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I assigned this book to my class on the Silk Road:

The Silk Road:  A Very Short Introduction, by James A. Millward (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2013)

I noticed that it bore the following dedication, one of the most peculiar and eye-catching I've ever encountered:

For Herrgottsbescheisserle and all their cousins

It looked German, but not standard German.  I could see "God's" at the beginning and "shitter" near the end.  So I asked Jim Millward what it meant.  He replied:

It's a dumpling–a friend told me about them:  god-cheaters, since the meat is in the dumpling, God can't see it, so you can eat it on Fridays is the idea behind the name.  I don't know German, but I verified the word with a bunch of sources, to my satisfaction.   Looking now at it I do see "scheisse" as a root which even I recognize as "shit," so I hope I didn't commit a vulgarity, albeit in the descent obscurity of a learned language.  

I can't help with the etymology, but the general "roughly translated as little god foolers" idea seems pretty common. You can check with a German speaker. My point was to dedicate the book to dumplings, since I'd had the whole manti discussion in the book–which you helped me with.

It turns out that Herrgottsbescheißerle is a Swabian word that roughly means "small God-cheaters".

Herrgott m (genitive Herrgotts, no plural)

    1. (Christianity) Lord, God
    2. (Southern Germany, Austria) crucifix (statue of Jesus on the cross)



scheißen (“to shit”) +‎ -er (“-er”). IPA(key): /ˈʃaɪsɐ/ Scheißer m (genitive Scheißers, plural Scheißer) (vulgar, offensive) fucker Scheißer in Duden online

But I have no clear idea what the -le is doing at the end of this Swabian word.  Perhaps it's a diminutive.

The standard German word for this food item is Maultasche, whose etymology is uncertain.  It is composed of:


From Middle High German mūl, mūle (snout, mouth), from Old High German *mūl, mūla (snout), from Proto-Germanic *mūlą, *mūlō (muzzle, snout), from Proto-Indo-European *mū- (lips, muzzle). Cognate with Dutch muil (muzzle, snout), Danish mule (muzzle), West Frisian mûle (mouth).




From Middle High German tasche, from Old High German taska, tasca. Further origin unknown. Perhaps from Proto-Germanic *taskǭ. Cognate with Dutch tas, Hunsrik Tasch, Middle Low German tasche (bag, pouch), Old Norse taska (bag, purse) (probably borrowed from Low German). Compare English tasse (plate armor, which protects the thighs).




The name Maultaschen is a compound word and could derive from three possible meanings: The first being that Maultaschen comes from the combination of the noun Maul referring to the mouth of an animal and Tasche, which means "bag." Thus, Maultaschen literally would mean "feedbag"—as in a bag used for feeding livestock—and probably derives this name from its appearance. The second meaning could be that from an archaic word — either Maultatzen or Maultatschen—for a "slap in the face." If this were its origins, the name could be a comparison between a swollen cheek after being slapped with the shape and appearance of the dish. The third explanation might be just a reference to Maulbronn Abbey and be short for Maulbronn-Taschen.


Since even the standard German word for this type of stuffed pasta is derivationally opaque, like Herrgottsbescheißerle, it too displays its colloquial roots.


Selected readings


  1. Andreas Johansson said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 8:08 am

    The -le is indeed a diminutive. Related, I guess, to Standard German -lein.

  2. Lian said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 8:10 am

    The verb is „bescheißen“ (to cheat), not „scheißen“ (to shit).

    „Bescheißerle“= Little Chester.

  3. Lian said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 8:15 am

    Apologies, typo: „Little Cheater“

    -le is indeed a southern German diminutive, like -lein or -chen.(cf. Mädle, Mädchen, Mädlein = girl)

  4. Victor Mair said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 8:51 am


    Alternative forms

    bescheissen (Switzerland)


    From Middle High German beschīzen, from Old High German biskīzan, from Proto-Germanic *biskītaną, equivalent to be- +‎ scheißen. Cognate with German Low German beschieten, Dutch beschijten, English beshite.

    IPA(key): /bəˈʃaɪ̯sn̩/, /bəˈʃaɪ̯sən/


    bescheißen (class 1 strong, third-person singular simple present bescheißt, past tense beschiss, past participle beschissen, auxiliary haben)

    (colloquial, vulgar) to deceive somebody, to bullshit somebody


    Cf. English "I wouldn't shit you, would I?"

  5. John from Cincinnati said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 8:54 am

    Yes, -le is a diminutive, but in Swabian regions it is more than that. My US employer had me live in Stuttgart some decades ago and my portable LanguageMan electronic dictionary was often no help. Among other things they seemed to add -le almost anyplace. Also there was a joke among non-Swabians about Swabians that had something to do with a merged pronunciation of the words for sheep and sharp, which I no longer recall.

    From Wikipedia, Swabian German:

    One obvious feature is the addition of the diminutive "-le" suffix on many words in the German language. With the addition of this "-le" (pronounced /lə/), the article of the noun automatically becomes "das" in the German language, as in Standard German. The Swabian "-le" is the same as standard German "-lein" or "-chen", but is used, arguably, more often in Swabian. A small house (Standard German: Haus) is a Häuschen in Standard German, a Heisle in Swabian. In some regions, "-la" for plural is used. (For example, Heisle may become Heisla, Spätzle becomes Spätzla.) Many surnames in Swabia are also made to end in "-le".

