FW: katzenjammer: M-W's Word of the Day

Chris F Waigl chris at LASCRIBE.NET
Tue Jan 30 21:42:27 UTC 2007

sagehen wrote:
>>    I enjoy Merriam-Webster's daily Word of the Day e-mails (distributed
>> free for the asking) but would suggest a possible correction to today's
>> item, Katzenjammer.  I say "possible" because I don't find it in my two
>> standard dictionaries of German etymology, but I do remember reading
>> somewhere that the "Katze(n)" part of Katzenjammer was originally "kotzen"
>> (= to puke). Kotzen fits the idea of a hangover very well, but since it's
>> a rather vulgar word, the similar sounding Katzen was euphemistically
>> substituted for it.
>> Gerald Cohen
>  ~~~~~~~~~~
> It may have been something like this that my father told my brother & me
> when we were Katzenjammer Kids readers back in the 30s.  He had been   in
> Germany just before WWI (& nearly  caught there by the outbreak of the war)
> & brought back some examples of German comics, hardbound, one of which was
> clearly an influence on  KK.  My understanding of what he told us was that
> "Katzenjammer" meant catshit (a word unutterable by me in those days, of
> course).
> AM

Well, Grimm don't agree, and the above smells quite a bit of folk
etymology to me.

The entry in _/Deutsches Wörterbuch_/ von Jacob Grimm und Wilhelm Grimm
has a first reference in 1809, "wenn ich einen jungen mäusefänger
hoffnungslos umher schleichen sehe oder ihn gar den katzenjammer des
cölibats anstimmen höre", where the noun is used figuratively, "das
Jammern einer Katze" -- gloss: the whining of a cat; see also
"Katzenmusik": the sounds produced by cats give rise to a rather
frequent figure of speech for unpleasant whiny music. The "mäusefänger"
(gloss: mouse-catcher) seems to refer to a society game where men played
"cats" and women "mice", the latter to be caught by the former. In the
cite, the "mouse-catcher" intones the Katzenjammer because he is "celibate".

The hangover sense is traced by them to an image that refers to the
physical sensation caused by the sounds.

Furthermore, a putative noun "Kotzenjammer" doesn't look morphologically
convincing to me, containing as it does the infinitive with its suffix
-en. Compounds with a verb as the first part usually reduce it to its
radical (see "kotzübel" or "Schlafkrankheit" for example). The nouns in
Grimm starting with "Kotzen" go back to the noun "/Kotze", meaning whore./

Chris Waigl

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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