The Book Thief The Book Thief question


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Curse words in The Book Thief (Saumensch / Saukerl)
Teresa Teresa Aug 10, 2012 09:20AM
There are a lot of curse words in The Book Thief, and I've been thinking a lot particularly about the name Rosa uses for Liesel, Saumensch. I understand that saumensch = female pig and saukerl = male pig. My question is, are these words that a mother in Germany would commonly be using for her own daughter or her husband? Would these words be used by children? Are these words equivalent to the English b***h and b*****d, or maybe not as bad?

I've looked around a little on the internet and some people seem to say these German words are very harsh, yet others have said that they're sometimes used jokingly. Does Rosa come off as more abusive to a native German speaker? What if these words were replaced with an appropriate English translation (b***h)? I feel as though the author wants me to believe she's really lovable deep down, but it's hard for me to believe while she's cursing at her own child and beating her with a spoon.

I've also noticed that in places where curse words are meant to be harsh, English words are used, for example when a bully calls Liesel a "whore." Is this word supposed to have more impact because it's in English? Are the German curse words supposed to sound funny to an English speaking audience because we don't know what they mean? It seems very ironic to me that a mother is cursing so much at her child in a book whose main theme is the impact of words.

Are there any fluent German speakers who could shed some light on this?



"poopee"....you are as ignorant as your name....jerk! who does that?!? who says anything about the end??
ugh


I'm German and I can assure you that I've never heard the words "Saumensch"/"Saukerl" used by parents for their children. Then again, I suppose it's different in southern Germany.
What I can tell you is that Rosa didn't seem very abusive to me when I read the book. She was very strict, but not aggressive or abusive. I think when she uses those words she's only half-serious and the others know that, so they don't really mind.
Besides, the prefix "sau" is not always negative. When used for words like "Saumensch" or "Saukerl" it depends on the speaker's tone and the relationship between the speaker and the addressee(Friends can take it as a joke since they know you, a stranger will most likely take it as an insult), but there are also words like "saugut"(= very good) or "saucool"(= very cool) and those are in general positive. It mostly depends on the tone.


Words starting with "sau..." were in former times used in southern Germany (Bavaria, Swabia), not so often today. I come from Southgermany and actually do know older people who called others for example "Saumensch", but only in a familiar way.

"Saumensch" is used for girls/women, "Saukerl" for boys/men. The prefix could be used in both ways - negative or positive, always in order zu increase the meaning. There are a lot of examples in this dictionary "bavarian - to german": http://www.bayrisches-woerterbuch.de/...

In my opinion Rosa calls Liesel "Saumensch" because she could not show her feelings in another way. She does it not to offend her, only by habit.

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Carol My family speaks German. Saumench is actually a term of endearment with close people. It is like calling your child a rascal or "you little stinker", ...more
Mar 22, 2015 03:55AM

I also don't speak German, but I certainly didn't equate saumensch/saukerl with English "b..ch" or "b.....d" at all. I would have seen it as calling them "pig," and though that would be unpleasant as well, certainly not as harsh as being call "b..ch" or "b.....d". I think swear words come in levels of offensiveness - for instance, some swear words are allowed on TV while others are not. Rosa was just a crude, opinionated woman. She swore a lot at everybody, but her actions did show true love. Also at that time, spanking - even with a spoon, ruler, switch - was acceptable punishment for children in that time period. I think we now are so programmed not to touch a child or spank a child that Rosa's actions seemed like abuse. I never got the impression of a beating. I got the impression that she spanked Liesel with the spoon just as a lot of parents spanked their children with a switch. My husband's grandmother got his behind with a fly swatter. Didn't damage him in the least. I'm not sure why other swear words were written in English rather than German. Maybe Zusak liked the sound of the German word "saumensch" rather than the sound of the German word for "whore"? He was so particular to create such beautiful descriptions that maybe he was paying attention to the sounds of the words? Just speculation.


Hey, I'm German so probably I can help here.

Teresa wrote: "I understand that saumensch = female pig and saukerl = male pig."

well that's not completely right. Saumensch is a combination of the German words Sau and Mensch (= pig and human) so it's some universal term for both woman and man (girl and boy).

Saukerl is a bit harder to translate. It is a combination of the words Sau and Kerl (=pig and (male version of) guy). So it can only be addressed to a boy/man.

Teresa wrote: "I've looked around a little on the internet and some people seem to say these German words are very harsh, yet others have said that they're sometimes used jokingly. Does Rosa come off as more abusive to a native German speaker? What if these words were replaced with an appropriate English translation (b***h)? I feel as though the author wants me to believe she's really lovable deep down, but it's hard for me to believe while she's cursing at her own child and beating her with a spoon.

I've also noticed that in places where curse words are meant to be harsh, English words are used, for example when a bully calls Liesel a "whore." Is this word supposed to have more impact because it's in English? Are the German curse words supposed to sound funny to an English speaking audience because we don't know what they mean? It seems very ironic to me that a mother is cursing so much at her child in a book whose main theme is the impact of words."



