"Der große Clusterfuck der Tories"

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The reference is to Doerte Letzmann, "Der große Clusterfuck der Tories", jungle.world 4/11/2019.

Perhaps to redress the balance of linguistic trade for schadenfreude, the Germans seem fond of English words for complex political disasters — we've previously documented "Das Wort 'Shitstorm' hat nun einen Platz im Duden" (7/4/2013), and "Taking shit from the chancellor" (12/7/2018).

I started this post a week ago, but didn't get around to finishing it due to the press of other business. Luckily UK politicians seem determined to keep it relevant for some time to come.



  1. SFrankel said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 6:43 am

    I'm surprised it's not "Das große Clusterfuck." Anybody know why? Maybe because German "Fick" is masculine ?

  2. Vilinthril said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 7:53 am

    Grammatical genders of loan words we import into German are a very mysterious matter. In my ancedotal experience, I've found I personally mostly base my gender choices on what I perceive to the German translation, but not always.

  3. Monscampus said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 10:07 am

    This German doubts very much "the Germans" are (or seem) "fond of" introducing such vulgar expressions into their language. Why should they? It's just another example of trying to impress readers. I really wonder how many German readers would have to look it up in an English language dictionary (if they could be bothered). It's the usage of one particular person, the writer of the article.

    [(myl) And "Das Wort 'Shitstorm' hat nun einen Platz im Duden" ? Or the many hits for {clusterfuck} on news.google.de? Seems to be more than one writer. ]

  4. Helge Moulding said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 10:49 am

    In English, as most Germans might not know, the word clusterfuck is often abbreviated as "cluster," e.g. "The last project that Jones was in charge of turned into a complete cluster and lost us $20 million. That's why no one wants to work with him." This is done probably because even though fuck is used commonly enough, it still carries a fair amount of social down-check with it, so people will avoid using it in many situations.

  5. Robert Coren said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 10:57 am

    @ Vilinthril:

    "Grammatical genders of loan words we import into German are a very mysterious matter."

    As a a native speaker of a language that doesn't really have the concept of grammatical gender, I would amend that sentence to omit the part about "loan words". And I wouldn't apply it exclusively to German, either.

  6. Martha said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 11:40 am

    I'm surprised it's not "die Clusterfuck." I seem to recall being told in German class that loanwords were feminine.

  7. Chandra said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 1:56 pm

    @Helge Moulding – I have never heard "cluster" used in this fashion.

    After a brief Google search for "complete cluster" and "total cluster" I can't find any examples of it being used this way, either. I did, however, find this article on Complete Cluster Predictability of the Cucker–Smale Flocking Model, and I am not familiar enough with its topic to know if it is a genuine research paper, but if not it seems a dazzling example of a phrase likely to fall into "Jeremy Hunt Culture Secretary" problems.

  8. Bob Ladd said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 3:36 pm

    @Martha: It's certainly not generally true that loanwords in German are feminine. In my experience, monosyllabic English words are mostly borrowed as masculine (der Drink, der Trip, etc.), unless they end in sonorants, in which case they're often neuter (das Team). And Vilinthril's comment that genders are frequently based on the gender of the native German word that they roughly translate also comes into play. And in any case all generalisations about the gender of loan words are at best only generalisations.

  9. Philip Anderson said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 4:14 pm

    @Chandra, ‘clusterfuck’ is a US term, and not part of my lexicon in the UK, but comprehensible from context. I have never come across that shortening either.

  10. Christian Weisgerber said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 6:45 pm

    I don't think contemporary German is particularly fond of borrowing such terms. They are just part of the general influx of English loan words. Notably, since they are borrowed, they are not taboo words. I think this is what makes them stand out to English speakers, who are not used to seeing them in journalistic headlines. If you have ever worked in an international project, you may have noticed that L2 speakers use swear words like fuck more freely than native English speakers. They pick up the usage from colloquial English, but lag behind when it comes to the fine nuances of register. If English speakers say FUCK-FUCK-FUCK all the time, why isn't it appropriate to write it? That sort of problem.

