alan little's weblog


2nd August 2003 permanent link

One of the things I enjoy about living in Germany and learning the language is how direct German vocabulary is – there's just one set of words, they don't have the English thing of every word having a down-to-earth Anglo-Saxon (aka German) version for some purposes and a fancy French or Latin version for other purposes(*), or every concept having six nearly-synonyms with slightly different shades of meaning. There are some cases though, where German has words that are more expressive than any English equivalents. One of these you only get to learn, as a man, if you live with a breastfeeding mother and her baby.

German has a special word, nukkeln, for “being on the breast and appearing to go through the motions of sucking, but not actually eating anything either because the baby is too lazy or because it just wants its mum for comfort”(**), which is different from the word for feeding properly, which is saugen. Strangely the leading brand of baby-feeding products in Germany is called “Nuk”. Both of these words are different again from the word for a baby sucking its thumb, which is lutschen. And none of the above, as far as I know, has the same negative meaning as the English word “suck” when used non-literally.

(*) take as an example the German word for the holes in your nose that you breathe through. The Germans don't need some fancy French nonsense like nostrils – what for when you can just say Nasenlöcher, “nose holes”? How could anybody not like a language where the word for nostrils is “nose holes”?

(**) Nukkeln is particularly expressive when said in a strong Bavarian accent by our visiting midwife Frau Mayer. Frau Mayer is a saint without whom I would not be a sane man today. Although you might reasonably question whether writing a weblog entry on German terms for breastfeeding for no apparent reason is evidence of being a sane man.

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