Bismarck, his Mutti, his – and my – antipathies

“A great hater, Bismarck’s first antipathy was directed at his mother: ‘Hard and cold,’ he called her. His father – a weak, ineffectual Junker, if you can imagine such a thing – merely embarrassed his brilliant son, whose bullish character first surfaced in drinking and dueling.”   (Quoted from a review, by George Walden, of “Bismarck, A Life”, the new biography by Jonathan Steinberg, posted at

A classic case of misplaced modifier, this gaffe is offensive on two fronts.  First, it seems anti-feminist; second, it implies – nay, states outright – that Bismarck’s ANTIPATHY was “A GREAT HATER”, when what it wants to say outright is that BISMARCK was “A GREAT HATER”, and that the first object of his hatred was his own female parent.  A surprise, say you?

This sends me down a thought-path to the fact that many nations’ natives refer to the country where they were born, raised, or currently live, as the FATHERLAND. Bismarck’s most famous product, Adolf Hitler, used the word VATERLAND to great effect.  But the denizens of the largest of Germany’s traditional arch-enemies, Russia (aka the Soviet Union), always referred to their country as MOTHER RUSSIA or the MOTHERLAND.

And we poor shmoes in the United States of America?  Upon us the term HOMELAND was foisted by right-thinking (i use the term specifically) wordsmiths after “Nine/Eleven” (along with the alleged Security achieved by the patting-down of every airline passenger in the USA – or headed this way from anywhere else on the Globe).  Is this nomenclature, now nearing its tenth birthday, an unintentionally left-wing idea from the right-wing thought-police?  Heaven preserve us from giving our HOMELAND a sexist title! Did the Republicans really buy this?  What do they call the USA, besides insisting that it’s the greatest darn country ever invented and perfeclty peerless in every way?

My family’s favorite way of demonstrating the dreaded misplaced modifier is: “Kicking and screaming, she took the baby out of the room.”  But I admit that it’s a long way between that simple and idiotic example about Otto von Bismarck and his Mutti and my latest disquisition.  And so, should we just go ahead and Blame It All on Frau Bismarck? Oh, let’s!

Next: shall we parse “… whose bullish character first surfaced in drinking and dueling. …”?


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About Alison

FDR & Hitler were still alive when I was born, but just barely. Raised to be a snob, especially about words -- how they're used and pronounced and spelled. Retired from office work but not from Glossophilia. Travel quite a bit, often revisiting sites I already like (cf. re-reading favorite books). I listen to opera and other classical music, AKA 'good' music, and go to concerts & operas in NYC and on my travels. I take a lot of photographs. I am very close to a younger sister who lives nearby and have an elderly dachshund. I am nowhere nearly as snobbish about red wines as about words, writing, speaking and behavior, but then I know a lot less about red wines.

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