Grimms Kinder- und Hausmärchen 1815 #36 Die Lange Nase begins with the line:

Es waren drei alte abgedankte Soldaten, die waren so alt, daß sie auch keine Libermilch mehr beißen konnten.

The word Libermilch occurs nowhere else in the first edition text.

  1. What does it mean?
  2. Are there any supporting documents that can be found? A dictionary entry? A line in a cookbook? An image from a manuscript?

From the context of the sentence, most people can guess what it might be (something soft), but can any documentary proof be found to definitely answer the question?

So far I found:

  • There are no entries in any of the normal dictionaries for the word Libermilch.

  • There is a similar word Liebfrauenmilch, which according to Grimms DWb is a very mild Rhine wine. Libermilch could be a shortening of Liebfrauenmilch, but since the text states that they could not bite it anymore, this does not seem likely.

  • Rheinisches Wörterbuch has an entry for Lubber-milch which is described as dicke milch (thick milk), possibly butter-milk.

  • Südhessisches Wörterbuch has an entry for leier-milch which is milk skimmed through the centrifuge or buttermilk.

  • There are many words compounded with milch, but no other words that begin with an l.

My best guess is that Liebermilch is the English buttermilk, but I am by no means certain.

The text was removed after the first edition and placed in the Anhang, so it will not have appeared in any of the later editions of the KHM.

If possible, please provide some quotable sources, links, etc.

  • Liebfrauenmilch is very unlikely.
    – tofro
    Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 17:19
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    Es könnte von "Liberei", also frz. Livree kommen, als "was der Herr seinen Bediensteten zur Verfügung stellt" bzw. lat. "liber" im Sinne von "kostenlos"
    – tofro
    Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 17:23
  • I agree, Liebfrauenmilch is very unlikely. The Korpusbelege (Deutsches Textarchiv) only has the Grimm text as the example. The word is not found anywhere else that I see. The DTA goes back to 1488. Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 17:49
  • "Die Lange Nase" was told by Dorothea Viehmann and some of her fairy tales have french origins. So Libermilch may be a wrong adaption of a french word.
    – Janka
    Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 18:31
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    Grimm's language is far from old high German (Althochdeutsch), which was already replaced by Mittelhochdeutsch in the middle ages. So this tag is not really applicable here Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 11:13

5 Answers 5


Das "Wörterbuch der niederhessischen Mundart" (also ein Mundartwörterbuch aus der Gegend, aus der das Märchen stammt) sagt folgendes zu "libern":

libern ● lübbern ,coagulare, gerinnen‘, Niederhessen, allgemein üblich (Pfs. 1886); lewwern ,gerinnen‘, Oberellenbach (Hm. 1926). ● Vgl. mhd. liberen ,gerinnen‘. ● Siehe Lubermilch.

und zum Stichwort Lubermilch:

Lubermilch ● ,geronnene, saure (dicke) Milch‘, hin und wieder vorkommend, z.B. auf dem Habichtswald (Vil. 1868). ● Siehe libern.

Eine weitere Schreibweise findet man im Grimm unter libbern:

libbern, verb. gerinnen, zu einer schwammigen masse zusammenlaufen (etymologische bezüge zu lab und leber vergl. sp. 3. 460); ahd. liberôn, mhd. liberen und libberen:

daʒ iʒ (das blut) ûʒ den wundin dranc bî stuckin, want iʒ itzunt was gelibbrit. Jeroschin 17561; die kürze des stammvocals ist im östlichen Norddeutschland noch vielfach gewahrt; mitteldeutsch ist liefern, s. d. vgl. auch beliebern theil 1, 1449.

Den Vokalwandel zwischen dem Verb und dem Substantiv und "u" statt "i" in der Lubermilch darf man hier wohl ignorieren. Ich denke, das ist eine Übereinstimmung mit der Vokabel aus dem Märchen.

Es dürfte sich also um ganz normale "Dickmilch"/"Sauermilch" handeln.

Erstaunlich ist eigentlich eher, dass das Internet nur diese eine Fundstelle hergibt. Nordhessen scheint internetmäßig unterversorgt...

Die lokale Verbreitung dieses Begriffs scheint extrem auf die nordhessische Gegend um Kassel beschränkt zu sein. Es wäre interessant, wenn wir hier jemanden aus der Gegend hätten, der diesen Dialekt kennt.

  • Very interesting and thanks for digging this out.
    – Beta
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 18:29
  • @torfo. This seems the closest anyone has gotten so far! This answer "feels very right." Die Geschichte war nur in der Essten Ausgabe der KHM. Danach war die Geschichte im Anhang gedruckt. Vieleicht was das Wort so Verständlich das keine Erklärung nötig war. In anderen Texten sind Erklärungen: #1 Fretche = Frosch, 1812 #25 "Duns soviel als zog, von dinsen", 1815 #3 "1 D.h. Windchen wehe! nicht die Ausrufung ehou!" u.s.w. Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 19:58
  • I found the original dictionary that the web site mentions and that you list above. Not to be critical, but it looks like only the web page connects "libern" with "Lübber." The word "liber" is not found in the dictionary. I mention it because web info is not always 100% correct. With things like this I really like to see images of the actual printed book. As we saw before, OCR and other things lead to mistakes. Can we say with 100% certainty that "liber" is linked to "lübern" and "Liwwern"? It does say at the end: "Luther schrieb liefern = liwwern" - so we have "lieFern." But "F" is not "B" Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 14:59
  • We're getting closer.... see above edit for a trace in Grimm
    – tofro
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 16:00
  • Niederhessisch is a very good source and was my guess. Dorothea Viemann came from Nordhessen and the language there was not so influenced by Rhine dialects as in the rest of Hessen. The famous Low German influence line ran through northern Hessen at the time of the Grimm brothers.
    – Yves
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 20:20

Maybe this is not as well researched as to be a full answer, but here is a possible explanation:
I strongly believe the word means "thickened" or "clotted/coagulated". In Swedish we have the word "lever" which could mean liver or (blod-) clot. There is also a reflexive verb form derived from this wich means "to clot" or to stiffen. The word might be of a common Germanic origin.

