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E.P. Thompson used Geschichtenscheissenschlopff meaning unhistorical shit, but is as least construction of the word morphologically right? I fail to see what he could mean with 'schlopff'.

Did Thomson just used a pseudo-German word of his own creation? Was it intended as a joke?

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  • 5
    I'm going to guess that the schlopff part is meant to be a German sounding variant of "slop" since there doesn't seem to be any such German word, no matter how many f's you have at the end. I not really sure how you would translate "slop" for real; Quatsch maybe.
    – RDBury
    May 24, 2021 at 4:26
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    Geschichtenscheissenschlopff is just about a real German word as "history crap schlupf" would be a real English expression. Go figure. The rest of your question is about interpretation of an English political article from the 1970's. Obviously off-topic here.
    – tofro
    May 24, 2021 at 7:52
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    Yes, Thompson used pseudo-German. His intentions are unclear.
    – user41853
    May 24, 2021 at 8:34
  • @RDBury I think your comment should be an official answer. The existing answers fail to explain what "Schlopff" could mean.
    – Paul Frost
    May 24, 2021 at 23:56
  • You should give us a longer quoation.
    – Paul Frost
    May 25, 2021 at 0:00

4 Answers 4

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Going through the parts of the compound word:

Schlopff is not a word at all. "-pff" as a word ending doesn't exist any more in modern German. I can't think of any similar German word either that he could have meant, but see RDBury's comment: it could be an attempt at "germanizing" slop.

Geschichte and Scheisse are actual words (meaning history or story and shit respectively). However, Geschichten and Scheissen are wrongly declined forms of these for a compound word if history is meant. Moreover, Scheissen would be written Scheißen in German.

It's quite a typical creation of an english-speaking person making up a German-sounding compound word; they default to -en as as the most typical German-sounding word ending or make up syllables with lots of consonants like in "Schlopff".

So all in all we have something like "history shit slob". I'm lacking context to judge on the intentions of using a made-up/mockery German word and what exactly Thompson tries to express. He seemingly used it as if it was an actual word; for me to speculate further doesn't make sense.

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  • On English speakers making up German sounding words, having been a victim of Fahrvergnügen, I feel that German speakers aren't completely blameless here :)
    – RDBury
    May 24, 2021 at 17:32
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    @RDBury You know that German speakers like you and me and VW have the license to concatenate, as long as we follow die Regeln. :-) I actually like Fahrvergnügen.
    – HalvarF
    May 26, 2021 at 8:10
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Short answer:

No


long answer:

»Geschichtenscheissenschlopff« is a compound word, built from 3 parts:

  • Geschichte
    tale, story or history
  • Scheiße or scheißen
    shit (noun) or to shit (verb)
  • Schlopff
    ???

The first two parts are existing German words, but the third is not. There can't be any German word ending in »-pff« because this sequence of consonants doesnt make any sense. In German you have double consonants at the end of some syllables (and so also at the end of words) only for one reason: to indicate, that the vowel immediately before them has to be pronounced short. So, if there is no vowel before a consonant, the consonant can't be doubled.

When ever you find two equal consonants after another consonant, they do not belong to the same syllable, so a combination like »pff« can only exist inside a word, at the border of two syllabels (Kopfform = Kopf-form), but never at the end of a word.

So, it should be either »Schlopf« or »Schloff«, and there really is a German word »schloff«, but it's not a noun but a verb, and it's not the infinite form, but an inflected form. It's 1st or 3rd person singular indikative preterit active of »schliefen« which is a verb that is only used in Austria and southern parts of Germany. If means to move through a narrow opening, including puting on cloths:

Ich schloff in meine Patschen. Der Arbeiter schloff durch das Kanalrohr.
I pulled on my slippers. The worker crawled through the sewer pipe.

But »Geschichtenscheissenschlopff« is a noun, which means, that the last of its components also has to be a noun, so even trying to correct a possible typo doesn't lead to anything.


The next thing is the way how the three parts are glued together. You can have »Geschichten-« as the first part of a compound noun, but when you use -en- as Fugenelement, the word only can mean tale or story:

Geschichtenerzähler, Geschichtensammlung
storyteller, story collection

If you want the meaning history, you have to use an s instead

Geschichtsbuch, Geschichtsforschung
history book, history research

The context of this word implies, that it's about history, so it should be »Geschichts


The word »Scheiße« (English: shit) is used very often as part of a compound noun to indicate, that the whole thing that is described by the other components is bad, useless or causes troubles:

  • Scheißwetter = bad weather
  • Scheißjob = a job you don't like
  • Scheißregierung = Government when you believe they are doing their job wrong

Less frequently used, but also possible, is to have it as the last component of a word:

  • die Verordnungsscheiße = Regulations that you don't like

But when it's at the end, it more often just means shit

  • Hundescheiße = dog shit

So, when »Scheiße« is at the end, it ends just with an -e, sometimes even without it (der Verordnungsscheiß which also has another grammatical gender), but it never ends in -en.