First, b*tch and b*stard are way to harsh to be translations for Saumensch and Saukerl. It's really hard to find a proper translation for these words. In Brit. english you can translate Saukerl with sod (slang).
The German Duden (a dictionary) says Saukerl is some sort of mean guy (male version of guy). So Saumensch would be a mean human.

But you could also translate Saukerl with the term "rapscallion" or "rascal".

Saumensch seems to be more offensive, but that might just be caused by the fact that these words aren't common in today's German language. For me it sounds like an insult, but I can imagine that in the early twenties it was just used as the universal (means for both, woman and man) term for rascal.

I've no idea, why the author thinks it is necessary to use that much German curses. Probably he is trying to sound authentic. (It's not working for me. It takes more than 3-4 curses.)

I wouldn't say she is cursing her child it's just like calling your child a rascal. Someone who is only doing mischief.
(I have to admit that even to me it sounds sometimes quit harsh. But again, I think that is caused by the way how German language changed in the last 50 years.)

I hope that helped.


There was one part in the book where Rudy calls Liesl Saumensch in front of Rosa and it was not acknowledged by any of the parties. At this point, it made me think that it was common to use this word and no one thought anything about it. I would imagine Rosa would have reacted strongly otherwise, even if she herself addressed Liesl as such.


I haven't completed the book yet, almost finished. But I thought I'd throw in my 2 cents here!

I believe they were very difficult, tough times in a particularly difficult, tough neighborhood. Survival required these people to be tough, if not on the inside, then very definitely on the outside.

The kids all swapped saukerl and saumensch affectionately, or not, depending on the relationship, but Rudy and Liesel were definitely on the affectionate end for the swapping.

The writer plays with words as a painter would with colors. Someone earlier mentioned switching between the particular German dialect and the English words as if paying attention to the sounds. To me, as if painting with sounds, as if capturing a cloud with words (remember?).

I'm very fond of this book so far!


OK..... I don't usually get involved in these discussions (actually this is my first time). Based on things I've see on the internet - the comments tend to go too astray.

I'm not German and I do understand the recent comments regarding Southern Germany and usage of such language. However, in this case, I really loved the Book and Movie - The Book Thief. I tend to look at the "saumensch" and "saukerl" discussions from a quite different point of view..... Perhaps, a little more innocent and more pointed toward the book and movie. If you look at the family itself, they were poor and food was scarce, thus, by referring to family members as "pigs" (male and female - saukerl and saumensch) was really meant as a quirky endearment. In effect, because of the poverty, they were overfed - ie: "Little Piggies". I guess from a romantic literary point of view this, to me, sounds much better than trying to figure out curse words.

Just a thought.........


Avani (last edited Aug 10, 2012 06:17PM ) Aug 10, 2012 06:17PM   1 vote
I don't speak an ounce of German, but when I read the book, it seemed to me like Rosa, especially, and other characters, used the terms endearingly. The author is Australian, so I'm sure he must have done thorough research to make sure he was not offending anyone.


I think it's hard to translate slang & swear words between cultures. To me, as an American, it's like hearing a Brit use "bloody." It means something to them, but I can't come up with an American translation.

German curses are silly. If someone calls me a "pig," I assume they are referring to my weight. In Germany a "Sau" or "Schwein" could be anything from an insult to a nickname. I still remember when my German roommate translated "Ich verpisse etwas" to "I piss all over something," I fell down laughing, even though it was considered pretty scandalous to a native German speaker.


Teresa wrote: "There are a lot of curse words in The Book Thief, and I've been thinking a lot particularly about the name Rosa uses for Liesel, Saumensch. I understand that saumensch = female pig and saukerl = ma..."

Hello! Its an old post but I thought perhaps I can comment on it since I have just read the novel.

Well I actually asked my partner about this as well. I live in Germany (and speak German) but I have never heard the word "Saumensch" for example. And to be honest, "Sau" is already used as a derogatory word (also predominantly for females since the word Sau means a female pig), but also sometimes jokingly. Therefore I was quite perplexed by the explanation provided by Zusak that Saumensch=female.
My partner's father grew up in Munich and was also, unfortunately, a Hitler-Jungend (but like in the book, basically everyone was)and he visits Bayern (due to relatives) quite often but when I asked him about "Saumensch", he thought it was strange cos he couldnt imagine anyone using it, and definitely not to a child. The only imaginable scenario is that it is a really rural thing, or very specific to a region, since Zusak's parents are from that area (Bayern and Austria).
I think it is perhaps just a creative choice made by Zusak. My guess is by not using "Sau", which can be very offensive, and by adding Mensch to it, it is supposed to tone it down, since it is after all used in every opportunity in Rosa's speech.
At the beginning it was difficult for me to get used to it (and some other German words that he uses) but "Saumensch" has begun to grow on me.

