Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sitzfleisch


These days of merriment and wild partying often give me a feeling of déjà-vu. Ostensibly because these are traditions and I’ve gone through them dozens of times already, but really because they remind me of something else. Because while I love my family, and I love these days of reunion as much as anyone, I think we can all agree that the forced celebration of something I personally don’t believe in, together with people I’m forced to like, can give rise to some awkwardness and embarrassment. As such, going through the motions of such obligatory happiness is a little bit like sitting through one of the more boring lectures at University: you keep a modicum of respect for the little man in front and try very hard not to yawn.
    ‘Sitzfleisch’ is mainly used as US informal, and has two meanings. First and foremost it denotes, fairly straightforward, a person’s buttocks. Secondly, there is the far more interesting meaning which reflects the power to endure or to persevere in an activity, in particular a very boring or annoying one. Its etymology is also fairly straightforward, as it derives from the German words ‘sitzen’ (to sit) and ‘Fleisch’ (flesh). ‘Sitzfleisch’ is, in other words, the flesh with which you sit. 
    First, let me tell you something about the general meaning of this - let’s face it - rather ridiculous word. As an out-and-proud lesbian one assumes that I have a thing for breasts (note that I say ‘breasts’, not ‘boobs’, which I find a very ugly word). And while I can’t deny my appreciation for this particular curve of the female body, I’m really more of an ass-woman. Which, together with my passion for words, means that I’ve got quite an extensive vocabulary to talk about this particular anatomical feature. Firstly there is the fairly neutral word ‘buttocks’ - often abbreviated to ‘butt’, or as a friend of mine calls it, ‘bum’. Then there is the more colored word ‘ass’ (‘arse’ for the British among you). Another word which I find rather funny is ‘behind’, which for posh people translates neatly as derrière, which sounds admittedly very sophisticated. Lastly, there is the still very decent  word ‘bottom’. I should also note that if you were to literally translate ‘Sitzfleisch’, you’d probably use the word ‘haunches’, which denotes the ass and thighs together - literally the ‘flesh with which you sit’. Unless you always sit on the tip of your chair. In that case, ‘ass’ will do just fine.  
    So you see there are a whole number of ways to talk about asses. Two words which I particularly enjoy are two adjectives which can only ever refer to a person’s ass. First, there is the beauteous word ‘callipygous’, a Greek word which describes the lucky recipient as ‘having a beautiful ass’. A less lucky recipient might be called ‘steatopygous’, which means that he/she ‘has a big ass’. I say less lucky, unless of course you belong to that category of people who ‘like big butts and cannot lie’ - for which I have the utmost respect.
    Moving on now to the second meaning of ‘sitzfleisch’, the holiday season never fails to bring to me some kind of cheerful resignation. Cheerful, because jolliness is almost a requirement, and resignation because even if cheerfulness is not really for you, you’ll just have to buck up and smile nonetheless. Because one thing you hate more than being fake happy is being a party-pooper. 
    So there you have it. Maybe you belong to one of those families who go all out during the holiday season and create a big spectacle. And to your greatest joy you meet your uncle Bruno again, who is drunk by 5pm and tells everyone who wants to hear (and quite a lot of people who don’t) that you should never get married. And maybe you’ll experience the joys of sitting next to your grandma Arlene who is prattling endlessly about the good old days, whether anyone’s listening or not. And maybe you’ll cast envious looks at your teenage cousin Cedric, who, in his current state of pubescent rage and irritation, is allowed to scowl at everyone in sight and check his phone every two minutes. And whether you like it or not, you’ll just have to bite your tongue and be friendly and amiable, even though you’d sometimes like nothing better than to get the hell out of there. In these cases, a decent amount of sitzfleisch comes in handy. And luckily these exasperating occasions only occur once a year, so you have plenty of time to recover and build some sitzfleisch again for next year - like recovering from a fever and building resistance again.   
    So in the spirit of Christmas, I wish you the very best during these days of merriment and wild partying, and enough sitzfleisch to endure them. Also, a great 2013, filled with wonder, joy, and words galore!

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