remember the American newspapers explaining the next day
that in Australia that sign is an indecent gesture.
Then there was Jimmy Carter's American-born Polish translator who
accompanied him to Poland during his presidency. Carter was giving a
speech to an assembled crowd (at the airport, I believe), when he noticed
that many in the crowd were grinning, and whatever Carter was saying, it
wasn't supposed to contain any humor. Later the cause of the unintended
humor became clear to the American party. Carter had said something like
"We have come to help the Polish people realize its desires;" but when
Carter paused to allow for the translation of the sentence, the translator
used the wrong word for "desires," and instead used the word for "lusts."
So, it sounded as though the American president--the most powerful
person of the most powerful country on earth--had made the long trip to
Poland to help the Polish people satisfy their lusts. Small wonder that
there were grins in the crowd.
gcohen[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]umr.edu