Austrian telemarketers, pig-dogs and missed opportunities

One of the great things about fancy new cell phones is that they tell you the location of callers. I suppose they’ve done this for quite some time, but I only joined the 21st century late last year when, after 16 years of mediocre flip phone service, I reluctantly upgraded to an Android phone.

This came in handy earlier this week when I saw that I had an incoming call from Austria. I don’t know anyone from Austria or in Austria. In fact, the only people I know of from Austria are Mozart, Emperor Franz Joseph, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Hitler. It seemed unlikely any of them would be phoning, so I ignored the call, just as I ignore any number I don’t recognize.

In retrospect, I missed a chance to try out my puerile German. While I speak extremely poor French, my German is utterly abominable, consisting of “Guten Tag,” Guten Morgen,” a couple of rudimentary sentences and the occasional derogatory remark.

I could have opened the conversation with “Guten Tag, du bist ein Schweinhund!” which translates to “Hello, you’re a pig-dog.”

I figure given my lack of contacts in Austria, it was most likely a telemarketer, so why not try out a little foreign invective, even if I was addressing someone I didn’t know with the casual form of the verb “to be.” They were calling me, after all.

Of course, they probably wouldn’t have understood me and simply hung up, but hey, I would have gotten a chuckle out of it. “Sticking it to those damn telemarketers!” That sort of thing. We take our victories where we can get them.

Speaking of the word Schweinhund, one has to admire the Germans’ ability to level an insult. Not just a pig, not just a dog, but a pig-dog. I’ve seen dogs that act like pigs, but I don’t think that’s what Schweinhund is all about.

One of my daughters has made friends with a German exchange student and she recently asked her friend if there was such a word as Schweinhund. The exchange student’s face lit up. “Ya, Schweinhund! How do you know this word?!?”

My daughter, drolly: “My dad uses it, often while driving.” It made the exchange student’s day to hear an insult in her native tongue.

I wonder if my daughter, were she studying in, say, rural Romania and had a Romanian friend ask if she knew the word “jackass” would light up similarly?

Austria’s fights to preserve its own form of German

Vienna-Schönbrunn Palace

Pulling a page from French efforts to keep their language “pure,” Austria is undertaking a major new endeavor to preserve its own unique tongue.

The difference is that while the French seek curtail the use of phrases imported from English, Austrians aren’t fighting against a foreign language, but against German, the same tongue spoken in Austrian.

While both Austrians and Germans speak German there are many words and phrases that mark Austrian German as different from standard German.

Austrian German traces its beginning to the mid-18th century, when Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II introduced compulsory schooling and several administrative reforms. They chose to adopt the already standardized language of Saxony, which was based on the standard language used for administrative purposes in cities such as Dresden.

Austrian German is spoken by approximately 8.5 million people and is recognized as an official language not only in Austria, but also in nearby Italy.

Austria’s education minister this week announced plans to preserve the unique Austrian form of German, amid increased intrusion from words and expressions from neighboring Germany, according to The Telegraph.

“What is heard in movies, on TV or the internet, is often produced or dubbed in our neighboring country Germany,” the education minister, Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, wrote in a 64-page booklet distributed to schools. “One consequence is that specifically Austrian peculiarities and expressions of our language slowly but surely fall into the background.”

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Anschluss: A good time was not had by all


Seventy-five years ago today, Germany marched into, occupied and annexed Austria in what became known as the Anschluss.

As the above photo shows, many turned out to joyously greet Wehrmacht troops as they rolled through the Austrian countryside and cities, including Vienna.

Not all were advocates of the union, however.

Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg was committed to his country’s independence despite several years of bullying from Austrian and German Nazis.

Prior to the actual German annexation, Schuschnigg had scheduled a plebiscite on the issue of unification for March 13, 1938, expecting his fellow countrymen to reject the idea.

Adolf Hitler, ever the proponent of fair and honest elections, declared the vote would be tainted by fraud and stated that Germany would not abide by the results.

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European prince fights to retain power

Tiny Liechtenstein, the diminutive landlocked alpine nation of 36,000 located between Switzerland and Austria, gets little international attention due to its size, or lack thereof.

However, the principality has been rattled by a war of words between activists who want to revoke the royal veto and the hereditary prince, who has threatened to quit if they do, according to Agence France-Presse.

“Liechtenstein owes its very existence as a principality to its royal family and their princes, who have ruled it as an autonomous monarchy since the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806,” according to the wire service.

But current ruler Prince Alois von und zu Liechtenstein has threatened that his 900-year-old family will drop its royal duties if Liechtenstein passes a referendum eliminating the prince’s veto, a power enshrined in the constitution.

“The royal family is not willing to undertake its political responsibilities unless the prince … has the necessary tools at his disposal,” Alois said in a speech to parliament on March 1.

“But if the people are no longer open to that, then the royal family will not want to undertake its political responsibilities and … will completely withdraw from political life.”

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Newly found Brahms’ piece to debut on BBC

German composer Johannes Brahms was just 20 years old when wrote the piano piece “Albumblatt” in 1853. Now, nearly 160 years later, it will receive its world premiere next week on BBC radio, the broadcaster announced Friday.

“Albumblatt is an incredible discovery which gives a fascinating insight into the workings of this great composer,” said Roger Wright, an official with the BBC.

The work was only discovered recently when conductor and musicologist Christopher Hogwood was going through some papers at Princeton University Library, according to Agence France-Presse.

Hogwood came across the short piece in a visitors book once owned by the director of music of German’s Goettingen University.

“Although it lasts just two minutes, the work is a clearly defined piece of music complete with markings directing how it should be played,” according to the wire service.

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Ancient Polish documents found in storage

Imagine finding a dust-covered bankers box full of proclamations, bills and treaties signed by a multitude of American presidents, from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

That’s essentially what happened recently in Poland, except on a much older scale.

A collection of documents signed by a series of Polish monarchs, some more than 450 years old, turned up unexpectedly at the Warsaw School of Economics.

Zoran Karisic, an archivist at the university library, found the documents by chance in a storeroom, according to Polskie Radio, Poland’s national publicly funded radio broadcasting organization.

“It was a simple cardboard box, lined with paper and tied with string,” she told the Rzeczpospolita daily.

The papers range from as far back as 1555 up through 1790, and include items signed by Bona Sforza (1494-1557), the Renaissance queen reputed to have had a habit of poisoning her enemies, including her daughter-in-law.

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