Horrible Hans and the History of the Handschuh

Horrible Hans and the History of the Handschuh

As I have been learning German there have been some words that have made me chuckle such as the word “Schmetterling” for butterfly. Such an ugly and harsh word for something so fragile and pretty. Hehehe. Another that has given me the giggles is “Handschuh” for glove, literally “Hand Shoe”. Ha! Oddly, most people don’t know that at one point Germans used a word very similar to the English “glove”. That word was “Glöff”, a word that is, in fact, the root of the English word.

So why is that modern Germans now use the amusing Handshuh rather than the original Glöff? To find the roots of this linguistic change we need to dig right back into the mists of time, to long before there was a country called Germany. To the 10th Century when the region was under the rule of Otto III of The Holy Roman Empire. At the time, in the region that is now known as Bavaria, there lived a petty noble of ill repute; Lord Hans Fürchterlich. He was a terrible beast of a man who was known to extract terrible punishments upon those who slighted him, or whom he deemed to have slighted him. He was roundly feared and despised by all unlucky enough to live within his domain.

As is often the case, both with powerful people and with bullies, Herr Fürchterlich was not the brightest of people or, as modern Germans would say, Nicht die hellste Kerze auf dem Kuchen (not the brightest candle on the cake). Often he would espouse opinions of intense and impossible ignorance that they the same relationship to truth and factuality as a goldfish has to a lightbulb. Such was the fear that he instilled in those around him that even if he claimed that his horses were descended from mountain goats those around him would merely nod and agree.

One day, as winter was drawing close, Herr Fürchterlich was in town to purchase new warm clothes for the winter. He was in the store of the local tailor, a man whose name is now lost to history, where he was having his huge frame fitted for a winter jacket. As the tailor had known Hans was that day coming to town the tailor had prepared some clothes for Hans already. He did not, after all, want Hans in his store a moment longer than was absolutely necessary. The longer that Herr Fürcherlich was in his store then the greater his risk of inadvertently insulting the behemothic buffoon. One item that the tailor had prepared ready for the oversized oaf was a fine pair of fur lined leather gloves.

Hans pulled the gloves over his immense shovel sized hands and was most pleased with what he saw.

“I most like these new shoes Herr Tailor.” Hans boomed.

“Shoes?” replied the tailor.

“Ja! These shoes fit perfectly!”

“Don’t you mean…” The tailor caught himself before he corrected the massive moron.

“I know what I mean.” Growled Hans.

“Of course, I was merely asking whether you meant your new, um, Hand Shoes or whether you were referring to the fine boots that you wear.”

“Hahahahaha, foolish tailor. Of course I meant my new Hand Shoes, they are most fine.”

In fact, Hans was so pleased with his new gloves that he showed them to everybody whom he met in the town that day. Asking for their opinion on his new “Hand Shoes”. So afraid was everyone in the town of offending the hulking half-wit that they too began to refer to their Glöffen as “Hand Shoes” for fear of angering Hans. And so, the Handschuh was born and the Glöff faded into the mists of history.

All of this is, of course, completely true. 🙂