Cross your chickpeas and dot your flies

In Germany, they’re called "currant-crappers" and in Spain "chick-pea counters". This week, Tower of Babel takes issues with nitpickers of all nations.

Published on 23 November 2009 at 16:34

A person who is overly fastidious – and has to broadcast it aloud to boot – is occasionally referred to in German as a Korinthenkacker – i.e. “currant crapper”. No offence to the Greek townsfolk of Corinth, needless to say. That’s where currants, tiny-type raisins, come from. Korinthenkacker are so punctilious even their droppings come in raisin-size portions.

The French denote such a fussy customer in similarly vulgar terms as an enculeur de mouches (fly-fucker), for whom currants give way to flies. No lesser luminary than the novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline is said to have given this expression currency.

Never, in The Netherlands, call someone a Mierenneuker, suggesting he has intercourse with ants could be deemed a deadly insult, and trigger a fuming formic acid reaction.

Poles find throwing pebbles in one’s garden (wrzuca kamyczek do ogródka) akin to currant-crapping; but pedants are also liable to be accused of making a sculpture out of excrement (rzebi w gównie).

The southern counterparts tend to be more appetising: Italian currant-crappers are said to be looking for a hair in the egg (cercare il pelo nell’ouvo) and their finicky Spanish soulmates “count chick-peas” (el cuentagarbanzos) – as do Germans, too, by the way: Erbsenzähler.

The English nitpicker, on the other hand, puts a positive spin on all that punctiliousness, albeit in an unpopular pastime: removing louse eggs from hair. Herein lies a reference to the currant-crapper’s extended family: after all, in many a European tongue he is kissing cousins to “hair-splitters”.

Neye Yang

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