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

  • From: Henninge@xxxxxxxxxxx (Richard Henninge)
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 18 May 2004 23:36:53 +0200

From: "Gregory {Greg} Downing" <gd2@xxxxxxx>:

> At 10:37 AM 5/17/2004 -0400, Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx wrote:
I turn to the OED, and [it] says 'kitch' '[G[erman]]' which is not
> >highly illuminating. > >
> >I too would like to know more about the _German_ etymology of 'kitch'.
> >the word any cognate in English, or Latin?
> >

> Given that other listmembers have already fulfilled the list's
> phatic imperative with regard to this thread, that no actual germanophones
> have commented as yet, ... 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_.

Greg steps in here where only JL would normally dare to tread and so, to
provide him a little cover while he makes his mad dash across this
Speranzian mind field, let me point out that JL has an allergy to all things
German that causes him to free associate under the guise of German
etymology. In another thread, for instance, he is currently working over the
poor Austrian usage "beiläufig": at the moment he's forced the word into its
three syllables and has pinned a "loaf of bread" to its midsection, "lauf."
Implicatura: Don't go there if you want to retain your sanity (by-loaf-ily

(In passing, at a pace so quick I can only speak roughly, approx.,
shorthand, off the cuff--toodle-oo--I'm late, I'm late--"lauf" is, by the
by, actually all about "laufen," meaning [got] "to run.")

> Here's the relevant Kluge entry, in segments. Anyone who is a native
> of German should feel free to leap in and correct the non-native slips in
> 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
> 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?]

More accurately, that would be "to scrape together street mud/sludge, to
spread it smoothly" with _Kitsche_ being the sort of weegee (squeegy?),
upside-down rake used to do it.
> _Kitsche_, the instrument with which this is done).
> The Kluge entry also gives another possible etymology, but I have to be
> somewhere at 4 . . . .

My Kopy of Kluge has this interesting citation from 1885, seemingly the
earliest recorded occurrence of the word (in English or German) in the now
common usage:

"Die kleinen Genrebilder werden mit fabrikmäßiger Oberflächlichkeit
hergestellt, werden gekitscht." That is, "The little genre motifs are
produced with factory-like superficiality, in other words, just kitched." It
seems that at the end of the 19th century in southern Germany dark
"gravy-brown" paintings were mass produced, so to speak, with a broad brush
(or scraper) and sold as "art" to the uninitiated (who were as ever in the

Richard Henninge
University of Mainz

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