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A friend will sometimes reply to my texts in German. His reply recently to a question was “Jawohl, Frau Hauptfrau.” The use of Frau Hauptfrau appears redundant. When I use lower case on Frau and Hauptfrau the sentence takes on a whole different translation.

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    It's not quite clear what you mean saying lower case? You cannot write "frau hauptfrau", it's ungrammatical. – Eller Dec 16 '18 at 15:57
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    People would also say "Herr Hauptmann", so no, it is not redundant. But it is unclear why you think making something lower case would be a good idea. – Rudy Velthuis Dec 16 '18 at 16:05
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    This is Google Translate being unpredictable or trying to guess the meaning when context is lacking. Hauptfrau can be translated as main wife in polygynic contexts but that makes little to no sense here to real humans. – Jan Dec 16 '18 at 16:57
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    Just to be clear: In the Bundeswehr, it's "Frau Hauptmann", "Frau Bootsmann", "Frau Stabsapotheker", etc. – phresnel Dec 17 '18 at 8:21
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    Think of "Mr. Sandman". Neither "Mr." nor "-man" are redundant. – Rudy Velthuis Dec 17 '18 at 11:11
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Q: Are the two uses of “Frau” in “Frau Hauptfrau” redundant?

No. It's not redundant:

  • Frau is a form of address: like madam or mister, in this case the standard German female form of address.

  • Hauptfrau is a form of title: probably a word play on function, either alluding to (mock/pseudo) polygamous relationship, or derived from an analogon to Hauptmann, (with a pseudo feminist or mock-progressive undertone) although that specific word is currently not really en vogue for that scenario. It doesn't need to be a military context, but is in the case of OP just indicating something like "this female is authorised to give orders".


As Rudy Velthuis commented:

Think of "Mr. Sandman". Neither "Mr." nor "-man" are redundant.

To which I'd like to expand, suppose the name of a male is Liebherr:

Lieber Herr Liebherr, (Dear Mr Liebherr)

Looks awfully redundant, but no part can be left out without changing the meaning quite significantly.

And since "Jawohl" attracts so much attention here, another example illustrating a strictly non-military, but hierarchical context:

Jawohl, Herr Unterkammerherr. (Yes sir, Mr under chamberlain.)


The corresponding Herr Hauptmann is equally not redundant, despite Herr and -mann also both indicating male.
As redundancy implies that one part might be superfluous: leaving out the second part of Hauptfrau makes no sense. Leaving out the first Frau, the honorific address, changes the meaning.


In response to comments: "Jawohl, Herr Hauptmann/Frau Hauptfrau!" is not such much (or even strongly?) indicative of a real military context, but very probably just alluding to one –– or a similar situation; more often jokingly playful than really Prussian militaristic tone.

Or as @schmuddi has put it:

It's not just the jawohl that suggests the military context but the whole construction Jawohl, Herr [Rang], where [Rang] refers to the position in a strict hierarchy, and no last name follows. Granted, something like Jawohl, Herr Professor might be used in a non-military context, but it appears horribly old-fashioned to me, especially if contrasted with a much more appropriate Jawohl, Herr Professor Schmuddi which you'd still encounter in contemporary use. Note: This may be different in Austrian and Swiss German.


But "military context" is strictly not what the situation in question describes: "a friend writing occasionally to a female with that form of address". As emphasised elsewhere on this page, "Hauptfrau" *is not the correct form of address in the German army anyway, and this is not alternated with the correct form, to make the joke.

In any case: the meaning and context of "Hauptfrau" or "Jawohl" is interesting in it self, but hardly applicable to this question and almost totally irrelevant to the question of whether this is redundant or not.

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    In my opinion, "Jawohl" is strongly indicating military context. – idkfa Dec 17 '18 at 7:38
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    "Jawohl" does not indicate military context, and definitely not "strongly" - waiters or hotel person staff and sometimes even sales people also would use this. – ohno Dec 17 '18 at 11:59
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    It's not just the jawohl that suggests the military context but the whole construction Jawohl, Herr [Rang], where [Rang] refers to the position in a strict hierarchy, and no last name follows. Granted, something like Jawohl, Herr Professor might be used in a non-military context, but it appears horribly old-fashioned to me, especially if contrasted with a much more appropriate Jawohl, Herr Professor Schmuddi which you'd still encounter in contemporary use. Note: This may be different in Austrian and Swiss German. – Schmuddi Dec 17 '18 at 13:32
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    A simple example in English that isn't quite comparable would be: "Hello, Mr Chairman". You can't remove the "man" because then you're saying "Hello Mr Chair" which is rather a different greeting. – Jon Story Dec 17 '18 at 16:56
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    I think outside of the military context, an unironic "Jawohl" is only used out of habit by (former) soldiers. Usually it's ironically to mock someone for beeing bossy. – kapex Dec 18 '18 at 10:38
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"Hauptfrau" seems to be a feminized version of "Hauptmann", a rank in the German army equivalent to a Captain in the US Army. However, the term "Hauptfrau" is incorrect. Military ranks do not get gendered. So a woman holding the rank of Hauptmann in the German army is addressed with "Frau Hauptmann".

