“Goethe” Insults My Intelligence

Everybody loves Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, right?  No?  You’re saying your English teachers thought nothing worthwhile has been written outside of the U.S. and Britain since the ancient Greeks?

That’s a shame, but it’s not uncommon.

Of course, this explains why Goethe’s name inspires so many asinine mispronunciations.  I understand that foreign names can be difficult for folks whose life experience has rarely taken them beyond the English language, but you have to wonder if some people need glasses or a brain transplant.  With that in mind, let’s look at some common errors involving our friendly German literary giant:

Girtha:  Do you see an “R” in Goethe?  Of course not.    Girtha is more like “Bertha’s hips have a lot of girtha.”  I’m not trying to be sexist; Goethe’s hips lacked girtha:

Statue of Goethe in Leipzig, showing his not-so-girthy figure.  (Photo credit: Sebastian Niedlich)

Statue of Goethe in Leipzig, showing his not-so-girthaic figure. (Photo credit: Sebastian Niedlich)

Go eathy:  I’ll go eathy on you too, Mr. Lisp.

Geetha: This sounds like a female geezer.  Goethe may have been a geezer at some point, but female is kind of a stretch.

And if he were Thai, Goethe’s name would be spelled as เกอเธ่.  I could forgive an English speaker for not pronouncing that correctly.

Here’s the correct pronunciation:

Yeah, I know that wasn’t fair; you have to pronounce an ö to get the name right.  Fortunately, no one is policing my blog… unless Vladimir Putin is angry about that gay-themed rainbow image I did of him over the weekend.

Blogger’s Note: If you’re lucky, I’ll be able to field comments on this post.  If I’m lucky, I still have electricity right now.  Goethe is not so lucky because he’s dead.

20 thoughts on ““Goethe” Insults My Intelligence

  1. I love Goethe (Gerty). He’s one of my best friends. I have not let the fact that he’s dead get between me, him and some amazing conversations. I don’t know any English teachers (and I am one) who know anything about him. I did meet a librarian once. He loaned me his library card so I could check out my very first work by Goethe, Italian Journey. Goethe was just a guy who kept falling in love with the wrong women, liked sausages, was an iconoclast, believed eye glasses were an affectation and hated tobacco smoke. Goethe. I love him. No one else could say his name, either and plenty of people made fun of it. 🙂 ❤

    • I never read Italian Journey. Faust and Elective Affinities were more my speed. Those two plus Werther are considered his big three, and Faust is to Germany what Hamlet is to England. (English teachers like analogies, right?)

      • I don’t think that Goethe and Shakespeare are comparable and Goethe didn’t think so, either. He never saw himself (or anyone) as Shakespeare’s equal.

        Those are his big three but personally I don’t think his literature is half as interesting as he is. Italian Journey has this WONDERFUL protagonist who doesn’t know his ass from his asshole and he runs away from his friends (including the married woman he’s hopelessly in love with) and crosses the Brenner Pass and goes to Italy. He sets out knowing ONLY that he’s going to look at the external world rather than continue to be incarcerated in the finite spaces of his internal world. He truly and literally set out to find a bigger world. While in Italy Goethe tested whether he was really meant to be a visual artist (he set out planning to record the images of his journey himself) and he set out to question the world of plants because he suspected there was an “Ur” plant — in that little quest he more or less discovered the outlines of the theory of evolution. But he’s such an amazing guy. He climbs Mt. Etna, he watches the horse races in Rome, he falls in love (I think he was actually quite shy with women) in a strange tentative way — he’s just charming, fallible, full of questions the kind of person I enjoy knowing.

        When I travel I take Goethe’s Conversations with Johann Eckermann — same man, but an old man — full of foibles, frustrated by fame, hoping to write Faust II in his own voice. His friendship with Schiller? Wow. That story should be made into a film.

        I love Faust because of Goethe’s absolute determination NOT to let Faust go to hell and because of the Witches’ kitchen scene that one of my former students put on for his final theater project set in a ’70’s disco (early 2000’s). So, if you think you might want to read Goethe as if he were a guy and not a great writer, I really recommend Italian Journey or the original version The Flight to Italy which is shorter and is actually the diary he kept at the time.

        • Well, in fairness, Shakespeare didn’t consider himself that sort of great either, nor did his contemporaries. Who does think they’re one of the all-time greats? (Arrogant college students don’t count.)

          And I wonder if you’ve discovered the collection of his erotic poetry. That’s Goethe as a guy…

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