Who has never heard or seen a poodle? My first longer-time encounter was with a so-called Standard Poodle my American Aunt and Uncle used to have. Charlie was ginormous and gentle, felt ashamed of his looks when he came back from the groomer, and did his best to destroy any fancy accessories on him as soon as he saw an opportunity. He loved ice cream and begged me to share my food with him in pressing his big head onto my thigh when I sat at the dining table. He once even ran almost to the bottom of the street when I returned from the theater at night and brought me home safely.
Poodles are a race that has undergone a lot of changes over the centuries. One is that everybody supposes they hailed from Germany – until the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) decided in 1930 it was France. Who knows, there might have been political reasons for that. Just kidding. Anyway, the word “poodle” in itself is a Germanism in the English language – though in German it is spelled Pudel – and derives from the Low German word “puddeln”, which means to splash. Poodles used to be water dogs valuable in hunting waterfowl. To this day, they are known to love to retrieve things, to be highly intelligent, and to be protective (but not useful as guard dogs). They are great family dogs. This all applied to said family poodle, Charlie.
I won’t go into what else defines a poodle as a poodle according to the FCI. Just that mixed colors, for example, are a no-go. They were often put on vaudeville stages or in circus arenas, especially the small versions of them, to perform tricks. I have seen plenty of those during my childhood.
There are also German idioms using the poodle as an image. “Dastehen wie ein begossener Pudel (pronounce ‘duh-stay-hen vee ine beh-‘gossener poodle, standing there like a showered poodle) means to be crestfallen. The image is that of a poodle that got itself wet without meaning to. Another idiom is “pudelnass” (pronounce poodle nuss, poodle wet), wet as a poodle. Makes sense when you think of a dog retrieving fowl from a pond or – as was custom in Paris, France, until the 1950s – cleaning sewers! Another one is “Das ist des Pudels Kern” (pronounce duss ist das poodles cairn, that is the poodle’s core), meaning “that is the gist of the matter”. It refers to the German philosopher Schopenhauer, who believed that one poodle contained all poodles, one human being all human beings, etc. Basically, that there is an inherent sameness of essence to everything belonging to the same species.
“Pudel” is also the German term for a total miss in playing skittles. I had to check this one in a skittles dictionary because I never had an idea why a retrieving dog was blamed for a miss instead of a hit. Turns out that skittles, before alleys were moved into the basement of taverns, used to be played outdoors. In order to keep the alley to the skittles dry, there were drainage channels, so-called gutters, to its left and right. They collected “Puddel” (indeed, again the term for puddle or splashing). And as a poodle loves puddles … You get it.
Isn’t it fun splashing around in the pool of interactive languages?! More of it next week!