Friday, 8 March 2013

Backfisch

Backfisch, Anna Prucnal, German film

BACKFISCH

Noun. Plural -e. Late 19th century.
[German, lit. 'fish for frying'.]

A girl in late adolescence, a teenage girl.

In Germany, backfisch is an old-fashioned term for a young girl that is no longer a child but isn't yet a woman. From talking to native Germans, it would seem that backfisch, in German at least, doesn't have a pejorative connotation; rather, it stresses her innocence, even naivety, and thus might even be considered quite flattering.

13 comments:

  1. Good morning Eddie!

    It still sounds kind of derogatory to me. It conjures up the image of a man saying "goodbye sweetie, I have other backfisch to fry".

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    1. Guten morgen, Evi!

      Yes, I'm inclined to agree, which is why I was at pains to say it doesn't sound derogatory *in German*. Knowing its literal meaning, too, seems to give an almost predatory slant; this was one of the reasons I sought out the input of a German speaker to ask them: "How does this word sound in German? What kind of connotations does it have?" I would still be interested if any German speakers read this to hear more input on it. Personally, in English, I thought it was an interesting word, rather than a particularly nice one; I can't see myself using this any time soon : o )

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  2. In Dutch we have the equivalent, "bakvis", although it's more often used in the Netherlands than in Flanders. It's not completely derogatory, but it's not really a compliment either. I suppose it's more often used jokingly around here.

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    1. We say 'small fry' in English, which is the closest expression I can think of, but it's not equivalent in meaning at all, as it means either children or something or someone insignificant ("Don't worry about him - he's just small fry around here.")

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  3. Interesting word and comments. But the picture...well... The word probably would have suited a real life picture of an angelically innocent young girl. Ah well! :)

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    1. It's funny you should say that ... I actually had a lovely picture of my niece on standby, but in the end I decided I didn't like the word that much so chose the safe option: that of a German film called 'Backfisch'. I don't think there's any more appropriate picture than that : o )

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  4. I think a closer rendering would be "fish for baking" (from backen = to bake). Presumably they baked the littler fish since they didn't yield a nice filet. An awesome word!

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    1. Glad you like it, E! It certainly caught my attention : o )

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  5. 'Backfisch' is used by an occupying German soldier, Tomas, of the sassy-adolescent Framboise, the French storyteller in Joanne Harris' novel 'Four Quarters of an Orange'. Framboise is, in reality,a child with half-understood adult emotions. Tomas uses the word as a nickname in a jokey,affectionate manner, but at the same time in a teasing tone of voice. All the while he is exploiting the girl (who has an attachment to him she barely understands) and her family. It has a very subtle application and to read it as derogatory may be the result of our projecting non-Germanic associations onto it.

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    1. I think that's definitely what I'm doing with it ... native German speakers I've spoken to don't find it derogatory at all.

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    2. @ Anomynous ...
      Yours is ~ indeed ~ a legitimate, sensible, as well as sensitive definition of the word "Backfisch". And I totally agree with your "theses" ...
      ~ ~ and to read it as derogatory may be the result of our projecting non-Germanic associations onto it. ~ ~ regards :o)

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  6. To me "Backfisch" indicates ... a fish in the process of being "baked" ~ and not quite "baked" yet. (Noch nicht ganz "ausgebacken" ...).
    Being a well-baked girl myself, I always perceived this word as gently describing a girl on her way to womanhood :o)

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    1. Thanks for commenting! I had never heard this word before I read it in the OED.

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