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.
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.
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.
‘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/).