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October 10, 2003

Posted by Teresa at 10:36 AM *

Sorry to bother you, but could someone with a solid knowledge of German either confirm or deny that the word losung means “password”, “fewmet”, and “scriptural text”?

Comments on Losung:
#1 ::: Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 11:53 AM:

Well, "losung" (with an umlaut over the o) does have a primary meaning of "answer" or "solution" (as in "final solution to the..." ahem), and does have the modern computer meaning of "password". But fewmets? Scriptural text? Beats me. (But I don't have a solid knowledge of German.)

#2 ::: Anon ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 12:01 PM:

Losung (no umlaut) does mean password. The full form would be Losungswort, but Losung itself is correct. I can't help you with confirming the other definitions, but here's a handy link to an online dictionary:


#3 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 12:16 PM:

"Fewmet" I cannot speak for. Lösung means "answer or solution," connoting "the best among many." Losungswort, as Anon indicates, means "key" or "password," and seems to come from "secret word." Although I do not have any contemporary religious sources available, I would be surprised if Lösung were to be used in a theological context, but I suppose that it's possible. If Losungswort were used in such a context, I would think it would be more Kabbalistic, but again I don't have sources that are much post-Nietzsche auf deutsch.

#4 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 12:18 PM:

Sorry to bother you

You've got to be kidding! I'm just sorry I can't help -- I only know lösung (answer, solution -- including the NaCl dissolved in water type of solution) and have never seen it without an umlaut. I am more used to schlüssel, "key", for "password".

What the hell is a "fewmet"?

#5 ::: Rudi Schlatte ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 12:36 PM:

"Losung" is indeed something like "animal's piss" in German hunter's slang, which has some unique words, and bizarre redefinitions of common words.

Losung is also (not very often) used for something roughly like a motto or slogan. It is not used for password, except in the military (when a guard says to you "Die Losung!" you better know it). Don't know about the scripture meaning.

Its meaning does not overlap with "Lf6sung" (solution, as in a riddle or a chemical) as far as I know.

#6 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 12:38 PM:

Fewmets are the droppings of an animal collected by the hunter stalking it. (As any fan of The Once and Future King would know, King Pellinore kept the fewmets of the Questing Beast in a specially-made box and showed them to anyone who would stand still for long enough.)

Alas, my German is confined to about half a dozen words of politeness, so I cannot help Teresa. Wish I could.

#7 ::: Henry Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 01:04 PM:

As Brad says, losung means "solution" - not only in the sense of a solution to a problem, but also in the sense of a chemical solution. Never heard it used to refer to fewmets or scriptural texts though; perhaps I've just been reading the wrong stuff in German.

#8 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 01:50 PM:

Why is everybody babbling about Lf6sung? She didn't ask about Lf6sung.

Yes, Losung means both 'password' (also 'battle cry') and 'droppings (of a wild animal), fewmets.' Haven't seen the scriptural use. Um, why do you ask, if it isn't a secret?

#9 ::: Reimer Behrends ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 01:50 PM:

The primary meaning of "Losung" is a password or other sign (such as an indicator to begin an attack), especially in a military context (cf., for instance, Schiller's "Wallensteins Tod", act 5). It is also used to describe the excretions of wild game, as indicated by Rudi.

There does not seem to be a meaning of "Losung" that translates as "scriptural text". The best authority here is probably Das Deutsche Wf6rterbuch von Jakob und Wilhelm Grimm, which is close in scope and extent to the full OED.

A note on "Lf6sung" vs. "Losung": Germans simply do not ever transcribe umlauts by dropping the umlaut marks. The correct transliteration of "e4" is "ae"; that of "f6" is "oe"; that of "fc" is "ue"; and that of "df" is "ss". Umlauts and "df" are ligatures. They are transliterated by breaking them down into their components, not by dropping one of the components. So "Lf6sung" would be written "Loesung". (It would also be "ueber", not "uber". Sorry, pet peeve.) However, in this special case it just so happens that Grimm's Wf6rterbuch denotes "Losung" as an archaic form of "Lf6sung". It probably shouldn't be used this way in a modern text, but could likely be found in texts prior to standardization of the German language.

#10 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 02:17 PM:

I, too, am dying to know how you've come to this question.

#11 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 04:35 PM:

Simple. I was looking into the matter of Wolpertingers, which meant that 95% of my source material was in German. I used Google's "translate this page" function for one site, and found myself looking at a reference to hunters on a Wolpertingerjagd finding a Wolpertinger's password in the woods. This was directly adjacent to a drawing of a fewmet. I looked back to the original source, learned the word in question was losung, fed that into a Google image search, and found myself looking at pictures of animal droppings and religious clip art.

