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'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?

02 Jan 19 - 11:47 AM (#3969401)
Subject: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: keberoxu

Yes, it's another foray into German-language literature and culture.
I am very much the outsider looking in, as before.
This happened to me in the usual way.
I was reviewing and researching the German-language Lied, the art song, as a lifelong student of classical music.
This means, looking into the words, the lyrics, and their source material.
Although composing Lieder is a serious business, and the composers have to be thoroughly trained and schooled to do it,
the poems they set to music can come from anywhere and everywhere.

It often happens, in German fiction, that prose -- short stories, novellas, full-length novels --
have poems embedded in them, original poetry on the part of the novelist.
And so it was that, searching for a poem that had turned up in a song,
I found myself (online, of course) turning the (digital) pages
of a book titled:

Backfischchens Leiden und Freuden by Clementine Helm.

Short answer:
Welcome to the world of Young Adult Fiction,
in the second half of the 1800's.
Clementine Helm enjoyed so great a success as the author of fiction all about teenagers and "tweens" -- books about and for this group of readers --
that her novel, mentioned previously, became the template for
a fiction genre in its own right. It was called -- ready? --

Backfischliteratur       and    Backfischroman.

Madame Helm's book has a protagonist known as Gretchen, from Margarethe, a very common name for German girls.
She is fifteen or sixteen years old.
We read about roughly one year in her life,
when she lives in Berlin after being raised in the country,
and is prepared for adulthood by a widowed aunt.
Gretchen's nickname is 'Backfisch,' and even 'Backfischchen,'
hence the title.

Also : was ist ein Backfisch ??

02 Jan 19 - 12:02 PM (#3969405)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: Reinhard

A young teenage girl. But it's a somewhat old term - I'm 60 years old and have never heard this word being used in real speech, only seen it in literature.

02 Jan 19 - 12:17 PM (#3969406)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: GUEST,Peter Laban

It is probably of a certain time, I have heard it used in Dutch 'bakvis' but it always had an aura of being a term used by a certain generation, an archaic sort of term.

Translated it's a term for a fish for frying applied to a flat chested young girl.

02 Jan 19 - 03:22 PM (#3969431)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: GUEST,keberoxu

Good point raised, in both response posts:
the novel I mentioned in the first post,
written by Clementine Helm,
was published in 1863.

So, yes, the term is "dated."

There is a German cinema/film named "Backfisch"
but I don't know the film's date.

02 Jan 19 - 03:35 PM (#3969435)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: Joe Offer

Gee, Merriam-Webster has it listed as a valid English word, derived from the German. I'll have to make use of it the next time I play Scrabble.

Wiktionary also has a listing for it as an english word borrowed from the German.

Definition is as above, a teenage or late adolescent girl. I suppose it's at least a bit sexist and not appropriate in our enlightened times. I won't be adding it to my vocabulary.


02 Jan 19 - 06:55 PM (#3969476)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: keberoxu

Force of habit, early in this odd tangential drift of subject,
I pulled up Google Translate.
It suggested fried fish.

And the only thing I could think of
was Glasgow and fish suppers,
and I've never experienced either.

Maybe I should visit Scotland before it's too late.

02 Jan 19 - 08:02 PM (#3969483)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: GUEST,paperback

blackfish (plural blackfishes or blackfish)

(chiefly Scotland) The Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar, especially a female after spawning. [from 16th c.]

wiktionary blackfish

02 Jan 19 - 10:09 PM (#3969494)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: GUEST,Brian Grayson

Waaaaay back in the 70s, I seem to remember the word being used as slang for 'young girl of sexy characteristics', rather like 'chick' or 'bird'...

02 Jan 19 - 10:49 PM (#3969500)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: leeneia

It's odd because standard German doesn't use the ck combination. It also seems mean-spirited. How would YOU like to be called a fish?

03 Jan 19 - 01:51 AM (#3969506)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: MudGuard

> It's odd because standard German doesn't use the ck combination.

Has it been abolished during the night? Didn't hear anything about that in the morning news.

Yesterday, the ck was still in wide use in the German language.

Andreas a/k/a MudGuard, German native speaker, living in Germany.

03 Jan 19 - 11:27 AM (#3969590)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: GUEST,keberoxu

it's a BACKfisch, not a BLACKfisch ... sigh ...

Also: look, I am no expert in standard German,
but, Leeneia,
even I have noticed that German uses
BOTH the -ch and the -ck.

Take the German word for Bell: it's Glock, not Gloch.
That is a word that turns up in song lyrics ALL the time,
particularly songs about flowers, because there are flowers
whose names have 'bell' in them.
'Schneeglockchen,' I guess it means little snowbell,
people wrote poems and sang songs about that flower
almost as often as the violet or the forget-me-not.

