[lit-ideas] Re: How Kitsch You Can Get

  • From: Gregory {Greg} Downing <gd2@xxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 17 May 2004 16:19:33 -0400 (EDT)

At 10:37 AM 5/17/2004 -0400, Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx wrote:
>I was reading C. Monsivais, "Aires de familia" (2000, Anagrama Essay 
>Prize), and he says that 'kitch' -- as per Manuel Puig's novels -- is a "Latin 
>American idiom". I turn to the OED, and says 'kitch' '[G[erman]]' which is not 
>highly illuminating. I thought the word was Yddish? Anyway, it looks as hardly 
>Latin American. I append below the entry from the OED -- Comments welcome, and 
>I do love the novels by Puig, though -- but maybe he learned 'kitch' from the 
>English, while he was living in (swing) London?
>I too would like to know more about the _German_ etymology of 'kitch'. Has 
>the word any cognate in English, or Latin?

Given that other listmembers have already fulfilled the list's longstanding
phatic imperative with regard to this thread, that no actual germanophones
have commented as yet, and that JL's topic is an idea though admittedly not
one having to do with current affairs in the mideast and hence perhaps to
that extent offtopic for this list, I'll go ahead -- if with some
trepidation -- and make JL's day by telling him about a lexicographic
resource he must not have access to or he'd not have posed his query as he
did: the _Kluge Etymologisches W"orterbuch der deutsched Sprache_.

Here's the relevant Kluge entry, in segments. Anyone who is a native speaker
of German should feel free to leap in and correct the non-native slips in my
hasty translation/paraphrase -- 

Kitsch m. [ = masc.] (< 19. Jh.). Um 1870 in Malerkreisen aufgekommen.
Herkunft unklar.

Kitsch, attested starting in the 19th century. Emerged around 1870 in
painting circles. Origin unclear.

Eine M"oglichkeit w"are der Anschluss an _kitchen_ 'Strassenschlamm
zusammenscharren, glattstreichen_ (zu _Kitsche_, dem Instrument, mit dem man
dies macht).

One possibility would be a link to the verb _kitchen_ "to gather street
mud/sludge, to paint badly [is that what glattstreichen means?] (from
_Kitsche_, the instrument with which this is done).

The Kluge entry also gives another possible etymology, but I have to be
somewhere at 4:30 EDT, so JL can probably check Kluge himself if further
speculation seems interesting.

So I guess the short answer to his query is (according to the 1995 edition
of Kluge I am looking at) the lexicographer's last resort: "etymology
uncertain." But I am not sure if Kluge is utterly unimpeachable when it
comes to German etymology. By the way, the Kluge entry for "Kitsch" gives
apparently academic source refs at the end, and those sources would probably
offer detailed discussion of possible etymologies....

Greg Downing, at greg.downing@xxxxxxx or gd2@xxxxxxx

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