I went looking for a better translation, but soon found myself helplessly enmired. When you're looking for fewmets, passwords, and religious texts, and are learning that losung is the stem of the German words for "assignment" and "lottery", you know you're out of your depth.

The only term from this I can unhesitatingly translate is Wolpertingerjagd: snipe hunt. It involves a candle or flashlight, a potato bag, a stick to hold the bag open, and a long nighttime vigil in the forest.

#12 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 04:57 PM:

Hmmm, my only experience with a snipe hunt did involve flashlights, but it also invovled the rest of my Girl Scout troop getting herded into the forest where one of our troop leaders lay in wait to frighten the bejeesus out of us. It worked.

#13 ::: Zvi ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 05:14 PM:

There's a site at They translate 'Losungen' as 'Watchwords'; there's a small essay on how the Moravian Church uses watchwords as a way of reminding yourself of spiritual matters daily, and they offer various pieces of software to download and do so.

When you click on 'Watchword for today', you get 'Losung for '.

So it seems it does have the meaning of 'spiritual text', at least within the context of the Moravian Church.

Click on Herrnhut on the left to get the history of the Moravian Church and Losung.

#14 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 05:37 PM:

The Moravians are the ones who bury their dead in segregated cemteries: somen on one side, men on the other, to ensure that there'll be no hanky panky when all rise.

#15 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 08:40 PM:

The Moravians bury Japanese wheat noodles?!

#16 ::: Mr Ripley ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 10:41 PM:

. . . and are afraid that resurrected men will use them for indecent purposes?

#17 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 10:55 PM:

If you're researching the snipe hunt, you might be interested to know that it goes back at least 140 years. I just got through reading a Confederate soldier's memoir, and he describes sending a new recruit on what is very clearly a snipe hunt. He called it something else, hunting for larks or something like that, but it was clearly the same thing and involved leaving the vistim to spend the night alone in the woods with a sack.

#18 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 11:17 PM:

Women, Trinker. In heaven there are no typos, but here on earth we all make them.

Andrew, I would have thought it would be to keep all the basses and baritones together on one side and the sopranos and altos on the other, the better to sing hymns of praise on the day.

My mother once had a funny dream about funeral plots being accidentally oversubscribed and their arrangements muddled, which led to everyone having to go lie down on their assigned spots so they could figure out whether there was room for everyone. While Mother and her presumed neighbors in the hereafter were thus lying around on the grass, someone suggested that since they'd all be rising together on Judgement Day, they might want to settle on a hymn to sing, and maybe take this as an opportunity to rehearse it a little. Unfortunately, she woke up before they'd settled on a hymn.

Kellie, our local version didn't involve getting scared, but you were supposed to sit there banging two rocks together and singing for as long as it took you to wise up. I never fell for it. I attribute this, not to my superior social insight (which I didn't have), but to knowing that snipe were exceedingly unlikely to turn up in that area.

Zvi, thank you for losungen and the Moravian connection. Turns out their losungs are little pairs of scriptures, one each Old and New Testament, taken one pair per day like spiritual vitamins. Also turns out that this spiritual discipline has been computerized, and has spread to non-Moravians.

Reimer, thanks for the solid knowledge of German. Those would be the same Brothers Grimm we know from the folktale collections, yes?

LanguageHat: Yes. So, battle cry, password, watchword, fewmet: thing which identifies the thing. It ought to be the German word for "pathonomic symptom", but it probably isn't.

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 11:20 PM:

Interesting, Robert. What do you want to bet it goes back to the late Neolithic?

#20 ::: Harald ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2003, 08:00 AM:

"Losungen" translates as "Daily Watchwords" into English. The watchwords are drawn annually by the Moravian Brethren. They contain Old and New Testament Scriptures for every day plus a short explanation or thought.

You can get the "Daily Watchwords" in English or German at:

Evangelischer Ausle4nderdienst e. V.
Ringofenstr. 159
44287 Dortmund
Tel +49 231 48923
Fax +49 231 488762

#21 ::: Dennis Moser ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2003, 09:09 AM:

(Parenthetical fawning: I've been delighted by the discovery of your blog and it is now a regular in my peregrinations, gyring 'round the web...)

Context is everything, yes? Losung/loesung...fewmets (Hey! I knew what they were...too much Shakepseare in high school), passwords (solutions=to solve), scripture...yeah, it made sense to me and I figured that you had probably turned the translation up from an online dictionary. I'm having the same sort of experience with a colleague whose English is only marginally better than my Portuguese.