03 Jan 19 - 11:33 AM (#3969591)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: Thompson

Wiktionary says it's humorous, becoming dated, as a term for a teenage girl, and literally means baked fish.

03 Jan 19 - 12:25 PM (#3969597)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: keberoxu

If German song lyrics are of no interest to you,
feel free to read this post no further. Otherwise,
here is the song lyric which is embedded in the Backfisch novel,
that started my query in the first place. It has no title.

Wenn ich's länger nicht kann tragen
Und das Herz mir brechen will,
Schließ' ich meine bangen Klagen
In ein Lied, und es wird still!

Es wird still wie Meereswogen,
Die der wilde Sturm gejagt,
Friede Gottes kommt gezogen,
Tröstet, wo ich fast verzagt!

O daß mir doch nimmer fehle
Solch' ein Lied im Herzen mein,
Ihr Gebete meiner Seele
Tragt den Himmel mir herein!

-- page 165, Chapter 16: 'Die Braut,' Backfischchen's Leiden und Freuden: eine Erzählung für junge Mädchen von Clementine Helm, zweite Auflage, Leipzig: Georg Wigand's Verlag, 1868.

03 Jan 19 - 02:12 PM (#3969624)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?

Today, 'Backfisch' is basically only used to describe fish fried in some kind of batter. My granny (born in 1912) on the other hand still used it to refer to teenage girls, usually rather silly ones. Lydia in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" would be a good example for that kind of Backfisch.
As you are familiar with the use of online translators, maybe these links will be helpful?
Wikipedia Backfisch_Mädchen

03 Jan 19 - 03:18 PM (#3969636)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: Joe Offer

Keberoxu, note that the end sound of "back" is hard (like bock beer), and the ending of Bach is soft.

It was interesting to find that Backfisch usually refers to fried fish (but sometimes baked fish) because "backen" means "to bake." The word for "to fry" is "braten," as in Bratwurst.


03 Jan 19 - 03:36 PM (#3969639)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: MudGuard

The German word for bell is "Glocke" with an e at the end. A Glock is a pistol produced by the Glock company in Austria (in the village of Deutsch-Wagram)

'Schneeglockchen,' I guess it means little snowbell,

Almost, it is Schneeglöckchen, with an o-umlaut.

But yes, Schnee is snow, Glocke is bell, and -chen usually means a smaller version of the attached word (like the -let in English - book vs. booklet)

Is Shakespeares Hamlet just a small piece of ham? ;-)

Joe, "backen" is often used for deep-frying as well as for baking. Especially in cases where dough (Teig) is involved (either meat/fish that is covered with dough, or as in "Krapfen" (doughnut) the dough is the main or only ingredient.

03 Jan 19 - 03:46 PM (#3969644)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: GUEST,keberoxu

In English the Schneeglöckchen is called the 'snowdrop.'

There is a Walter de la Mare poem on the subject of the flower,
talking of "green-pencilled snow."

04 Jan 19 - 05:30 PM (#3969860)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: keberoxu

Here is a literary use of "Backfisch" pre-dating 1800.

Götz von Berlichingen:
Das gescheidste war, daß ihr euern Zwist so glücklich und fröhlich durch eine Heirath endigt.

Besser als ich mir's hätte traumen lassen. In Ruh' und Fried' mit meinem Nachbar, und eine Tochter wohl versorgt dazu!

Und ich in Besitz des strittigen Stücks, und drüber den hübschesten Backfisch im ganzen Dorf.

-- Zweiter Akt, der Schauspiel Götz von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Confirmed with Goethens Schriften, zweiter Theil, Berlin: Christian Friedrich Himberg, 1775.

05 Jan 19 - 02:40 AM (#3969892)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: GUEST,paperback

it's a BACKfisch, not a BLACKfisch ... sigh ...

Okay, okay, I beg ur pardon [bowing deeply] your way smarter them I'll ever be, it's just sometimes when I post I look dumb as a post, can't help it, sigh

Have a Happy & Blessed new year
and may it bring u peace of mind

05 Jan 19 - 06:33 PM (#3970029)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: keberoxu

Thanks, paperback, for wishing me peace of mind.
I am really sorry if I ruined yours ...

where was I?
There is another theory, expounded on the Deutsche Wikipedia article,
that this "bac" business
is related to "baccalaureate,"
because this literary term targets
a very specific part of adolescent/teen development,
rather like completing a certain school level.

06 Jan 19 - 12:36 AM (#3970051)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: GUEST,paperback

Very Funny :)

06 Jan 19 - 02:27 PM (#3970136)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: keberoxu

By Maureen O. Campbell:

"Mit vierzehn Jahr und sieben Wochen
ist der Backfisch ausgekrochen."

