I’ve not lived in Germany for over two decades, and so many of the newfangled slang words and expressions, that have crept into everyday parlance, escape me. Until they hit me round the head unexpectedly, like in this instance.
So, in June last year, my brother and his friend came to visit me in Toledo (Spain). We were picking up some bits and pieces from the local convenience store, when my house guests stopped dead in front of the bread shelf. With an incredulous expression on his face, my brother pointed to some packs of bread bearing the “Bimbo” brand name. “Is this for real…?”
I must say, I was surprised by their reaction. The lads’ English is perfectly serviceable in tourist situations, but did it really stretch to slang terms like “bimbo”? (For those who don’t know: it’s a somewhat sexist word in English, meaning a physically attractive, but brainless and superficial young woman).
And they didn’t know. It soon transpired that, in German, “bimbo” is something a whole lot worse: it’s akin to “Sambo”, a pejorative “name” slapped onto any random male black person by those inclined towards racist stereotyping. (At least, that’s the case in UK English).Bimbo bakery products are made by Grupo Bimbo, a Mexican food industry giant. Grupo Bimbo is the world’s second biggest bakery company, and the Bimbo brand is found in virtually every Latin American country.
The company also has business in many other markets across the globe, including the US (The Thomas’ and Entenmann’s brands belong to Grupo Bimbo, for instance), but the geographic spread of the actual Bimbo brand is pretty much restricted to Romance language markets. As far as I’m aware, Bimbo means “baby” in Italian, and it’s perfectly safe to use in Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries.
If the company wanted to sell its buns and baps in Anglophone markets under its eponymous brand name, it may just raise a chuckle and a few eyebrows instead of sales revenues, but there is absolutely no way they could ever be placed onto the supermarket shelves of Europe’s German-speaking region.The Bimbo incident made me think of how much my native language had changed over the years in terms of usage. When I was a kid, one of my favourite sweet treats was a chocolate covered marshmallow dome called a “Negerkuss”.
“Kuss” means “kiss”, and back then, it was the norm to refer to black people as “Neger”. This term wasn’t considered offensive thirty years ago, but nowadays, it’s almost on a par with “nigger”. The only ones who still use it are a charming bunch of sub-humanoids aka Neonazis, and my grandmother. (This warrants a post in itself, and one day, when I’m feeling brave enough, I might tackle it…)
Since confectionery companies already had enough on their hands with fending off the blame for turning the populace into big-butted Michelin men, the Negerkuss was duly renamed Schokokuss or Schaumkuss. (“Schaum” means “foam”).
Incidentally, another traditional word for this type of product is “Mohrenkopf”. Mohr = moor and Kopf = head, so it’s very questionable…! In Germany, this has also given way to the far more innocuous Schoko/Schaumkuss. As far as I’m aware, the term Mohrenkopf is still in use in Switzerland.
Have you come across brand names on your travels that absolutely wouldn’t fly back home? Or maybe some products, that were already around in your youth, have been re-baptised to bring them into line with modern day sensibilities?
[For a post about brands on sale in Spain which tend to tickle English speakers’ funny bone, see this post http://eastofmalaga.net/2013/05/18/seriously-would-you-buy-these-products]
If you are interested in my specialist language blog, click here: http://multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com