Saturday, July 14, 2012
So, weird story. It's sort of the opposite of Christmas right now, but the names of the two oddball reindeer have always fascinated me. In the famous song - and in some renderings of the famous poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas"/"'Twas the Night Before Christmas", their names are "Donner and Blitzen". In other print sources, they tend to be "Donder and Blixen". And in the original manuscript, they were "Dunder and Blixem".
As someone who knows a little German, the names from the song make total sense - they mean "thunder" and "lightning". Totally appropriate names for two flying, racing reindeer. So why were the original names so strange?
Well, it turns out they also mean "thunder and lightning" - in Dutch. Our conception of Santa is based on Dutch legend, and Dutch immigrants carried the stories to our shores. The author of the original poem was of Dutch descent (one of two men, evidently, though there's some controversy). So when he wrote it, he used the Dutch (and slightly more awkward) "Dunder and Blixem" rather than the German "Donner and Blitzen".
But since the poem was passed around to a number of publishers and printers, and since outside of New York there are far more Germans in the U.S. than Dutch, the names gradually got changed from Dutch to Deutsch as a sort of cross-linguistic eggcorn. In fact, I have no doubt that if the words for lightning in Dutch and English were similar, the modern version of the poem and the song would simply have the English words.
And now you know. (Thanks to Snopes for the historical background.)
Add a Comment
Warning: Comments on this post are closed to commenters who have not passed moderation.