  6. David Marjanović said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 9:18 am

    Also there was a joke among non-Swabians about Swabians that had something to do with a merged pronunciation of the words for sheep and sharp, which I no longer recall.

    Schaf "sheep" and scharf "sharp" are homophones in most Standard German accents and no doubt a lot of dialects. AFAIK there are northern Standard accents where Schaf gets /ɑː/ but scharf gets a distinct /aː/; elsewhere both have /aː/; and there are western Standard accents where scharf keeps its /r/ (as [ʁ] or [χ] or something).

    (In Bavarian-Austrian dialects they have /ɒ/ and /ɒɐ̯/ respectively.)

  7. Rose Eneri said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 9:46 am

    The etymology related to the dedication is very interesting, but what do dumplings have to do with the Silk Road?

  8. Victor Mair said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 10:10 am

    @Rose Eneri

    Dumplings are one of the main foods along the Silk Road. They are alluded to in the o.p. as "manti, mantou," etc., and I've often written about them on LL and elsewhere.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 10:23 am

    From June Teufel Dreyer:

    Never heard that term, but it sounds like Swabian humor. When I was little, I mean really little, my father taught me a song called Appenzelle Mädele (the latter a Swabian diminutive for Mädchen, so little Miss from Appenzell) which is famous for its cheese, which is very smelly). He had me sing it for all his Tuttlingen friends, who roared with laughter. My mother was horrified, much later told me that the song attributed the flavor of the cheese to the young woman mixing it with her bare bottom.

  10. jin defang said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 11:53 am

    in my experience, the "el" ending is for the German side of Swabia, as in Hegel, Rommel, and Teufel. But tends to become "le" or "li" on the Swiss side of the border. "Hegli," e.g.

  11. jin defang said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 11:54 am

    I meant to type "Hegeli"

  12. Coby Lubliner said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 11:59 am

    German (and its dialects) has two families of diminutives: the northern, whose standard form is -chen, cognate to English -kin and Dutch -tje; and the southern, standard -lein, Swabian -le, Swiss -li, Bavarian -el or -'l. Yiddish, which is derived from a combination of Swabian and Bavarian, has -ele. Hessian has both, which is why the Grimms have both Hänsel und Gretel and Rumpelstilzchen.

  13. Gary said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 12:11 pm

    The be- prefix makes a verb transitive. Scheißen = to shit, bescheißen = to shit on. The meaning "cheat" is derived from that.

  14. DaveK said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 1:26 pm

    “Scheisser” even made it into English: From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

    SHYSTER—“unscrupulous lawyer," 1843, U.S. slang, probably altered from German Scheisser "incompetent worthless person," from Scheisse "shit" (n.), from Old High German skizzan "to defecate.

  15. DaveK said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 1:29 pm

    [edit] I suppose the meaning of “bullshitter” for a shady lawyer works equally well

  16. Julia Hockenmaier said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 2:04 pm

    The name Herrgottsbescheisserle for Maultaschen comes from the fact that these dumplings have a filling that contains sausage meat, as well as spinach, herbs, onions and bread crumbs. Depending on the amount of spinach/herbs, it can look pretty green, and of course, it's all wrapped up inside the dough — so you can't see the meat inside.
    Legend has it that, although Maultaschen are eaten year-round, monks started preparing them during Holy Week when meat was forbidden. Since meat was hidden, they (or the dish) cheated God

    (see eg. https://www.stuttgarter-nachrichten.de/inhalt.herrgottsbscheisserle-alles-wissenswerte-rund-um-die-maultasche.a8988d97-4384-41dd-ad5a-c2c80da43e2f.html)

  17. Victor Mair said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 2:42 pm

    Back in the middle of the last century, two of my Mom's favorite expressions were "shyster lawyer" and "Philadelphia lawyer". The former referred to a crappy solicitor and the latter to a technically capable attorney-at-law.

  18. Giles said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 3:36 pm

    Of course, people do say "are you shitting me?" In English. I'd assumed it was derived from "are you bullshitting me", and suspect that it is, but a derivation from South German dialect (maybe via Yiddish?) is much more satisfying to imagine even if it's considerably less likely…

  19. David Marjanović said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 3:41 pm

    Yiddish, which is derived from a combination of Swabian and Bavarian, has -ele.

    -[ɐlɛ] is also found in Carinthian.

    Most of Yiddish is a random-seeming mixture of Bavarian and East Central German, i.e. south and north of Bohemia in general and likely Prague in particular.

  20. Bloix said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 3:45 pm

    A Philadelphia lawyer is a lawyer with an encyclopedic knowledge of legal minutia and technicalities, allowing him to win cases that by any measure of fairness or justice his client deserves to lose.
    A shyster is a crook – a lawyer who suborns perjury, bribes jurors, destroys evidence, that sort of thing.

