Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Grimm It Is

The route to this post is almost impossible to render. Let it simply be said that this is our 55th wedding anniversary, discussion of which began by my digging up our marriage certificate to prove to Brigitte that it is our fifty-fifth! Things proceeded from there, memories piling on memories. In the course of that we happened across Grafenwöhr, the location of one of my times in the military (link). In time we got on to the possible meaning of the word wöhr.

Of late we frequently examine the etymology of German words too. In that process I discovered that the brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, famed for their storybook collections, were also responsible for a monumental eight-volume Deutsches Wörterbuch (German Dictionary). They began compiling it in 1838 and began publishing their results in 1852. That unbelievably rich dictionary—delving very deep into etymology—is fortunately available on-line. And if great effort is expended answers even to very obscure questions begin to emerge.

The word Graf translates to “earl” (in England) or “count” (elsewhere). Wöhr, it turns out, means tillable land surrounding a domicile and its adjoining buildings. The word is rooted in the same Germanic word as the English “worth”—which stands to reason: in the good old days land itself was the value. Grafenwöhr, the place, therefore translates literally to Earl’s Worth or Count’s Worth. Now the ironic aspect of this is that Grafenwöhr has been, since 1910, a military firing ground for artillery—the land being virtually useless for any other purpose. So we concluded that the place had been misnamed. It should always have been called Grafenwöhrlos, meaning The Count’s Worthless. But, as I tried to say in the above referenced post on this blog, it was a wonderful place of solitude—for some people the highest worth of all, with or without a title of nobility.

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