Ah, advent. The holiday season. The draw-up to solstice and saturnalia, and, for those inclined, religious festivals of quiet and light and joy. A time of stolen moments, stolen silences, stolen silent letters and diacritics, and hyperarchaisms and hyperforeignisms.
Oh, come, oh, come, now. You know. I was just at a lovely Christmas market near where I live – they did the favour of not calling it Ye Olde Christmas Market (with the silly e Quayled onto old and the forever misread ye, which was always really just a representation of þe – which is the – using the letters available in European type sets). And what do you suppose I saw there?
Well, I saw some stollen. Mmm. I love stollen. For those who don’t know what it is, it’s a German cake (or bread) that appears around advent (a time when bakers were for a long time not allowed to use leavening, only oil; finally certain German bakers got a dispensation to use butter, and then, with the Protestant reformation, such strictures were dispensed with anyway). It’s white, sweet, flavoured with orange rind and raisins and such like, and often with a core of marzipan (which is one of the most wonderful foods in the history of everything), and dusted heavily – jacket-redecorating heavily – with powdered sugar.
But I saw something extra on this stollen. I saw two errant dots.
I tawt I taw a hyperforeignism.
I did! I did taw a hyperforeignism!
Yes, yes, stollen is a German word (it comes from the noun Stollen, meaning “post” or “stud”). So, hmm, better make sure it’s all Germanic-ish and all that, right? So, um, add an umlaut (a.k.a. diaeresis – umlaut is the name for the phonological process it represents but also, as with accent, has come to be a name for the symbol itself). Just like with assorted heavy metal groups, e.g., Mötley Crüe, Blue Öyster Cult, and assorted others. Teutonic is two-dottic! But the metal groups at least know they’re oversaxoned. The Christmas market merchant probably thought stöllen was the right way to spell it because, you know, German.
Sort of like how people trying to emulate “old English” – by which they really mean Early Modern English, but of course they’ve never been taught that fact – by adding random “olde-fashioned” endings and so on. As in “I thoughteth it woulde maketh it seemeth moore olde fashioned if I addedest ye olde umlaute to it.” (Pause here while I try to stop gagging and retching.) I wonder if they know that the German (and “proper” English) pronunciation is with a “sht” sound at the beginning, not “st”. Some people do – and misspell it as a result: you can find references to “schtollen” on teh interwebz.
(Just by the way, if you want to see someone emulate an older version of English rather well, there are a few to follow on Twitter, notably @SamuelPepys and @DrSamuelJohnson, who emulate 17th- and 18th-century English, respectively, and @LeVostreGC, a.k.a. Chaucer Doth Tweet, who does a pretty nice impression of Middle English.)
Well, there it is. Christmas is always full of ersatz emulation. We have ideas of great ageless Christmas traditions, many of which are actually quite new – even our idea of what Santa looks like was strongly conditioned by Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem, which also gave us the eight reindeer (and Rudolph was invented in 1939 by Robert L. May). We like the sweet liquor of ancient memory, but as long as it has the right taste for us we don’t need it to be so accurate. Indeed, not everyone even likes the real accurate stuff.
But I digress. I do love stollen, even if they overspice the spelling. So did we buy some?
Nope. The “stöllen” was not just overspiced but overpriced. Made by a local high-end pastry shop of repute. Yeah sure OK fine, I’m sure it’s wonderful, but Aina can’t eat it anyway (gluten), and I’m happy enough with the normal-priced stuff (some of which I had had a mere hour earlier). I don’t need to pay $4 a dot for extra diacritics. At that price it’s more like stolen. It’s so high-end I wonder if I’d need to pay for instollation. So we just contented ourselves with wandering around drinking mulled wine and trying an abundance of free samples of sweet liquor.