Original Script: “Hasch Hunger? Schlupf in e Gagumer”
Transliteration: “Have hunger? Slip in a Cucumber”
Translation: “Experiencing hunger? Climb in a Cucumber”
*Note, because this saying is dependant on the German-Russian word “hunger” rhyming with “gagumer,” it’s difficult to produce a “natural-sounding” English translation.
The country of Germany as we now know it is of course a relatively modern sovereign state. Prior to the unification of the German states in the late 19th century, Germany existed as a myriad of different “mini-states” all with their own governing bodies and economic models. Unfortunately, this led to many Germans becoming demoralized due to religious, economic, and political hardships, and many emigrated to Russia in the 18th and 19th century. To make try and make the historical background as succinct as possible, many of these Germans living in Russia were eventually forced to leave Russia, with many settling in the northern plains of the United States.
This was the case for my ancestors on my mom’s side of the family, with my great-great grandparents settling in North Dakota. In North Dakota, there’s a heavy concentration of German-Russians living within the state, who through a combination of their prior ethnic and national heritage, as well as an amalgamation of their new American life created a unique culture and folklore. Because of the many years that many Germans spent in Russia, a mixed language emerged, that’s definitely rooted in German but contains many elements of Russian influence.
My informant heard this common saying many times growing up, usually from her mother. It’s a common saying for German-Russians living in North Dakota that’s given when somebody – usually a child – expresses hunger at a time not meant for eating. It’s a rhyme, that translated from German-Russian basically says “experiencing hunger? climb into a cucumber.” The nonsensicalness of the rhyme is meant to be a quick retort to somebody being annoying in their request to be fed. My informant also used this saying throughout her life with her own kids as well. When asked about how she would interpret the saying, she laughed and told me that there was “no deeper meaning to the saying.” It’s simply a rhyming phrase that’s quick and easy to say.
My analysis of this common North Dakotan saying basically mirrors my informant’s. It’s a quick retort that rolls off the tongue when one is busy with something else, and another person is being cumbersome in their declarations of hunger or requests to eat at an ill-opportuned time. The “simpleness” of the saying is the basis of the saying.
This humorous saying can also be found in Dr. Shirley Fischer Arend’s collection on North Dakotan culture.
Arends, Shirley Fischer. The Central Dakota Germans: Their History, Language, and Culture, SFA Publishing, United States, 2016, pp. 193–193.