In answering a question about "John Doe," I cited the name "Meyer." Then quoted a World War II leader as saying "If the Allies bomb Berlin, my name is "Meyer."

Translation of John Doe

Someone mentioned that I was "tasteless." (And by implication old fashioned, with my other example, "vereinsmeyer.")

I am an older person (over 50), so a lot of what I know comes from what I heard in the "old days" (as opposed to the Internet). And that's in "German America" (at clubs and parties in America attended mainly by Germans).

My remark was meant to be about a name or figure of speech (Mundart?), not about the war itself. Was I wrong?

  • Please add a link to your post for better reference.
    – Phira
    Jun 16, 2011 at 20:55
  • 3
    Figure of speech translates to Redewendung, not to Mundart. Jun 17, 2011 at 7:04

2 Answers 2


I wouldn't necessarily quote Hermann Goering when the question is about the modern usage of German, but it's a valid answer.

I don't think it is tasteless - it is one of the most prominent examples for the use of "Meier" in the sense of "John Doe" or "Nobody".

However, there seems to be no evidence the quote is actually from him (it seems to have been an urban legend, with variations of "... dann heisse ich Meier" or "... dann will ich Meier heissen" present even before the war).

  • I learned it from an American textbook in the 1960s. It's possible that it was American propaganda. But it was so detailed and vivid that I took it as "authentic." Basically, Americans aren't this good at making things up. I do seem to be having some trouble on this site with archaic usage, as you can see from my poems. I am older than most others here, and also know the songs of my PARENTS' generation (e.g. Unter den Linden) better than they do. The songs I quoted were learned from a German-American band leader named Lawrence Welk, born 1903.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 16, 2011 at 20:13
  • @Tom Re the Goering saying: As far as I know, it definitely was an urban legend that spread in the German population itself. I remember reading about it in this excellent book, a first-person account from a guy growing up in Nazi Germany... There was a lot of muttering against the higher-ups (including some really dangerously blatant jokes) once things started to turn sour on the front.
    – Pekka
    Jun 16, 2011 at 20:17
  • @Tom Re archaic usage, I find the development of the language in the US and elsewhere a fascinating topic, and dealing with it is definitely an enrichment and on-topic on the site! In the case of song lyrics, just add some context so people understand why the vocabulary may seem skewed.
    – Pekka
    Jun 16, 2011 at 20:19

As I was the one calling it tasteless (which may have been a bit strong, admittedly), let me give my reasoning:

My objection was not against referencing the war, or even Göring himself, but against needlessly referring to him by full title, thereby legitimizing it, him, and the system he operated in. But maybe that's just my German perspective, maybe I'm a bit oversensitive, and maybe he needs introduction outside of Germany. IMHO, in Germany, needlessly referring to him by title borders on glorification.

Maybe your poem (in a question I can't find anymore) made me a bit oversensitive. Please excuse my slight overreaction.

Off topic, but on topic of your original answer: It was just not a very good answer, aside from the Göring thing. It was very speculative (and wrong), and ambiguously worded (party goer). I would have down voted even without the Reichsmarschall. Please don't take this personally, but your German is not very good, and you're probably a better asker than answerer on this site, just as I am on English.SE.

  • 1
    "thereby legitimizing it, him, and the system he operated in" I don't follow...
    – musiKk
    Jun 17, 2011 at 8:38
  • 1
    @musiKk It's a bit like saying Chairman Mao every time I'm talking about Mao - it lifts his status by needlessly referring to it (even if it is technically correct).
    – fzwo
    Jun 17, 2011 at 8:57
  • 1
    @fzwo: Well, the name was mentioned only once, not multiple times. I think this is way too pedantic.
    – musiKk
    Jun 17, 2011 at 9:10
  • @musiKk: I fully agree with everything fzwo wrote here. I can only see a single reason for writing "Air Marshall" in front of "Herrmann Göring", and this is if the potential readers might need it to understand who's meant. Except for that, I just don't see why one would write it. (I also agree with fzwo writing that the use of tasteless was a bit strong here.) Jun 17, 2011 at 10:20
  • @fzwo: I used "Air Marshall" not as a title, but as a "job description" in the context of "bomb." I certainly did not mean to glorify him.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 17, 2011 at 12:59
  • @Tom OK, sorry then, and I take back my calling it tasteless. BTW, this is an area of German culture (and language) where we are a little sensitive, so it pays to be a little careful. Your poem also seemed to me to also play on themes of honor and nationality, which don't really go well together here. Unlike in America, you will raise eyebrows if you proclaim to be proud to be a German, if you swear some kind of oath to Germany or Germans (a concept that seems quite alien unless you're a politician or soldier), etc. Since the World Cup in 2006, flying the German flag is not suspicous anymore.
    – fzwo
    Jun 17, 2011 at 13:50
  • @fzwo @Hendrik There's sensitivity, and there's hyper-sensitivity. If in doubt, let's assume good faith, and ask for clarification first. Re the poem, I think that is a valuable cultural side note - not in a censoring sense, but as a heads up that this is a field where it's easy for a German-American (or any other group of people with old ties to the country) to alienate many Germans without necessarily even realizing why.
    – Pekka
    Jun 18, 2011 at 16:10
  • @Pekka: (You of all people should know that "@Hendrik @fzwo" would have been a better start of your comment :-)) I did assume good faith, but probably that wasn't clear from my comment. Personally, I'm not offended if people write "Air Marshall Hermann Göring"; I just wanted to recommend not doing it (like what fzwo said). By the way, I don't have any problems if people say they're proud to be German (unless they combine it with certain movements of the right arm). Jun 20, 2011 at 10:34
  • @Hendrik: As this is now not about language anymore at all (which was probably not entirely unrelated to my original comment that sparked this...), I'm out of this discussion. I'll join again should the need arise to clarify language-related questions. Then again, maybe that is an interesting linguistical question: What does pride mean? Can one be proud of something one didn't achieve?
    – fzwo
    Jun 20, 2011 at 10:42
  • @fzwo: These are very good questions. My guess is that the answer to the 2nd question is "yes". What about "Ich bin stolz auf dich"? Jun 20, 2011 at 10:47
  • @Hendrik: Ich hab es mal versucht: german.stackexchange.com/questions/1499/… - I'm not entirely sure this is a pure language question, though.
    – fzwo
    Jun 20, 2011 at 13:16

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