For a really fun challenge, there was a translation of a number of Shakespeare's plays into German shortly after they had appeared in England...reading Macbeth in High German of the Baroque period makes it to be one very scary sounding play.

Oh, and yes, it IS the very same Brothers Grimm of fairy tale the time, there was a lot of linguistic work comng out of the study of "Maerchen" and folk tales...

#22 ::: Dennis Moser ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2003, 09:18 AM:

I just read your posting "In search of universal impulses" in which you quote "Vom Osterhasen und dessen seltsamen Verwandten," and the passage of the horned hare jumped off the screen at me: here in Texas we all them...


Yeeeehaw! (And we had snipe hunting here, too...gotta have a "gunny sack" to catch 'em, though!)

#23 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2003, 10:35 AM:

TNH: Andrew, I would have thought it would be to keep all the basses and baritones together on one side and the sopranos and altos on the other, the better to sing hymns of praise on the day.

Unless the Moravians go in for counterpoint, they'll get better-sounding harmony with a hashed lineup.

When events moved that I began exercising in a health club, I started calling wire hangers "yuppie fewmets", because they were how you could tell yuppies had been around. (According to a definition above, these should have been "yuppie spoor" -- they weren't type specimens -- but "fewmets" was a more specific opinion after I'd cleared away a few hundred of them.)
And both of my hardcopy dictionaries say this is an obsolete spelling of "fumet", which (from the same French root) also means the smell of rotten meat....

#24 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2003, 03:10 AM:

I agree--I think that the snipe hunt or its equivalent probably arose shortly after humans started humting wild animals.

#25 ::: Rachael ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2003, 11:35 AM:

Drats, y'all are too fast, I wanted to make the Japenese wheat noodle joke.

#26 ::: Rachael ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2003, 11:42 AM:

Oh, I thought fewmets were dragon droppings, which comes from reading Madeline L'Engle rather than Shakespeare as a child I guess. Can "fewmets" also mean dragon droppings?

#27 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2003, 02:45 PM:

Only if you hunt dragons.

#28 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2003, 03:01 PM:

Rachael, fewmets are droppings used to help identify the animal you're hunting, or help determine its current size, health, diet, etc. Any animal that excretes and is formally hunted can generate fewmets.

#29 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2003, 06:35 PM:

CHip: Language drift is weird. My Fr/Eng dico says "fumet" means "aroma, bouquet," and my Fr/Fr dico says (and I translate), "1. Agreeable odor of cooked meats, of wines. 2. Sauce with a base of meat or fish juice. 3. Smell of game."

#30 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2003, 09:14 AM:

My favorite 'fun with mechanical translation' story arose from asking Babelfish to translate a campaign page for a German D&D group. It was interesting, though the grammar sucked (as most mechanical translations do). However, the recurring campaign monsters were persistently translated as 'Shark-natures'. It was such a lovely word; going by context they had arms and legs and heads and whatnot, but I was visualizing shark-headed monsters with fins and sandpaper skin stalking around the jungle the rest of that night. :->

#31 ::: Reimer Behrends ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 05:56 AM:

Teresa asked: Those would be the same Brothers Grimm we know from the folktale collections, yes?

Yes. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, while best known for "Grimm's Me4rchen", were also professors of German (with a special interest in Old High German, if I recall correctly) and had a fair number of publications besides their collection of fairytales, from German mythology to German grammar. (They were also members of the "Gf6ttingen Seven" and Jacob was a representative of the national assembly in the Paulskirche in 1848, but that's a different story.)

#32 ::: Henning Buehmann ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2004, 03:51 PM:

The Losungen of the Moravians are pretty well known among pious German protestants, not only in Herrnhut. Obviously this is not the case in England or America. There is one Losung from the Old Testament, on doctrinal text from the NT and a third text from an anthem, a prayer or something else. And this for every day of the year.

#33 ::: Joachim ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 06:37 AM:

By accident I've come across this site.
Losung means something like "slogan", a word that sinks in and you can get guidance from... it also has to do with "losen", which means "draw lots" (or cast the lot). The "Losungen" (or what we call in English "Daily Watchword") are picked three years in advance by picking numbers on pieces of paper out of a bowl for each day of the year. Each number corresponds with a verse from the bible. This applies for the Old Testament vers only. A New Testament verse is choosen in accordance. I hope this is helpful. Best regards, Joachim

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