A 16th century German badass
Posted: 05 June 2016 09:38 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I have just been given a facsimile of a very remarkable manuscript book, in which a father and son in 16th-century Augsburg documented - with beautiful colour illustrations - the outfits they had worn throughout their lives, and the occasions on which they had worn them..
On first dipping into it I was startled to read Schwarz Senior’s caption to a picture (image 13-14) of him on horseback, aged 15: 

In meynem synn bei beser esel, und mainetz spitzig mit der reuterey, wan mich mein vatter in seynen gescheften auf Minnichen schückt.

In my mind a bad ass [donkey, not bottom] and very keen on riding, when my father sent me to Munich in his business.

There’s no doubt that beser here is modern German böse, ‘bad’; the word, so spelled, is used elsewhere in the text in unequivocal contexts (as is Esel). Whatever the precise connotations of böse Esel the phrase can’t have been worse than mock-derogatory, as the text as a whole implies that young Schwarz was happy to be sent to Munich and thought well of himself.

If the similarity between böse Esel and badass is is a coincidence, it is a striking one. Is it possible that the phrase continued current in German into the mid-20th century? If so, 1955 , around the end of the ten-year Allied occupation of Germany, would be quite a logical time for it to break surface in American English.

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Posted: 06 June 2016 06:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It’s a coincidence, but you knew that already.

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Posted: 06 June 2016 12:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Syntinen Laulu - 05 June 2016 09:38 AM


In meynem synn bei beser esel, und mainetz spitzig mit der reuterey, wan mich mein vatter in seynen gescheften auf Minnichen schückt.

In my mind a bad ass [donkey, not bottom] and very keen on riding, when my father sent me to Munich in his business.

Where did the translation come from?  I would think that if it were böse that the quote would read bei besem esel.  Are you sure it isn’t besser?

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Posted: 07 June 2016 12:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Where did the transcription come from? Looks like ein to me: Matthaus_15_years.jpg

I’m assuming it came from http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:F9scEBpXO6wJ:media.bloomsbury.com/rep/files/schwarz-german-transcriptions-aw.pdf+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-b. Now if it’s wrong, that doesn’t inspire confidence in the rest of it, but for what it’s worth, under image I 3 it has

Anno 1500 im Agosto het ich die besen kindsblatern laut meins buchs am 9. blat am 4. capitl.
Erased: zue dieser krankhet die bösen franzosen-ausschlaechten.

Here besen would seem to be besten, and bösen is, well, bösen.

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Posted: 07 June 2016 02:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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It’s not a good transcription.

It is definitely ein, not bei, beser (not besen), and auff not auf (this last doesn’t make a difference, but if you’re going to transcribe, do it accurately). Also, I can’t figure out the last word. It’s definitely not schückt as the transcription would have it. I read it as something like gehücft.

I read it as besser (modern spelling), not böse. “In my mind a better ass” because, looking through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, he has drawn a horse, not an ass.

[ Edited: 07 June 2016 03:39 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 07 June 2016 05:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I agree with Dave; “besser” makes sense here.

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Posted: 08 June 2016 09:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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If the similarity between böse Esel and badass is is a coincidence, it is a striking one. Is it possible that the phrase continued current in German into the mid-20th century? If so, 1955 , around the end of the ten-year Allied occupation of Germany, would be quite a logical time for it to break surface in American English.

Si non è vero – è ben trovato. Congratulations, SL, on having come by what looks like a very interesting book; and congratulations on being capable of reading it with such an open mind. The coincidence, if it was such, would have slipped past the eye of many a less discerning reader (including, most certainly, yours truly)

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Posted: 08 June 2016 09:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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“In my mind a better ass” because, looking through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, he has drawn a horse, not an ass.

The problem with that suggestion is that in the 16th century no person of any means and dignity would have voluntarily ridden an ass (though he might have been forced to do so as an act of penance or humiliation). It’s not within the bounds of possibility that Papa Schwarz, prosperous upwardly-mobile merchant of Augsburg, friend of the Fugger family (’the Medici of Germany’), would have sent or allowed his son and heir to go on journey mounted on anything other than a horse, and a tolerably good-quality horse at that.

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Posted: 08 June 2016 10:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Right, and the drawing shows a horse.  If it does mean “better ass,” it might be some kind of joke, though after half a millennium it’s hard to get the joke.

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Posted: 08 June 2016 10:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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The problem with that suggestion is that in the 16th century no person of any means and dignity would have voluntarily ridden an ass

But he uses the word esel. It doesn’t matter if it’s böse or besser, it’s still an ass. It is he who is claiming that he rode on an ass, even though he draws a picture of a horse.

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Posted: 08 June 2016 12:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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It is he who is claiming that he rode on an ass

I don’t think you can assert that as a fact. That is certainly not what the text says.

In my mind a better/bad ass, very keen on riding, when my father [sent?] me to Munich about his business’.

There’s no implication from that that the ‘ass’ here is his mount rather than himself; the more so as the text to each picture of one of his outfits typically refers to his own behaviour and feelings while he was wearing it as well as describing it in detail. He is often quite critical of his younger self, so it’s perfectly in keeping for him to refer to himself as an ass here, which makes much more sense than to hypothesise that he is saying that his father had (quite bizarrely and scandalously, in 16th-century terms) sent him to Munich riding a donkey, and that the illustration had bowdlerised the incident.

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