I never took German in school so it’s a delight for me when I encounter words that come from that language.
It’s like a whiff of fresh air.
A new-to-me language brings a new-to-me word. Sweet.
And, in addition to being a new word to me, it’s a new word that is fun to say.
And that word is katzenjammer. Katzenjammer. Katzenjammer!
Katzenjammer is a noun that is based on two German words. The first German word is katzen which is plural for the noun katze which in English means cat.
Since katze sounds like our English word cats and since the meanings are the same, wouldn’t it fall to reason that jammer would be similar to an English word, too?
So, what do you think jammer refers to — a sweet and sticky substance (jam) that we spread on bread? Or possibly maybe even to play music with friends (to jam)?
Well, if you play music like I do, then the meaning of jammer is similar to the kind of musical jamming you do with friends.
Katzenjammer [kat-suhn-jam-er] is a noun that means a confused uproar. (Now you know what it is like when I try to make music — whether trying to tickle the ivory keys on my piano or caterwauling with other singers. . . )
Jammer in German means distress, misery, or wailing. So when you combine that wailing with the word cats, you get a confused uproar. I like to think of lots of cats sitting on a fence yowling in the night. That would definitely be a confusing uproar.
If a school teacher handed out an unannounced test, students might erupt in a katzenjammer. Students wouldn’t be happy at all.
If politicians promised one thing and then voted a completely different way, their constituents might express their feelings with katzenjammer at his next public speech.
If a child got grounded because he didn’t come home before curfew, he might wail in katzenjammer.
You can see how this applies to grandmas and grandkids, can’t you?
When you have a houseful of grandkids and they are running around and squealing and talking excitedly with their cousins and when the adults aren’t trying to calm them down but are speaking louder above the uproar, that’s katzenjammer.
If you throw your hands up in the air and declare that there’s a katzenjammer, you just might get everybody’s attention. And that would be a perfect teaching moment. Say the word several times and see if anybody could guess it’s meaning.
I encourage my grandchildren (and my children when they were young), to speak with their ‘inside’ voice. If you do that, too, now you can ask them to speak in their inside voice or take the katzenjammer outside.
(I can see it now — lively grandchildren holding their hands up like kitten paws, licking them lick a cat would like its paws, and then giggling all the way outside. This could be a humorous way to diffuse the katzenjammer!)
So there you have it. A new word of the day.
May you be able to sweetly diffuse all of the katzenjammers in your house!