May I ask a (German) favor?
July 16, 2006 12:07 PM   Subscribe

What's a "German Favor"?

My husband came across this T. S. Sullivant cartoon from an 1894 issue of Life Magazine, and our searches of the web and our slang dictionaries (which are mostly American) have failed to find any reference to "a German favor". Well, actually, I found one mention of it on Google books, where it seemed to be refering to women impregnated by German soldiers during WWI. (Restricted page, of course.) Judging by the cartoon, it seems to have had a much broader meaning. Any one out there familiar with the history of this phrase?
posted by maryh to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Image link is dead.
posted by Kickstart70 at 12:14 PM on July 16, 2006

Try copying and pasting the link instead of clicking it — it looks like they're just blocking the referrer.
posted by rafter at 12:19 PM on July 16, 2006

Best answer: Thanks rafter.

I'm guessing, based on the cartoon, that the little guy is getting the "German favor"....a benefit from someone without them giving any effort to create that benefit (there's probably a better way to word this). However, that's just my impression.
posted by Kickstart70 at 12:24 PM on July 16, 2006

Response by poster: I can't get the link to work, so here's a description: A pompous looking German is smoking an elaborate oversized pipe that a small boy(?) in somewhat military looking dress is warming his hands over, much like a vagrant warming his hands over a trash can fire. There's a series of Sullivant cartoons with the same caption, which is why I'm assuming this was current slang. I'm also curious if the phrase was refering to some outdated stereotype of Germans, and what that might've been. (I don't want to get nailed for self-linking, but if the original link still won't work, you can hopefully see the drawing at my husband's blog. It's the 4th drawing down.)
posted by maryh at 12:34 PM on July 16, 2006

Best answer: I'd be interested to see the other drawings, but it looks to me like a "German favor" is a favor that requires no extra effort on the part of the person giving it, like Kickstart70 said. There may also be shades of plutocracy involved, but I don't think we can know this without seeing the other drawings.

Maybe reading about what Germany was up to at the time (politically) would make this more clear.
posted by interrobang at 12:39 PM on July 16, 2006

(i.e. that fancy pipe represents the Industrial Revolution.)
posted by interrobang at 12:48 PM on July 16, 2006

Maybe a little like a Dutch treat, in other words, not really a 'favor' at all.
posted by tula at 1:07 PM on July 16, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I should have googled harder, because interrobang's suggestion to look into German history led us to this page describing Bismark's "Not-Too-Close and Not-Too-Far" policy with the Sultan of Turkey, which can basically be summed up with Kickstart70's response. Although the events described happened more than a decade before the cartoon was drawn, they seem like the likeliest origin of the phrase.
It's funny how slang like 'going Dutch' is still with us, isn't it? Do Europeans still think of the Dutch as stingy?
posted by maryh at 1:29 PM on July 16, 2006

By Googling, I found a pdf of a very old MIT student newspaper that says it means "music from a street band", which sort of ties in to the child getting free heat from the man's pipe. Or perhaps it's saying that it's a favor they'd rather not have, since it was annoying music.

Google search.

The search result in question. [pdf]

In truth I found it a pretty hilarious and quaint read.
THE last TECH of the term.

All prize squashes, premium plums, etc., to be noticed in the next issue, should be sent to the general adver- tising agent.

Senior class supper, May 30.

A base-ball nine, -quinine pills.

Only four unpaid subscriptions to THE TECH.

A German favor, - music from a street band.

Are degrees conferred on a legal holiday legal? Give it up.

The interest which the passers-by take in tennis is something phenomenal.

A type-writer has been added to the equip- ment of the secretary's office.

We understand that the Brunswick Exchange will remain closed until the Institute reopens.

Chauncy Hall had a prize drill on the 19th, in the Mechanics' Fair Building.

The Seniors have only. one try at the annuals. No conditioning,- it's hit or miss.

Mr. John Duff, Jr., while melting some phos- phorus in the laboratory the other day, was quite severely burned.

Jones says his chum is like the moon, -gets round to his last quarter about once a month.

The indications are that '86 will number be- tween one hundred and forty and one hundred and seventy.

A Freshman has lost an umbrella, and has the guileless innocence to advertise for it on the bulletin board.
posted by evariste at 1:30 PM on July 16, 2006

Beware of Germans bearing Gifts.
posted by Mr. Six at 7:15 PM on July 16, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for that link, MLIS. The two of us were just talking about the Pennsylvania "Dutch". Looks like you just saved me another AskMe.
And 'Dutch nightingale' for 'frog'- nobody snarks like the British!
posted by maryh at 10:02 PM on July 16, 2006

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