  11. Rebecca said,

    June 22, 2019 @ 12:59 am

    @Christian, yes! And your comment reminded me of a hilarious case a while back of tone-deafness to even the gross nuances of register:

  12. David Marjanović said,

    June 22, 2019 @ 8:03 am

    What Vilinthril, Bob Ladd and Christian Weisgerber said.

    This German doubts very much "the Germans" are (or seem) "fond of" introducing such vulgar expressions into their language. Why should they? It's just another example of trying to impress readers.

    jungle.world is obviously written by young people for young people who have already encountered the word in English, because they (fairly often) read English on the Internet, and who don't have the horror of "vulgar expressions" their grandparents have.

    I seem to recall being told in German class that loanwords were feminine.

    …Maybe you were told that words with the usual Latin/French feminine suffixes (-tion and -ie mostly) remain feminine? (They all do.) There is absolutely no tendency for loanwords to be feminine in general.

  13. Vilinthril said,

    June 22, 2019 @ 11:21 am

    I'm also very doubtful about the “monosyllabics are masculine” rule, especially for South Germany/Austria.

  14. Bob Ladd said,

    June 22, 2019 @ 3:47 pm

    @Vilinthril: Be as doubtful as you like, but since this is Language Log let's have some evidence and/or counterexamples. I just collected a random list of monosyllabic English words used in German by googling things like "englische Lehnwörter". The list I put together in a few minutes was: Tipp, Shit, Gag, Song, Nerd, Fan, Golf, Club, Toast, Park, Streik, Job. Obviously some of these are well established (Streik, Job, Tipp) and some are very new and trendy (Gag, Nerd). By googling I then checked the gender of all 12: 11 are masculine. (The exception is Golf.) Even my generalisation about ending in a sonorant fails: according to my earlier comment, Fan and Song should be neuter, but they're also masculine.

    Obviously some of these probably have variable usage, but in every case the masculine usage I found was on the first page of google results. So I think my generalisation is at least not wildly out of line with reality.

  15. Misha Schutt said,

    June 22, 2019 @ 8:54 pm

    My mother, a native speaker of German who ended up teaching German in US high schools (and said she learned more about her own language in one year of teaching it to kids than in all the college classes she took) observed at one point that though it’s der Wagen and das Auto, only die Car sounded right to her. We never figured out an explanation.

  16. Vilinthril said,

    June 23, 2019 @ 11:38 am

    Okay, so let me counter by collecting twelve other words: App, Band, Bit, Blog (mostly neuter in my experience, but masculine does occur), Box, Camp, Car, Couch, Date, Jeans, Queen, Queue (in the computing context, not in the billiards context).

    Point is, by just listing random words, we're not going to get anywhere. ;)

  17. Not a naive speaker said,

    June 23, 2019 @ 2:38 pm

    @Misha Schutt

    Some anecdotal reference: a coworker (native Hungarian very fluent in German) was surprised that native German speakers tend to pick the same gender for a loanword or placenames (e.g. der Mississippi, die Wolga, der Ganges…)

    Must have to do with the wiring of the "German" synapses.

    My wiring says: der Clusterfuck

  18. Bob Ladd said,

    June 24, 2019 @ 12:13 am

    @Vilinthril: I know there are plenty of exceptions to my generalisation, and I'm not surprised that as a native speaker you could easily search your mental lexicon and come up with a dozen non-masculines. But I wasn't "just listing random words" in the sense of picking a bunch of examples that would support my generalisation. My mini-experiment involved looking at a couple of webpages about English loan words and picking the first dozen monosyllables I found, then checking their gender. They were "random" in the sense of supposedly being representative of the overall population of monosyllabic English loans. So the fact that most of them were masculine is some kind of support for the hypothesis. A proper test would involve a sample of a couple of hundred and seeing the distribution of genders. I'm supposedly on holiday right now, so I'll do that another time…

  19. Vilinthril said,

    June 24, 2019 @ 6:14 am

    My process was about as random as yours, I just went through the list of monosyllabic German words on Wiktionary and picked the first 12 words that were clearly English loanwords and hadn't been listed by you already.

