Liv Hambrett

Germany + Australia + Culture + Motherhood + Home

German Culture

Apples & Acorns

We are swimming in apples. The trees in the neighbourhood are all groaning with rosy fruit, including the tree that straddles our neighbour’s garden and ours. Apparently, years ago, they planted it under the impression it was a mini apple tree and, surprise, there is nothing mini about it. It is huge and beautiful and drapes onto our side and we have been shamelessly picking and eating for the past few weeks. On the weekend, it got a proper harvesting and we received an enormous bucket of fruit which has been sitting in our living room since, like a giant fruit bowl the kids take from at their leisure. I have been emptying it as best I can, baking apple cakes after apple cake and slicing them up to eat with cheese plate. I pressed four apples upon die Lüdde’s Kindergarten teacher and she could barely muster up any enthusiasm. ‘Oh. Wir haben so viele Äpfel …’ I left the fifth apple in my bag.

We’re also coming into Kastanien season, with the first of the big, shiny mahogany chestnuts winking from the pavements. Oma came over the other day with a little bag of chestnuts and acorns to make Kastanienmännchen with the kids. It’s a crafting project that seems to be an integral part of the German childhood, and as we sat around the table in the garden, enjoying the spätsommer afternoon, I entered one of those conversational vortexes with my mother-in-law, which are an inescapable symptom of a linguistically mixed life.

She held up an acorn and asked me what it was called in English. I obligingly told her it was an acorn. ‘No,’ she said, alarmingly confidently, ‘you’re thinking of Ahorn, the sticky stuff.’

‘No, no,’ I replied, ‘that’s a maple tree. That is an acorn.’ I asked her what it was in German because I realised I didn’t actually know.

Eichel, weil es von der Eiche kommt.‘ Pause. Then a laboured, ‘oak tree’ auf Englisch. The implication was clear: ‘acorn’ couldn’t possibly be right because, as a word, it bore no relation to the word ‘oak’.

Now, at this point, I also had a terrible brain snap and forgot (or only half knew/cared) that an acorn comes from an oak tree. As a result of this, I was beginning to lose my confidence with ‘acorn’. Perhaps there is a similar nut to the acorn that comes from the oak tree. Perhaps this was a northern hemisphere thing I had simply always been wrong about. I put Eichel into Google and up came a number of entries concerning penises.

As I scanned the entries, wondering if I had misspelt Eichel, because how else could I have found so many entries mentioning a penis, my mother-in-law’s voice continued, ‘of course, an Eichel is also the head of a penis.’

I looked up from Google to see her indicating the little cap of the acorn, from which the head of the penis apparently draws its name.

‘Right. Goodness.’ I momentarily forgot my translation mission.

‘What is the penis head called in English?’

‘Definitely not ‘acorn’.’

I became, as one does in these situations somewhat stultified by our conversation. It was a lot of input. I was mentally reaching for the English term for ‘penis head’ at the same time as being desperate to confirm I wasn’t wrong about an acorn being an acorn. I found myself unable to complete either task and instead became fixated on my daughter’s painstaking gluing of a matchstick to a chestnut.

At this point my mother-in-law began telling me of how SG’s childhood best friend (who also shares his name) used to be called Eichel because he got given a bowl cut and it looked like the little cap of an acorn. SG interrupted and said he didn’t get his name from the acorn, they were deliberately calling him a penis head.

As SG and his mother discussed this, I managed to break from my stupor and find confirmation that Eichel is, indeed, acorn. I left ‘penis head’ well alone and triumphantly confirmed, ‘Eiche is oak, Eichel is acorn, Ahorn is maple. Done. End of.’

My mother-in-law raised her eyebrows and did the typically north German mouth shrug. ‘Well I texted your mother and said we were making people from oak nuts.’

It could have been worse.


  1. Eric

    19 September, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    Spell ‘Acorn’ in a German way and you may get ‘eichern’, which is not so far off (linguistically/phonemically) from ‘eichel’ (R and L are related sounds, as can seen for example by the difficulty some Asian language-speakers stereotypically have differentiating them). I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘eichern’ or similar was some old Germanic-language word for acorn, as clearly the English got it from somewhere. (By the by, Google tells me eichel/acorn is ‘Agern’ in Danish and ‘Aker’ is a Dutch/Afrikaans variant).

    The English male (and female) anatomical name is formally ‘glans’, which is simply the Latin word for: … drum roll … acorn!

    Gland is a related word (and in Italian and French, etc.), which I guess reminded early dissectors of a ballish acorn-shape to many glands in the body.

    I think in many languages, it is a giggle-inducing word for both an acorn and the head of a penis. What uninhibited conversations one has with German parents-in-law, eh??

    (Yessss, I’m a bit of an etymology nerd… I can spend hours on

    – Eric.

    1. Liv

      20 September, 2018 at 8:02 am

      Ah the wonderful world of etymology. Yes, when I was informed of the glans/acorn situation, I had a GOOD LAUGH to myself. An added layer. However that’s the Latin/medical term, which not many people throw around – colloquially, it’s the head, right? Like colloquially in German, it’s the Eichel. Obviously they simply matched their colloquialism with the Latin, which is clever.

      Always giggle-inducing, and always uninhibited with the in-laws, myyyy goodness.

    2. Liv

      20 September, 2018 at 8:06 am

      Sorry, back again, lost in the world of etymology. Interestingly, some sites suggest ‘acorn’ came more from the word for acre, whereas ‘oak’ came from the Dutch word for oak, ‘eik’ (a la Eiche auf Deutsch). So whereas the Germans simply went Eiche/Eichel, English took a roundabout way and ended up with oak and acorn – similar, related, but not immediately obviously so.

      Naja. Love it.

  2. Brigitte

    20 September, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    Laugh out loud funny. Danke!

  3. Anonymous

    22 September, 2018 at 7:57 pm

    Thank you for this a good laugh I have a Acorn over my house.

  4. Etc: Sunday Catch Up, 16th September – 22nd September 2018 - Eat Explore Etc

    23 September, 2018 at 9:01 am

    […] Apples & Acorns | The ever-fabulous Christie Dietz shared this post on her Facebook page. It’s a wonderfully written, short but engaging post about the changing of the seasons in Germany – and a story that takes a short, sharp turn into some very funny language problems. You’ll not be sorry to spend a few minutes reading this one! | Liv Hambrett […]

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