Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fraulein Usage in Modern German and Its Effect on Cinema and Special Effects

[Global Wahrman has had an admittedly ambiguous policy towards comments, sometimes positive, sometimes negative, having its origins with so many spam comments in the early days.  But in a stunning reversal of policy, we wish to encourage user comments on this topic: are these pictures sexist and does it relate to the term "fraulein"?]

There are few more important things to people than what they are called. One person's diminutive is another person's mortal insult. And there are many rules here, culturally specific rules. Eddie Murphy can use the "N-word" but under no circumstances may I use the "N-word", for example.

So fair warning for those of you who are not up on your contemporary German: "fraulein" is a word that is strongly discouraged these days, through a German social process that is the equivalent of our "Mrs/Miss/Ms" dialectic.

When I first heard this, I was not all that impressed.  But I just did a test and it occurs to me that there may be some subtle issues here (sarcasm, sorry).    Just do the following experiment.  Go to Google, type in "fraulein" and then go to images, then stand back.  Holy moly!  See for example:

Is there something sexist about this image?

From a latex couture magazine, yikes, fraulein, please, put some clothes on!

What could be sexist about this?

Click here for the Google image search.

So, to be clear, to the best of my knowledge one may still use "fraulein" in a way that is not insulting when addressing a very young girl, either sternly or genially (e.g. humorously, perhaps, just guessing, one might say "perhaps the fraulein would be so good as to clean up her room" when addressing a six year old gal, perhaps, and that might still be OK). But otherwise, one uses the term "frau" so far as I can tell.

Now I have a few friends who are far more knowledgeable about both feminism and modern German, so they will enlighten us all, I hope, but in the meantime, a word to the wise is hopefully sufficient.

Now does this mean that we should go back and change all our World War II movies and television shows? That is a question with no single answer, I think. If one were going for authenticity in the movie/show, then the answer would be no, it would still be correct to use "fraulein" in that time period. But if one were doing a new show, today, about the period, then one might think about using the modern usage if one did not intend to provoke a reaction. It could go either way, depending on what you wanted to achieve.

Now to get to our final topic: the potential effect this language change will have on the practice and art of special visual effects.  To the best of our knowledge, this change will have absolutely no effect on special effects, now or in the future.   Just wanted to reassure those of you who may have been concerned.

For a wild screaming match on the topic, see the Wikipedia discussion:

For a more balanced discussion and presentation of the issue(s), see:


  1. Replies
    1. John

      I think you are making a pun on "auf wiedersehen", is that correct... sorry I am a little slow sometimes with my foreign language puns!