If »Scheiße« is not at the end of a compound noun, it always appears just as the words stem, i.e. without any ending, it's just »scheiß-«.

Of coarse, you also can have verbs as parts of compound nouns as long as they aren't the last component, but in this case, verbs appear only as their stem (»Sprechverbot«, »Trinkbrunnen«, »Fahrgeschäft«), so also the verb scheißen would become scheiß- inside a compound noun.

So, also »scheißen« inside a compound noun is wrong.

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The word Geschichtenscheissenschlopff was certainly created by Thompson and it is definitely not a correct German word formation. If one reads the word, one finds the three components

  • Geschichten
  • scheissen
  • Schlopff

Taking it literally without any context, Geschichten means stories and scheissen means to shit. The third component is not a German word, it is a free invention of Thompson. So Geschichtenscheissen could be interpreted as to shit stories. However, this interpretation does not take into account Thompson's motive to create a fake word of German sound. Of course we can only speculate about it, but let us look at the context where he introduced it. Quotation from "The Poverty of Theory" (p. 299-300):

We might define the present situation more precisely if we employed a category found frequently in Marx’s correspondence with Engels, but a category which evaded Althusser’s vigilant symptomatic scrutiny. All this ‘shit’ (Geschichtenscheissenschlopff) in which both bourgeois sociology and Marxist structuralism stand up to their chins (Dahrendorf beside Poulantzas, modernization theory beside theoretical practice) has been shat upon us by conceptual paralysis, by the dehistoricising of process and by reducing class, ideology, social formations, and almost everything else, to categorical stasis... .the systems-analyses and structuralisms. . .the econometric and cleometric groovers – all of these theories hobble along programmed routes from one static category to the next. And all of them are Geschichtenscheissenschlopff, unhistorical shit.

This shows that Geschichtenscheissen should be understood as Geschichtsscheiße with components

  • Geschichts : This is the genitive form of Geschichte which stands for history.
  • Scheiße : This is the noun for shit.

Therefore producing Geschichtsscheiße means to tell shit about history, or in Thompson's own words to produce "unhistorical shit".

Although this explains the intended meaning of Geschichtenscheissen, it remains open why Thompson wanted to express this in German ands why he added "schlopff".

Concerning "schlopff" I think RDBury's comment that it is intended to be a German sounding variant of "slop" is convincing. Some of the other answers claim that the ending "-pff" is not used in modern standard German. This is true, but it occurs in Alsatian German. As an example take "Kugelhopff" (in standard German "Gugelhupf" which is sort of ring cake). A Google search produces quite a number of hits, e.g. this and this. Moreover, there are some family names like Rumpff with this ending.

But why German?

Let us read once again the above quotation or have a look at the following quotation from here:

E.P. Thompson’s The Poverty of Theory was published in 1978. It contains four of Thompson’s strongest and most trenchant essays in cultural criticism and is dominated by the essay from which it takes its title – a polemic, extending over some two hundred pages, against the thought of Louis Althusser and the influence of structuralist models on modern Marxist theory.

It becomes very clear that his book is a polemic against the French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser and against other people like the German-British sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf and the Greek-French Marxist political sociologist Nicos Poulantzas. I could imagine (but this is pure speculation) that Thompson allocates these people in the tradition of German philosophy and therefore deliberately uses the pseudo-German Geschichtenscheissenschlopff (which is itself, I am sorry for the rude expression, "Wortscheiße"). And, by the way, Althusser was French (born in Colonial Algeria), but his name is of German origin. In fact, his ancestors came from Alsace, and (again a wild speculation) this fits to the strange ending of "schlopff".

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No, Geschichtenscheissenschlopff is not a German word.

At first sight, it seems to be a composition of Geschichten (stories), scheißen (to shit, to excrete), and Schlopff. The composition of the first two, Geschichtenscheißen, would be understood in a vulgar manner as something like story excretion, but it is absolutely unidiomatic and certainly not used by a native speaker.

The main problem is due to Schlopff. On the one hand, I do not have any idea what it could mean; on the other hand, the ending -pff is atypical, compared to German words that rhyme with Schlopff:

  • Kopf
  • Topf
  • Schopf

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