"Jawohl" is the preferred way to affirm an order in the German army.

So the military correct way to respond to an order from a female Hauptmann and/or to mock a woman who is acting like one would be "Jawohl, Frau Hauptmann". Next time your friend writes this, I recommend to establish your military authority by responding with: "Es heißt 'Jawohl Frau Hauptmann', Gefreiter [surname]! Wegtreten!".

(Gefreiter = lowest rank in the German army, Wegtreten = order to leave and execute the orders the soldier just received)

Source: I used to be a soldier in the German army and got scolded for making this mistake once.

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    Actually, Gefreiter is only the second lowest rank. – Paŭlo Ebermann Dec 17 '18 at 21:02
  • @PaŭloEbermann I knew that sooner or later someone would claim that. But I am not going to debate you because it would just lead to a boring off-topic discussion about semantics. – Philipp Dec 17 '18 at 21:28
  • Military ranks do not get gendered.: This might change soon. In the UK it's already happening. At least, if we can trust the Daily Mail and other news media with (even) lower reputation. (dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6500361/…) – Frank from Frankfurt Dec 19 '18 at 8:42
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The word "Hauptfrau" can have different meanings.

Normally when I hear the word "Hauptfrau" I would translate it as "first wife" or "head wife". In some cultures (Germany not included), a man can have multiple wives, with the "Hauptfrau" being the first or most important wife.

In this context, however, I would interpret it as the female form of "Hauptmann", which translates to "captain" in the military sense.

So as "Jawohl, Herr Hauptmann." translates to "Yes, captain." or "Yes, sir." I would say that "Jawohl, Frau Hauptfrau." translates to "Yes, captain." or "Yes, ma'am."

I do think it sounds a bit funny because of the word "Frau" appearing twice, but it is still correct.

Edit:

A quick google search reveals that there is no official female form of "Hauptmann":

Dienstgrade in der Bundeswehr – Keine "Hauptfrau" als Kompaniechefin, n-tv, 02. Juli 2001:

Im täglichen Sprachgebrauch wird lediglich der übliche Dienstgrad mit der weiblichen Anrede versehen. So wird die "Frau Hauptmann" ebenso normal sein wie die "Frau Bootsmann", die es bei den Sanitäterinnen schon seit 25 Jahren gibt.

So a woman would be called "Frau Hauptmann" if she was the captain of a company.

Anyway, I still think that your friend wanted to call you "captain" and tried to be politically correct by using what he thought was the female form of the word.

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    Also, Gabriele Burgstaller preferred to be called Frau Landeshauptfrau when she was Landeshauptmann (Councillor) of state Salzburg. Wiki – rexkogitans Dec 17 '18 at 7:07
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I believe this to be a variant of the somewhat more common ‘Jawohl, Herr Hauptmann!’ It is a phrase associated with accepting the order of your superior in the military. (As I have never been in the military, I cannot tell you how high up a Hauptmann is and whether it would be considered the correct reply or not. I do note that for non-soldiers it is immediately recognisable as such.)

In this male form, Herr is the same title that would be added before one’s name in sufficiently formal contexts: Herr Müller, Herr Schneider. Using Herr together with a function is possible (sometimes preferable) if one doesn’t know the person’s surname or if there is precedence in protocol: Herr Schaffner, Herr Bundeskanzler, Herr Präsident. For women, this Herr becomes Frau in all contexts: Frau Müller, Frau Schaffnerin, Frau Bundeskanzlerin.

Hauptmann is one of the German job descriptions ending in -mann which corresponds to the English ending -man. Another example is Kaufmann, in English this compares e.g. to policeman, congressman. Where the person performing this job is not male but female, it is common to replace the final -mann with -frau in German as you would replace -man with -woman in English: Kaufmann becomes Kauffrau and congressman becomes congresswoman. (As the other answer notes, military grades may follow different rules.)

In the combination of both, we have the title (which happens to be Frau) and the job (which happens to end in Frau) and we put the two together to give:

Frau Hauptfrau

It does seem a little comical even to German speakers but it is undoubtedly grammatically correct.

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    I would argue that Hauptmännin is also grammatically correct and semantically preferred, although it would have referred to the wife of an officer in the 19th century. Military ranks are rarely derived into a feminine form, and for many of them it feels strange (Majorin, Gefreite), uncertain (Oberste?, Generalin/Generälin) or even wrong (*Leutnantin). – Crissov Dec 17 '18 at 7:26
  • @Crissov I hope I didn’t imply semantic preference anywhere, only grammatical correctness. On the other ranks: I would argue that Oberste would be the female form of Oberster so I would maybe prefer Oberstin. On the other hand, the French look of Leutnant leads me to suggest Leutnante as a female form – but I consider this academic speculation for the most part as the Bundeswehr will state what it considers correct when it needs to. – Jan Dec 17 '18 at 7:55

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