  21. AntC said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 5:42 pm

    Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel, New York Attorneys.

  22. Monscampus said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 7:32 pm

    Fascinating to see a dialect word (that I had never heard of here up north) dissected without knowing a word of German. As a German I saw it was something to "cheat the Lord", but I couldn't guess what it was. I do wonder if any English readers of Millward's knew what he meant. I rather doubt it. Dumplings come in so many varieties with so many different regional names.

    In Frisia (in the Protestant north) nearly anyone can eat meat on Fridays openly, but the crafty Frisians invented a kind of fake 'Gaelic' coffee with rum and whipped cream on top to cheat a teetotallar parson. When he finally found out he called the good people Pharisees. The name stuck with this specialty which is still found on every menu in Frisia (the German part). The Lord above made liquor for temptation.


  23. Stephen L said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 1:26 pm

    The Appenzeller rhyme, for the curious/prurient:

    “Du Appenzeller Mädele, wie machst du denn dein Käs? Man thut'n in e Kubele un druckt 'n mit'n Fidele“

    “You girl [Mädele] from Appenzell, how do you make your cheese? One puts it in a bucket[Kubele], and presses it with the behind [Fidele].”.

  24. Jonathan Silk said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 1:46 pm

    @Coby Lubliner
    super minor point: the Dutch suffix is perhaps not -tje as such, but has several other realizations. One can see Colin J.Ewen,The phonology of the diminutive in Dutch: A dependency account. Lingua Volume 45, Issue 2, June 1978, Pages 141-173. I am not in a position to judge the validity of the arguments, but in any case the range of possibilities is discussed.

  25. Hans Adler said,

    September 8, 2020 @ 3:38 pm

    Here is the complete derivation with some comments:

    – Herrgottsbescheißerle (singular=plural; ß can be substituted by ss when not available) is a jocular synonym for Maultasche, the Swabian variant of ravioli. It is a compound noun formed as Herrgott + s + Bescheißerle. In English compound nouns it is sometimes not clear whether the s at the end of the first constituent signifies a plural, a possessive, or is there just for phonetic reasons. The same principle applies to German, except that plurals formed with s are rare. In this case, too, it is not clear whether the connecting s indicates a genitive (possessive) s or is just an epenthesis.
    – Herrgott is a synonym for God that has a somewhat dialectal or naive flair. Basically it's just the two separate nouns Herr (Lord, Master, Mr.) Gott (God) joined into a single noun. This spelling indicates stress on the first word/syllable, whereas the phrase Herr Gott is stressed on the second word.
    – Bescheißerle (little deceiver) is the diminutive of Bescheißer (deceiver).
    – Bescheißer is the (somewhat rare) noun formed from the verb bescheißen (deceive).
    – bescheißen is a verb derived from scheißen (to shit), which based on the prefix should literally mean "to shit on s.o. or sth.". However, this verb (and even more the noun based on it) is normally used only in the derived sense of deceiving someone, which is perhaps best rendered as "to screw". Here as so often, in translating from German to English we need to replace scatological by sexual imagery.

    The word is comical not just because of the idea of cheating God by hiding meat in pasta, but also because of its somewhat incongruent constituents and perhaps also because of the near-parallelism with Hosenscheißerle, a similarly jocular term for a small child (literally a little trouser-shitter).

    Regarding the the thing itself, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maultasche . The standard term "Maultasche" ('mouth pocket'; plural Maultaschen) is also quite interesting. It can also be a synonym of Ohrfeige ('ear fig'), meaning slap in the face, and was apparently first used in this sense. Maul is the German term for the mouth of a relatively large animal such as a pig, cow or crocodile — or the mouth of a person compared to such for whatever reason. But in compound words the word sometimes originates in other words that have a similar pronunciation. There are several plausible speculations as to how the term Maultasche became applied to the dish. In any case it seems likely that it originated more or less as a joke.

  26. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    September 11, 2020 @ 7:53 am

    Bliox said: "A Philadelphia lawyer is a lawyer with an encyclopedic knowledge of legal minutia and technicalities, allowing him to win cases that by any measure of fairness or justice his client deserves to lose."

    From the point of view of _this_ Pittsburgh lawyer, that definition belongs in the OED.

  27. Philip Anderson said,

    September 12, 2020 @ 3:54 pm

    “he called the good people Pharisees”.

    This made me smile. In English folklore, “the good people” is a euphemism for the fairies, but (malapropistically) they were sometimes called “pharisees” by country people.

  28. Monscampus said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 2:36 pm

    @Philip Anderson
    Thank you! I never knew fairies also exist/ed in Sussex! And now I know what they have in common with the biblical Pharasees: 'First of all, there is a variation on the words 'fairies' in local dialect, where the locals had used a double pluralisation, which was then corrupted into the word 'Pharisees' and confused sometimes with the biblical figures (Parish & Hall 1957 p.39,94), to the point that The Bible was used as proof of the existence of fairies (Lower 1954 p.157).'
    The only double pluralisation I can think of is Gollum's question: 'What has it got in its pocketses?'

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