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When is a glove not a glove? When it’s a shoe for the hand, says Tony Barrell

JULY 2020

I’m fond of the German language – what little I know of it. There are 
strict rules about gender, case and word order, and they make fabulous compound nouns like Straßenverkehrsampel (traffic light) and Fallschirmspringerschule (parachute-jumping school). Those compound nouns don’t have to be ridiculously long to be funny. I remember laughing out loud in a lesson at college when I first heard the common German word for “glove” – Handschuh, or “hand shoe”, which perceives a glove as a kind of shoe that fits over the hand.

Later I came across an English word that is just as absurd: “footglove”, for a type of shoe. When I first saw footgloves for sale in Marks & Spencer (looking for all the world like ladies’ leather shoes), I thought: “Oh! These are gloves that fit over the feet. The opposite of German gloves, which are shoes that fit over the hands.”

So – and here’s the fun bit – how would one translate “footglove” into German? You would have to call it a Fußhandschuh, or a “foot-hand-shoe”, wouldn’t you? A shoe for the hand that fits over the foot.

It was all so much simpler for the distant ancestors of the human race who walked about on all fours, wasn’t it? Everything was just a “shoe” back then.

© 2020 Tony Barrell


July 10, 2020

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About the Author

Tony Barrell is a pop historian, journalist, editor and Londoner who has spent much of his life interviewing musicians. He has written many major articles for The Sunday Times and other publications. His 2017 work The Beatles on the Roof is the first book to be published about the Fab Four’s famous 1969 rooftop concert.

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