  20. Bob Ladd said,

    June 24, 2019 @ 8:38 am

    OK, fair enough. Bring on the larger sample!

  21. Tadeusz said,

    June 24, 2019 @ 2:53 pm

    @Misha Schutt
    Well, die Car… I don't know…
    the Duden says
    "Substantiv, maskulin"
    der Car!
    But they also say "schweizerisch".

  22. Not a naive speaker said,

    June 24, 2019 @ 5:00 pm

    in Swiss German its a bus:

    der Autocar, kurz Car (Reisebus im Charter- oder Fernverkehr)

    Variantengrammatik des Standarddeutschen:
    There is no entry "car" but a lot of fact poisoning


  23. Vilinthril said,

    June 25, 2019 @ 5:41 am

    FWIW, “Car” is definitely neuter for me, cf. “Bobbycar” [1] and “Safety Car” [2].

    [1] https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/Bobbycar
    [2] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safety_Car

  24. BZ said,

    June 25, 2019 @ 1:23 pm

    Could it be that the English word was used here because the English are the subject of the article?

  25. Monscampus said,

    June 25, 2019 @ 2:26 pm

    Spot on… or perhaps the editor and not the writer decided to smuggle it in to make the article a clickbait.

    Nobody in everyday life would use this term, journalese is always a bit different. If "Chaos" (German) didn't sound catchy enough, they could have fallen back on "Tohuwabohu", which I'd have chosen. As an anglicist and translator I try to avoid anglicisms wherever possible. Google hits or presidential tweets quite often don't convince me.

    About "Shitstorm" (German). Most new expressions connected with the internet are left in English from the very beginning. Not my decision, but true. The other day I managed to sursprise someone half my age by using it. He protested that I was far too old to know about it.

    @all posters still wondering about the genders of loanwords
    No, there really aren't specific rules, even though the Duden tries to prescribe them. My publishers normally insist I should stick to the Duden, but sometimes I tell them I disagree and insist on my version.

    Interestingly, the usage of genders is in some cases different in the North and the South (including Switzerland), e. g. der Radio (Swiss), das Radio (North Germany) or das E-Mail/die E-Mail. It could be the influence of French and Italian on Swiss German.

  26. Monscampus said,

    June 25, 2019 @ 2:44 pm

    @Not a naive speaker

    No, the Germans don't pick genders of placenames, rivers etc., they just follow the Latin examples, hence Rhenus – der Rhein or the gender used in the country of origin. No idea why they call it der Mississippi, perhaps because of Mississippi River, and it's der Fluss. Ol' Man River…

  27. Vilinthril said,

    June 26, 2019 @ 4:14 am

    I doubt the French/Italian influence theory for at least some intra-German gender variation, because Austrian German has very little of either and still has, e. g., “das E-Mail” (and also dialectally “der Radio”).

  28. Christian Weisgerber said,

    June 26, 2019 @ 9:41 am

    It's der Mississippi because faraway rivers always default to masculine unless the name appears overtly feminine (die Lena).

    Regarding the gender of English loans in German, after witnessing twenty years of discussions about this on the net, consisting mostly of superficial talk, unsubstantiated claims, and unfettered speculation, I am very tired of this level of discourse and reluctant to add to it any further. Somewhere, hidden away in the academic ivory towers, there must be scholarly treatises on the topic that are better than always the same ill-informed rehashing. Can anybody point us to them, pretty please?

  29. Alf Bravo said,

    June 26, 2019 @ 12:57 pm

    Regarding "der" for "clusterfuck". The reason is simple – it's "der Fick" for coitus. Makes no sense to use another gender for the English word when it's so familiar …

  30. Bastian said,

    June 27, 2019 @ 2:33 am

    @Christian Generally speaking, the works on the German gender systtem by Klaus-Michael Köpcke and colleagues are of highest quality.

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