German, for whatever weird reason, thinks anything is cuter, nicer, hinreißender if its gender has been removed. (Let’s not get all Freudian about this, okay? Keep in mind that the words have gender, not the objects they represent. 1 Well, sometimes. Argh.)
If you’re going to get cutesy on something in German, you do that by adding a suffix and an umlaut where possible (or not, just to be trotzig, particularly in southern dialects), and, um, neutering it.
Exactly which suffix you’ll use might depend on the region.
|das Paket||das Päckchen, Packerl|
|der Kuchen||das Küchlein, Küchle|
|der Mann||das Männchen|
|das Weib2||das Weibchen|
|die Frau||das Fräulein2|
|die(?) Mad3||das Mädchen|
|die Katze, der Kater||das Kätzchen|
|das Buch||das Büchlein|
|der Hahn||das Hähnchen|
|der Moment||das Momentchen|
|die Kanne||das Kännchen|
|das Stück||das Stückchen, Stückerl|
So what about the word for “boy”? One might rightfully expect a diminutive das word for boy, following the same pattern. There is one, but it doesn’t seem contemporary: Bübchen. If there is a more commonly-used neuter, diminutive word for male children, please let us know about it in the comments.
Getting the gender wrong on stuff is frustrating, but it happens, and it’s pretty much never fatal. But on diminutives, you don’t have to. The rule is very reliable: Neuter is cuter.
- Thanks, Geekmadel. [↩]
- Tread carefully here, gents. It’s perfectly OK to describe a female animal as a Weibchen (or a male one as a Männchen). But don’t use Weib without considering its implications, into which we shall not delve. You pretty much don’t hear Fräulein anymore, either. The only two times I’ve ever heard the natives use it:
- My host father used it against his ten-year-old daughter who was having a diabetic freak-out in the early 1990s.
- A senior citizen couple used it to attract the attention of the young waitress last year in a Biergarten, and they obviously meant nothing negative by it.
- Nobody says Mad anymore. It’s archaic. But I have heard a colleague who leans on his Fränkish roots in times of emotion use the word Madele as an epithet against a female colleague who was annoying him. And thus we have arrived at why the German word for “girl” is neuter, and not feminine as you might think. As such, this is perfectly correct: Das Mädchen isst sein Müsli. Sein? Really? Yes, really. The possessive pronoun for any neuter word in German is sein. [↩]
- Couple things:
- We are not aware of a commonly-used non-diminiutive word for bunny, other than Hase (and that’s arguably not the word for bunny). German Wikipedia reports Kanin as an archaic term still in use among furriers. There are more terms, like Kanickel, Karnickel, Künglein, and Chinigl, but they all appear to have a diminutive tacked onto them and may also be obsolete anyway.
- Apart from, say Watership Down, show me any bunny who is not worthy of a cutifier.