Letter 76

• 76. Caroline to Lotte Michaelis in Göttingen: Clausthal 1787

[Clausthal 1787]

|159| . . . Auguste is delightfully amiable, I worship her; the child I am anticipating [1] is but a little Unkepunz in my imagination, I do not love it beforehand the way I loved the first. [2] . . .


[1] Sophie Therese, later called “Röschen,” was born on 23 April 1787. Here a contemporary engraving by Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki portraying this uncertain time for the pregnant woman at home (Kupfersammlung zu J[ohann] B[ernhard] Basedows Elementarwerke für die Jugend und ihre Freunde: Erste Lieferung in 53 Tafeln. Zweyte Lieferung in 47 Tafeln von L bis XCVI [Leipzig, Dessau, Berlin 1774], plate 29a):



[2] Germ. Unkepunz, approx. “little bogeyman- or gremlin-like creature, a little terrorkin, little monsterkin, frightkin, mischievous sprite” (so Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch 24:1087, which also adduces this present passage from Caroline’s letter), in reference to a small child or infant. Caroline uses this curious term again in her letter to Auguste on 21 September 1799 (letter 244).

Therese Huber uses a slightly different version of the word in a letter to her son in 1824 (Ludwig Geiger, Therese Huber. 1764 bis 1829. Leben und Briefe einer deutschen Frau [Stuttgart 1901], 11), using the term Ungepunz in the sense of “piece of junk” in reference to a hand-made purse she remembered from her childhood, which at the time was considered a “masterpiece” but later would have been viewed as a “mere Ungepunz.”

Karl August Böttiger (Litterarische Zustände und Zeitgenossen: In Schilderungen aus Karl Aug. Böttiger’s handschriftlichem Nachlasse, 2 vols., ed. K. W. Böttiger [Leipzig 1838], 1:64) uses the same word in the plural, Unkepunze, alongside Schächer, “poor wretches, poor fellows,” albeit figuratively (see also Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm Schlegel on 18 May 1801 [letter 317], note 35).

The word does not, however, appear as such in Georg Schambach, Wörterbuch der niederdeutschen Mundart der Fürstenthümer Göttingen und Grubenhagen, oder Göttingisch-Grubenhagen’sches Idiotikon (Hannover 1858), where (243) Unke is taken to refer to a “ghostly being in folk religion that is assumed to weave the main of horses into inextricably tangle plaits at night.” See also Adelung, s.v. Unke: “a Frog, Snake, a Kind of Serpent creeping into Houses and loving to lap up Cow-Milk.” Ludwig Tieck uses the root in “Die Zeichen im Walde. Romanze,” published in the Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1802, 2–24, first stanza:

Ah, my son, how horiffically howling
Does the Unke lament from the moor!
Do you not also hear the ravens cawing?
The ghosts in the storm?

Erich Schmidt (1913), 1:685, was himself also referred to Puns, Punz, in the meaning of “hairnet,” Bremisch-niedersächsisches Wörterbuch, worin nicht nur die in und um Bremen, sondern auch fast in ganz Niedersachsen gebräuchliche eigenthümliche Mundart, 5 vols. (Bremen 1767–71), 3:378. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott