Re: Ur-books

Subject: Re: Ur-books
From: Jan Henning <henning -at- r-l -dot- de>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 22 Jan 2004 19:20:45 +0100

I'll put several replies into one letter; hopefully that's OK with everybody.

Someone once taught me that when writing in English
words that in German have umlauts one is supposed to
use an 'e' instead, which would make it ueber if we
were writing the German word. Is that true?

Yes, that's true. The spelling of umlauts as the base letter with an 'e' appended is used in cases where no true umlaut is available.

(In the same way, you can write 'ß' - the German double s or s-z ligature - as 'ss'. In fact, the Swiss have completely done away with the ligature in favor of 'ss'.)

"The prefix 'ur' itself is the name of the city Ur, which German
archeologists thought for many years to be the oldest city. It is in the
Iraqi Tigris/Euphrates area. American bombers successfully flattened it."

Nice story, but - according to several dictionaries that I consulted - completely untrue. (It also makes no sense in that the use of the prefix 'ur'  predates the development of archeology.)

The German prefix "ur" has nothing whatsoever to do with the biblical/Mesopotamian city of Ur.

... and where do you suppose the Germans got this prefix?

Where they got all their other 'own' words. Apparently, the prefix has been part of German since it makes sense to speak of a German language (i.e., some time in the first millennium). It has developed from a similar word in the predessor germanic/indogermanic languages. (Details are available in etymological works; I don't think it makes sense to repeat them here.)

Jan Henning

Jan Henning
Am Schlossberg 14, D-82547 Eurasburg, Germany

Phone: +49 700 0200 0700, Fax: +49 8179 9307-12
E-Mail: henning -at- r-l -dot- de, Web:

Re: Ur-books: From: Ilona Koren-Deutsch

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