There are old sour-milk variants that are really thick and "connected", so when you eat it you really have to bite off, else there is a all-or-nothing effect. This makes sense to the statement that the soldiors couldn't "bite off".
C.f. swedish "långfil" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lT_Ty-fJPHQ

  • It could. Is there any linguistic connection between "långfil", lever," "liber" and "luber"? Your answer seems close to the Rheinisches Wörterbuch entry for Lubber-milch Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 18:41
  • @Oliver-Grimm "Långfil" simply means "long" sourmilk, so there there isn't any linguistic connections. However for "lever" it seems possible, but I haven't found any sources to prove this
    – Beta
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 19:24
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    You are actually close. See my answer.
    – tofro
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 13:38

This apparently scholarly translation renders it as "milk pudding".


The fact remains that Libermilch does not seem to be found in any dictionary.

PS. I reposted the question here: https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/libermilch.3304172/ and had a good answer from the moderator berndf (no. 9)

  • I have seen that. That translation is problematic. It mixes texts from different editions. Some of the words are just nonsense. Since when was a "Hinkelbeinchen" a "gammy leg" ? It is a chicken bone, and very symbolic. It is not "an injured leg." Since when does "ein wild's Gebracht" mean "eating some venison"? "Milk pudding" just seems like the first, best, easiest thing. From the context we can all take good guesses at what it might be - it has to be something that older men can and do/did generally eat. They will/should "bite" it. It should be soft. It could be butter, buttermilk, yogurt? Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 20:11
  • Sorry.... "eating some wild venison" Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 15:11

I'm not an expert, so no guarantee, but I will try to answer your question.

The word liber seems to have three meanings that originated in the medieval age. The first is meant as a preference in favor of something else:

Habet filium Mertin der trincket liber milch denn wyn.

This means that someone is preferring milk instead of wine. More details here and here. Today you would say: 'lieber Milch statt Wein'.

The second is somewhat the meaning comparable to over. If you are describing the origin of something in a historical sense, you would say something came from X over Y to Z. Like horses came from Central Asia over Europe to America. It's really hard to find references, but from feeling this one (Encyclopaedisches Woerterbuch der medicinischen Wissenschaften) as well as this one (Das Schriftwesen im Mittelalter) might fit. Just search for "liber" within those documents and read the text before and after the occurrence.

The third, and I bet the best, explanation is a medical one. It is also related to how butter is made and it is connected to the second explanation. In medieval times butter was used as medicine against infections and other illnesses. And if you have fat milk, the early stage of butter (cream) will materialize on top (over/above) the milk if you just leave the milk for some days. So butter would be the thing above the milk, where liber is the old German word for 'über' (see second explanation). For details check the medical compendium: Liber simplicium medicinarum

It explains in old German language how butter is made from the thing 'liber milch'. One could argue that the translation to 'über' is also true for the name of books, like 'liber magicae', which you could translate to 'über Magie'. But this isn't true, because in this case liber is the latin word for book.

Last but not least, butter was produced because it lasted longer than pure milk and it is rich in proteins and fat. So it was commonly used by the army for their soldiers as lasting small volume nutritious food supply.

All this fits the sentence of the fairy tale. So, Libermilch seems to be an old word for butter while 'liber' looks like a Latin word that has been imported into German language from the Mediterranean area over Tyrol (Austria) and the alps resulting in the word 'über' today.

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    Libermilch as an old word for butter. This makes a lot of sense! It also fits perfectly into the context of the story. The men were so old that they could not even bite butter anymore. Any way to get links? I found the book, but have not found the exact reference yet. Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 0:13
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    Bei "Liber simplicium medicinarum" und "liber magicae" dürfte es sich eher um das lateinische "liber" (= "Buch") handeln.
    – Uwe
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 8:43
  • Indeed. Liber is the word for book. But as I said, I'm not an expert, but the explanation above sounds feasible. I also tried to find the reference again, but since I was online on my smartphone I couldn't find it anymore. There was a old-german book about medicine and how to make butter. It said libermilch ...
    – Matthias
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 10:16
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    "Liber magicae" means "The book of magic", not "About magic". From where do you get the idea that the Latin word "liber" was imported to German resulting in a word that means "über" (above/about)? Any reference?
    – Uwe
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 10:34
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    The links you are giving are very obviously either old spelling of lieber or scan errors from über (one sentence before, it's spelt "ueber". The Liber simplicium medicinarum I downloaded from here (reader.digitale-sammlungen.de/de/fs1/object/display/…) you give as a source is completely in Latin - I doubt it has "Libermilch" anywhere. Please give a credible reference how Libermilch would relate to Butter. Because I sincerely doubt that.
    – tofro
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 16:43

In German you can bite whine at least in some regions and in the Reblaussong. Beißen=to bite is part of Whine language.

Wolfgang Ambros - Die Reblaus Songtext http://www.songtexte.com/songtext/wolfgang-ambros/die-reblaus-13dcf941.html "drum tu den Wein ich auch nicht trinken, sondern beißen, und hab den roten grad so gern als wie den weißen."

Also Wikipedia: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weinsprache

This does not mean that it is really whine, but it might be (with low chance.).

There is only the fairy tale entry in DWDS, a large German text corpus.

(I cannot post the link but you find it easily.)

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