If I may take this a little bit further, I believe he must've been able to verify the German words he has chosen to include in his writing. Therefore, if "Saumensch" was really a creative and intentional choice, could we read it as his attempt in "re-writing"? The painting over of Mein Kampf, the telling of new stories and the re-invention of fiction all says to me that his intention is, by re-telling a story with your own words, you are able to come to terms with it. This is also why we also learn the story through Death's retelling of Liesel's story. One of the prominent post-modern idea of telling fiction.


I just took it as the author writing about the quirks of one specific family, not implying that all Germans used these same swear words.
The book is really only focused on a small group of people, I don't think it's reasonable to assume the author meant that these terms were commonly used by all Germans.

Lots of families have unusual terms of affection or nicknames that they use amongst themselves...while to outsiders those same words may seem rude or inappropriate and would be insulting if they were used in their family.


Rosa, I believe, was created as tough, negative person, but as time goes by we see her love and good heart. I got the feeling she had a reputation to live up to in the village. The German words added to the portrayal of the culture. Those were extremely harsh, dangerous times. They could trust no one. There are always good people struggling to survive. It is good to see how the German people reacted to the shocking behavior of Nazis...first shock, then revulsion, anger, and fear. That was exactly what the bully mentality does to intimidate...if this is done to my neighbor, it could be done to me. Rosa was an excellent balance to the tenderness of Papa.


Actually i put Saukerl in my translater on my phone and the results were that saukerl meant bastard


I grew up in a German influenced household, not speaking German, but lots of references to German culture and language/slang. (My greatgrandfather was from Germany and lived with my father when he was growing up.) We always called our dog a "schvinehunt"...sorry I don't know how to spell that for real....which means "Pig-dog" when she did something bad like pee on the floor, so I do know that the "pig" thing can be in jest. I loved the humor in how they called one another names. Rosa was tough on the outside, but a dear soul....


This link dispelled the mystery for me:

http://www.gradesaver.com/the-book-th...


The spoiler aught to be taken down. What a bummer! Need a report button on comments.


I suspect that it is Bavarian dialect. In Bavaria, just about any outsider is a *saupreis* (inadequately translated as "filthy Prussian".)


Teresa wrote: "There are a lot of curse words in The Book Thief, and I've been thinking a lot particularly about the name Rosa uses for Liesel, Saumensch. I understand that saumensch = female pig and saukerl = ma..."

I actually wanted to see what the translation was again because I couldn't remember from the beginning of the book. My search lead me to this post. I almost feel as though it is the equivalent of calling your kid a "goober" or "butthead", possibly even a "little sh*t". All of which I have heard parents call their kids in a joking/affectionate way. I have called my son (almost 12) a goober or goob almost his entire life. He has never told me that it bothers him. It doesn't appear to bother Liesel either. I think it is so that Rosa comes across as the hard parent and everyone sees "Papa" as the affectionate one.


Hmmm... I wasn't thinking of "b****" and "b******" as I read those words. I was thinking of Swine. They're really fond of calling each other swine and it's amusing. I mean, it's quite funny in a silent way. I think?


I was reading with my class and someone put in arschloch into google translate and pressed the talk button. It was hilarious.


In Spanish, a term of endearment is: "gordo/gorda (fatty). The nuances of each language change with the tone of voice. And each generation has a tendency to change their terms of endearment.


Taken directly from page 32 in the book, "Sau, of course, refers to pigs. In the case of Saumensch, it serves to castigate, berate, or plain humiliate a female. Saukerl is for a male. Arschloch can be translated directly into 'asshole.'" For an example, Rosa says this to Liesel, "Saumensch, du dreckiges!" Translation: You filthy pig!


I think that she was just being strict


My math class was saying arschloch to each other and my math teacher had no idea what it meant.


it kinda seemed werid to me but i guess if you pot the meaning of those words in the book half o the time they would be saying nasty word. plus it makes it a little more relastic with german words


First, I think Rosa is an interesting person. She comes off as hateful and then when Hans dies she shows her real love for him and other people, too. Second, I can't decide about the curse word dilemma. For any YA book, this is challenge for the author as well for the reader. Can't answer that one!


My mother says they are harsh and derogatory words. They can be used jokingly, between friends maybe, but it's not something a mother would say to her daughter.
She isn't totally fluent in German though.


Mensch in Yiddish or German means "human" and in Yiddish it is a complement. Just saying.


Mein Freund -

Terribly sorry, but you all are idiots.

"Saukerl" vs. "Saudmesch" mean the same thing: Bastard. Ignore the Low-Germasn attempt to assign a gender. It's the same damn word.

If you wish to call someone a "pig"? Call the "Schwein" or (lovingly) "Mein klein schweine."

Got it?

Danke.

U 25x33
Withertdm You arschloch
Mar 11, 2016 12:11PM

Isn't it a good thing all the characters die at the end of the book because they are all Nazi's?


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