Tag Archives: greeting phrase

Hamburg Greeting Exchange ‘Hummel Hummel’ ‘Mors Mors’

Context:

Informant RH grew up in Jesteburg, a village in the area surrounding Hamburg, Germany. He spent parts of his young adulthood living in or near the city of Hamburg.

Main piece:

RH: Es gibt so ein anderes das so ein 'call answer pattern' ist, das is "Hummel Hummel, Mors Mors." 

SH: Sag das noch mal?

RH: Hummel Hummel, also H-U-M-M-E-L, zwei mal, und die Antwort ist dann Mors Mors, M-O-R-S. 

SH: Ah, okay. Was bedeutet das?

RH: Also ich glaube da war früher in Hamburg jemand der, so irgendwie so'n Wasserträger oder so was, oder der so recht, so ein bisschen geistig behindert war, und ich glaub der hieß Hummel. Und den haben die Kinder immer geärgert und haben ihm dann hinterhergerufen 'Hummel Hummel,' und er hat zurück gerufen 'Mors Mors,' denn Mors is das Plattdeutsche Wort für Hintern, für Arsch.

SH: Also das war dann am Anfang benutzt als, so nur für den Typ, aber wie war das dann danach benutzt geworden?

RH: Ja so als, als, Grüßwort oder als, einfach wenn du jemanden triffst so 'Hummel Hummel,' 'Mors Mors.'

SH: Das ist interessant, dass hab ich noch nie eigentlich gehört in Hamburg. 

RH: Ja das, also ich weiß nicht ob's noch gemacht wird.

SH: Ist ein bisschen Altmodisch jetzt oder?

RH: Ist ein bisschen Altmodisch, ja. 

Translation:

RH: There's another one that's one of those 'call answer patterns,' which is "Hummel Hummel, Mors Mors."

SH: Say that again?

RH: Hummel Hummel, so H-U-M-M-E-L, two times, and then the answer is Mors Mors, M-O-R-S. 

SH: Ah, okay. What does that mean?

RH: So I think there used to be someone in Hamburg that was, so, some kind of like, a water carrier or something like that, or who was quite, like somewhat mentally disabled, and I think he was called Hummel. And the kids would always go and bother him and yelled after him 'Hummel Hummel,' and he would yell back 'Mors Mors,' because Mors is the Plattdeutsch word for behind, for ass. 

SH: So at the beginning that was used for, like just this guy, but how was it used after that?

RH: Yeah so as, as greeting phrase or like, simply when you meet someone like 'Hummel Hummel,' 'Mors Mors.'

SH: That's interesting, I've never actually heard that in Hamburg.

RH: Yeah it's, like I don't know if it's still done.

SH: Is it a little bit old fashioned now or?

RH: It's a little old fashioned, yes.

Analysis:

‘Hummel Hummel,’ ‘Mors Mors’ exists as a greeting form and as an identificatory symbol of those originating from or living in Hamburg. Before the advent of a running water plumbing system, the profession of water carrier was a pretty normal occupation and part of life in Hamburg The city of Hamburg even has an article on their website explaining the origins of the saying and pointing tourists in the direction of the multiple water carrier statues that still remain in the city. Hummel has taken on a sort of legendary status within the city of Hamburg, which led to the integration of his name (which may not even have been his true name) into popular speech.

One thing to point out here is the integration of a Plattdeutsch phrase that turned into the ‘Mors Mors’ portion of the greeting pattern. Plattdeutsch is a German dialect that is common to northern Germany, but has long been not taught in schools in favor of the standard ‘Hochdeutsch’ or High German. The dialect is associated with poorer, rural populations, and has a class connotation. The ‘Mors Mors’ is likely a shortening of a longer Plattdeutsch phrase, though I do not conclusively know what the full phrase is since I’ve found multiple versions and neither I nor RH speak Plattdeutsch.

