September 28, 2023 By arne hendriks Off

In the Appendix to the online dictionary Wictionary is a section called “Terms considered difficult or impossible to translate into English”. One word that caught our attention is ‘Sitzzwerg’. The German word Sitzen means to sit, and Zwerg means dwarf. Thus a Sitzzwerg is a person who appears much shorter when seated than when standing up, e.g. because of their being short-waisted or their individual sitting posture. The act of sitting thus dwarfs the person and leads to the assumption that this person is smaller than he or she is. Presumably (why else have a word for it) this is meaningful. And presumably we delight in our surprise when the person gets up and turns out to be much taller than expected. We’ve all seen the movie where the insulted guy gets out of a tiny car (or gets up from behind a table) and turns out to be a lot taller than the protagonist presumed. Haha, you’re in trouble now. In the proces of finding this funny we gently legitimize heightism.

Bodysize-related vocabulary is of interest to The Incredible Shrinking Man because it embeds values considering large and small. Although it is well-established that the human species currently values tall over short, it is not necessarily clear how we got here and how language facilitates and reinforces these ideas. In this case it is not necessarily the act of being small or tall itself that is the foundation of the word sitzzwerg but the surprise at one’s own evaluation of the situation. The German language also introduced the word Sitzriese; sit-giant, for someone who’s actually smaller than expected when standing up. I think I’ve seen that movie too, but in this case the joke is not on the protagonist.

Thanks Hannah Leitzke.