Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bist Du Fertig?

Many years ago, not long after becoming engaged to my husband, I asked him what, exactly, our last name meant. He told me that it was a German name and that it meant "carpenter". So, I felt very proud to enter into a family name that held meaning, much like "Wheeler" being the town's wheel-right, or "Smith" being the town's silversmith. My maiden name has been far too mangled from the original German to mean anything. So, the only meaning I can attach to my side of the family goes with "Campbell" -- which I would assume meant that side of my family was the town's soup-makers. So, finally, I had an identity to attach to my last name.

Something never sat right with me, though. I actually know some German. I'm not fluent in the language, but studied it for about 7 years and got to the point where I could write papers, and read German newspapers and magazines. The German word for carpenter is "Zimmermann", and that's not our last name. But, short of a better explanation, I went with it.

Well, last week Lawyer/Social Advocate Boy told me that his Sunday school teacher asked the kids to look up the meaning of their names in order to share with the class. I decided to double check this whole "carpenter" thing and did some online research. It turns out that our family name has been very researched, and even has it's own website. And, it doesn't mean carpenter -- it means "am ende", at the end. According to the website it meant we were the family at the end of the street or at the end of the village.

Okay, that's slightly less noble than "carpenter" . We're not the family that builds or repairs furniture, we're the family that lives at the end of the street. Not known for anything, just for living at the end of the street. We're vanilla, egg-shell white, no more exciting than Bob Dole.

But then, I reflected upon a bit of my own German experience. While in high school, our class hosted a German exchange student. Once, during a school skate, I sat and chatted with a group of girls, including the exchange student, while drinking cokes. As we finished our drinks, one girl said to the exchange student, whom I'll call Helga, so as to help perpetuate any German stereotypes, "Bist du Fertig?"

We had learned, in our German class, that "fertig" meant, "finished, ready to move on."

Helga looked at us like we were nuts.
"Was?" ("What?" -- for all you non-German speakers!)

"Bist du Fertig? Are you finished?"

With that Helga started laughing and quickly explained that while "bist du fertig" literally meant "are you ready to go?" it was really used as slang for "Are you crazy?"

So, I wondered, does "am ende" really mean the family at the end of the street, or does it mean "the family off the edge?" "the off balance family" "the crazy family"? hmmm...

1 comment:

Ginger said...

My guess would be.....