The phrase recalls a part of Hamburg’s history, of the water carriers and of the Plattdeutsch dialect, that unites the people using it as a specifically northern German group. The dialect was the predominant language in northern Germany and was pushed out largely by the uniting of Germany and standardization of the German language under the Grimm Brothers’ dictionary which centered southern German ‘High German.’ The dialect survives mostly in rural communities (one set of my grandparents speaks Plattdeutsch, but did not pass it on to their children), but is largely not institutionally accepted. Preserving a part of the dialect in folk speech is a way for northern Germany to retain some of its linguistic identity in spite of attempted institutional erasure.

For more information on ‘Hummel Hummel,’ ‘Mors Mors,’ refer to the article “Wasserträger Statue,” by Hamburg.com (accessible at https://www.hamburg.com/sights/memorials/11747510/wassertraeger/).

Hamburg Greeting ‘Moin’ (or ‘Moin Moin’)

Context:

RH grew up in small villages around the city of Hamburg and spent parts of his young adulthood living in or commuting to the city for work. Now, he lives in the United States, but some of his colleagues are also either originally from Hamburg or still live there and communicate via video calls.

Main Piece:

RH: 'Moin Moin' sagt man auch also so'n Grüßspruch. 

SH: Weißt du wo 'Moin Moin' herkommt? 

RH: Nein. Ich weiß das nicht wo das herkommt.

SH: Ok.

RH: Das ist, also, ich hatte früher gedacht das das einfach 'ne Hamburger, also eine Plattdeutsche version von 'Morgen,' so von 'Guten Morgen' wäre, aber das ist es glaub ich nicht. Aber das müsste mann bestimmt auch rausfinden können. 

SH: Ja. Also 'Moin,' oder 'Moin Moin' ist, sehr Hamburg-isch?

RH: Ja ist es. Das sagen meine Kollegen morgens auch viel. Ich weiß nicht was die Amerikaner davon halten, aber. 

Translation:

RH: You also say 'Moin Moin' as a greeting phrase. 

SH: Do you know where 'Moin Moin' comes from?

RH: No. I don't know where it comes from.

SH: Ok.

RH: That is, so, I used to think that it was just a Hamburg, so a Plattdeutsch version of 'Morning' as in 'Good Morning,' but I don't think it is. But you should to be able to figure that out.

SH: Yeah. So 'Moin' or 'Moin Moin' is, very Hamburg-y?

RH: Yes it is. My colleagues say it often in the mornings. I don't know what the Americans make of it, though.

Analysis:

RH is from the area surrounding Hamburg, where the usage of ‘Moin’ as a greeting is very common. He mentions the theory that ‘Moin’ originates from a Plattdeutsch word for ‘morning,’ but says he does not believe that theory anymore. One reason for doubting that theory is that the usage of ‘Moin’ is not restricted to the morning, but can be used any time of day, and even as a goodbye.

RH does not speak Plattdeutsch, which is why he is not sure if ‘Moin’ could track back to the dialect. Plattdeutsch is a dialect of German that was the prevailing language in northern Germany until the formation of the German nation-state and the following standardization of the German language and education system that favored southern German ‘High German’ instead. Plattdeutsch has an association with rural and poorer people and carries a class connotation.

‘Moin’ is the first example of northern German slang that I would think of if asked. It’s overwhelmingly common and has spread far beyond just northern Germany. I have frequently heard it used when in Hamburg, and unlike many other examples of folk speech that have distant historical roots, it seems to be fairly popular with the youth. This is a contrast to ‘Hummel Hummel,’ ‘Mors Mors,’ another northern German greeting that is now generally seen as an old fashioned greeting. In contrast, ‘Moin,’ or ‘Moin Moin’ is a very casual way to greet someone, and is a multi-purpose greeting that does not need to be tailored to specific occasions. For more information on ‘Hummel Hummel,’ ‘Mors Mors’ and the Plattdeutsch dialect, see “Hamburg Greeting Exchange ‘Hummel Hummel’ ‘Mors Mors'” by Stella Horns on the USC Digital Folklore Archives.