At the age of fourteen years and seven weeks, a German girl was said to become a Backfisch. The term comes from the fishing industry, referring to fish too large to be returned to the water but so small as to be suitable only for baking (backen, in German), and in reference to women is more or less synonymous with 'teenager.'
During this period of her life, a young bourgeois woman navigated the difficult transition to adulthood, shedding childish behaviors such as selfishness and stubbornness in favor of the sense of duty, domesticity, and orderliness necessary to be a successful wife and mother.
In the late nineteenth century, German Backfisch had their own literature to narrate the transformation of a young tomboy into a responsible, marriageable young woman....
Jennifer Redman classes these novels as a type of 'extended Bildungsroman,' which 'offers readers, struggling through the awkward years between the ages of twelve and sixteen, a model for the successful transition to maturity.'
Though derided by critics then and now for their kitschiness and sentimentality, Backfisch books were a highly successful and influential form of genre fiction that shaped the reading habits of generations of German girls.

-- page 207, chapter 9, from Detectives, Dystopias, and Pop-lit: Studies in Modern German Genre Fiction, edited by Bruce B. Campbell, Alison Guenther-Pal, and Vibeke Rützou Petersen, Rochester, New York: Camden House, an imprint of Boydell & Brewer, Inc., 2014.

06 Jan 19 - 03:08 PM (#3970144)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: Jos

I don't speak German so I could be completely wrong, but to me the post from Guest Peter Laban (02 Jan 19 - 12:17 PM) makes sense - a flatfish, which swims 'on its back' on the sea floor (flat as in 'flat-chested).

07 Jan 19 - 10:24 AM (#3970354)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: Steve Parkes

The word occurs in E M Forster's novel Howard's End. Back in the 60s I asked a German woman I knew, and she said it meant something like 'clever-clogs'; literally, it means baked fish.

09 Feb 19 - 09:53 AM (#3975686)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: keberoxu

In a future post, when the time is more convenient for me,
a Victor Blüthgen poem, "Backfischchen," will be submitted.

I'm looking closer at the details of this situation in an earlier century.
The word "bourgeois" has more weight now.
This word seems to classify
not only gender and age, but station or class.

A 'tween or teen from the most modest of circumstances
probably got called all manner of other names,
but I suppose "backfisch" was not one of them.

09 Feb 19 - 11:46 AM (#3975713)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: GUEST,Grishka

It seems that there is no conclusive definition, neither on the Internet nor from native speakers we asked in person.

My impression is that the word originally referred to a nubile girl. The association "ready for consumption" would mark this meaning as sexist nowadays.

During the last decades of the 19. century, the meaning seems to have changed to pubescent girls, particular those whose ideas about love and independence are still in the making, frothing and sparkling like a fish in the frying pan. Many such girls would read one novel after the other: Backfisch-Literatur.

The term used in that sense is now out of vogue as well, not sounding "cool" enough. The phenomenon, though, has all but disappeared. YouTube has large sections dedicated to backfisches, often pretending to be produced by their peers. Puberty has always been an excellent target of commercialism and many other kinds of seduction.

09 Feb 19 - 05:27 PM (#3975780)
Subject: RE: 'Backfisch' -- was ist das ?
From: keberoxu

(Victor Blühtgen)

Was ist die Welt?
Ein Ding wie bestellt:
Ein Park zum Spazieren
Mit etwas Genieren;
Ein Ballsaal zum Schweben --
Wie möcht ich's jetzt eben!
Ein Schauspiel voll Sachen
Um immer zu lachen;
Ein Eckchen zum Plaudern,
Zum Wundern, zum Schaudern;
Ein Auslug zum Sehnen
Um Diesen, und Jenen,
Und ach! ein Bazar
Mit allem, was neuer,
Papa zwar zu teuer,
Doch chic ganz und gar.

Was ist die Lieb'?
Ein reizender Dieb',
Das Herz mir zu stehlen;
Und wen soll ich wählen?
Primaner, Kadetten --
Ich weiß manchen netten,
Doch die für mich schwärmen,
Sind nicht zum Erwärmen,
Und Treulose wandern
Von Einer zur Andern,
Meist ist das ergötzlich --
Dann gräm' ich mich plötzlich . . .
Vier Jahr nur noch alt,
Ihr himmlischen Mächte!
Dann kommt wohl der Rechte --
Ach käm' er doch bald!

-- from Die deutsche Lyrik in den letzten fünfzig Jahren: neun Vorträge, Wolfenbüttel: Heckners Verlag, 1905. Appears in 5. Vortrag, dated 27 April 1905, Der Humor in der Lyric, page 146.