How to Boast with -ieren Verbs

With the previous article “5 Minuten Nothingness” I trailed off a little bit the operatic path. I looked at new phenomena in the German language and described how people use the language to brag, to pretend knowledge and wisdom, and ultimately, separate oneself from the clueless masses. This habit is not new. In the early Eighteen-hundreds composer and librettist Albert Lortzing created in Bürgermeister Van Bett the character of a politician who is in love with his own image and deeply convinced that he is a genius because of his use of fancy words.

Albert Lortzing’s komische Oper “Zar und Zimmermann” is a steady part of the repertoire in German opera houses. It premiered in 1837 and tells the story of the Russian tsar Peter who traveled incognito to the Dutch city of Saardam to learn the craft of shipbuilding. It is a comedy with romance and confusion, where at the end the tsar cannot conceal his identity anymore. Saardam’s mayor Van Bett is the funniest character in the opera. He is boastful and self-important and incompetent. The citizens of Saardam do not take him too seriously. They let him give his speeches and agree with him and, in return, can go about their business. Van Bett introduces himself with the aria “O sancta justitia”. It is peppered with Latin phrases and hilarious self-praise: “Ich bin Saardams größtes Licht” (I am Saardam’s greatest light.), “Das Wohl der Stadt bringt mich noch um” (The welfare of the city is killing me.) or “Kaum schaut der Morgen in meine Kammer, so rufen die Akten mein Genie.” (Just when the day breaks, the papers call my genius.) He lists his skills, firing off like a machinegun verbs with the ending –ieren.

Many verbs with the ending –ieren sound important and make the speaker look intelligent. They can be replaced with simple German words, although they will not raise the slightest attention. Van Bett throws in the word expektorieren which sounds so intelligent and so official that nobody dares to inquire its meaning. It means “to vomit.”

“O sancta justitia” is one of the first and greatest satires of a politician in opera.

Here is an interpretation of the aria by operatic bass Hans Sotin, followed by the aria’s text (plus vocabulary).

Vocabulary, part 1:

die Amtspflicht = official duty
aufblasen = to pump up, here in passive: aufgeblasen sein = to be pumped up
die Qual = torment, die Beschwerde = complaint, die Kammer = room, chamber
Der Morgen schaut in meine Kammer = “the morning looks into my chamber” = daybreak
übel dran sein = to be miserable
das Vieh = cattle
das Zugpferd = draft horse
der Vorstand = the board, der Rat = (here) council

O sancta justitia!

O sancta justitia!
Ich möchte rasen,
Von früh bis spät lauf ich herum;
Ich bin von Amtspflicht ganz aufgeblasen,
Das Wohl der Stadt bringt mich noch um.
Plerique hominum auf dieser Erde,
Sie ruhn doch mal von Qual und Beschwerde;
Doch kaum schaut der Morgen in meine Kammer,
So rufen die Akten mein Genie,
Und bis zur Nacht bin ich, o Jammer,
Re vera übler noch dran als ein Vieh!
Kein Zugpferd in der Tat hat’s so schlimm,
Als ein Vorstand und Rat…

Vocabulary, part 2:

wenden und drehen = to turn things upside down
die Akten = papers, Akten schmieren = to manipulate official documents
ich weiß zu + infinitive = I know how to …
das Gängelband = leading-string
das Consilium = council

Ein Glück, dass ich mein Amt verstehe,
Und sapientissime alles wend’ und drehe,
dass mein Ingenium Akten weiß zu schmieren
und das Consilium am Gängelnd zu führen.

Vocabulary, part 3:

rationieren = einteilen (to ration), expektorieren = sich übergeben (to vomit), inspizieren = überprüfen (to inspect), räsonieren = viel reden, schwätzen (to talk a lot, to twaddle), echauffieren = sich aufregen (to get upset, here: to upset others), malträtieren = quälen, foltern (to torment, to torture)

Denn ich weiss zu bombardieren
Zu rationieren und zu expektorieren,
Zu inspizieren, zu räsonieren,
Zu echauffieren und zu malträtieren.
Rem publicam hab ich stets im Sinn.
Man weiß es ja, dass ich ein Codex bin.
Alt und jung ruft mir zum Preise,
Ich bin Saardams größtes Licht.

Vocabulary, part 4:

ausdrucksvolle Züge = expressive facial features
das Flambeau = (French) the torch
künden = to announce
ich trüge mich nie = I am never wrong
der Prozess = lawsuit
schlichten = to arbitrate
Man sieht es mir an = one can see it about me

O ich bin klug und weise,
Und mich betrügt man nicht.
Diese ausdrucksvollen Züge,
Dieses Aug’, wie ein Flambeau,
Künden meines Geistes Siege,
Ich bin ein zweiter Salomo’.
Dazu der Corpus noch in petto,
Mit einem Wort, ich bin ganz netto.
Man glaub’ mir’s, dass ich nie mich trüge
Et eo ipso momento
Gleich über jedes Crimen siege.
Ich wühl mich in Prozesse ein
Und schlichte sie sehr schlau und fein.
O ich bin klug und weise,
Und mich betrügt man nicht.
Diese ausdrucksvollen Züge,
Dieses Aug’, wie ein Flambeau
verkünden meines Geistes Siege,
Ich bin ein zweiter Salomo.
Denn ich weiss zu bombardieren,
Zu rationieren, zu expektorieren,
Zu blamieren, inspizieren,
Echauffieren, räsonieren, malträtieren,
Und zu ieren, zieren, rühren,
Führen, schmieren, ratifizieren.
Mit einem Wort, man sieht mir’s an,
Ich bin
ad speciem ein ganzer Mann!

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Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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