Friday, August 24, 2012


The other day I was getting ready to go home and asked myself if I'd learned anything that day and the truth was I hadn't. In the nick of time, a colleague came over and starting telling me about a guy with a fliehendes Kinn, which is literally a fleeing chin. I'd never heard the expression and thought it must be a pronounced chin that looks about to leap off someone's face. Wrong. It's the opposite, what we'd call a weak or receding chin, a chin practically swallowed by the neck.

In my 20 years of "learning German" the fun never seems to end.

One of my recent favorites was Katzentisch, or cat's table, which I learned literally about 2 weeks before I heard of Michael Ondaatje's book, "The Cat's Table." In German the Katzentisch was a table for cats to eat from, but eventually came to mean a separate table away from the main action, including a kids' table like those installed at family holidays. We have a desk at the office for reporters visiting from other bureaus we call the Katzentisch. How I've often longed to sit there, and be transformed.

Anyway, what I learned today has nothing to do with specific words. Rather, I read that the first typewriters placed the letters in alphabetical order, "causing the keys to jam easily." It was unclear why alphabetically-arranged keys would jam. I found out it was because letters that are frequently paired, like S/T, or G/H, were near or neighboring, and the bars would get tangled in the carriage. Thus the letters were rearranged into the QWERTY pattern, and so they remain though few people use typewriters anymore, and those swinging typebars were eventually replaced in electric typewriters by a typeball. Even my Blackberry uses QWERTY, though I don't see the practical purpose anymore. I guess we veterans of typing class refuse to give it up, rather like yards, feet and inches.


Andrew Shields said...

My typist grandmother switched to the Dvorak keyboard when she was in her 70s:

Her typing speed went up 50%!

SarahJane said...

I read about that! Since I learned to type in high school, I've never had any complaints.

Kathleen said...

Neato! I learned to type in England. Also, now I am thinking about the Katzenjammer Kids.

SarahJane said...

When I was a kid I thought Katzenjammer had something to do with the cat's pajamas. It has the cat, it has the jammies. But "Jammer" is howling or complaining, and Katzenjammer is the wailing of a cat. It is also a hangover.

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