We all love to hear a good story. They come in a million different shapes and sizes. Thankfully, for us.
Some of the most notable yarns have come from The Brothers Grimm. But, they didn’t just write fairy tales. Nope. They also worked for many years on a German Dictionary. I just learned this today.
It wasn’t just your every-day-run-of-the-mill dictionary, which typically includes definitions of words. Like. gibberish — a great word. Gibberish, as defined, is unintelligible or meaningless speech or writing — nonsense, or garbage, balderdash, blather, rubbish, and on.
I am good at gibberish. Gobbledygook, mumbo jumbo, tripe. In German, it translates to Kauderwelsch. You could also say someone is talking Unsinn. But in English, when you actually SAY the word “gibberish” is sort of sounds like you really ARE talking gibberish. Like right now. I’m off topic. Brothers Grimm. Dictionary. Heading back that way now.
So yes, they were writing this dictionary, but they also wanted to include the Origins of each and every word. Well, as you might expect, this was a pretty dang big project. A major undertaking. There were only two of them, and they did not have the Internet, for crying out loud. But. They rolled up their sleeves and got after it. This task at hand.
They never finished it. They did publish little bits of it here an there, in 1852. But that was 14 years after they began. They were probably getting old by that point, and it may have all just seemed like gibberish.
Those two Brothers Grimm. By themselves, they were Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Good old Jake and Will. They were German academics. But they were also philologists, cultural researchers, lexicographers (the fancy word for dictionary writers) and authors.
As their lives would have it, they collected and published a boatload of folklore during the 19th century. Before, during, and after the stint with the Dictionary.
You know. I wonder if they woke up one morning, in their little bedroom in their house in Hanau, Germany — the one with the twin beds and the poster of Leopold II on the pale blue wall — and said, “Brother, we shall scour the countryside for folklore. And we shall write it down and spread it forth. This is our quest. We shall begin, this morning, right after porridge and sausages. If Mom will let us go out and scour.”
That’s probably how it went.
Eventually, they went out and found those tales, from poor peasants to wealthy aristocrats. The list of work is quite impressive. These would include: ”Cinderella” (“Aschenputtel”), “The Frog Prince” (“Der Froschkönig”), “The Goose-Girl” (“Die Gänsemagd”), “Hansel and Gretel” (“Hänsel und Gretel”), “Rapunzel”, “Rumpelstiltskin” (“Rumpelstilzchen”), “Sleeping Beauty” (“Dornröschen”), and “Snow White” (“Schneewittchen”). To name just a short list.
They lived long and colorful lives. Wilhelm, born in 1786, died in 1859. Jacob was born in 1785. He died in 1863.
Thankfully, for us, they wrote some things down on paper while they were here. The Fairy Tales. The Unfinished Word Origin Dictionaries in German. Page turner. Oh. The stories that we love to hear. And very little Gibberish.
“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
― Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
“Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.”
― Lloyd Alexander