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Useful new phrase

June 15, 2010 Leave a comment

The Guardian’s report on the trials and tribulations of German chancellor Angela Merkel includes this:

Merkel called at the weekend for the government partners to bury the hatchet over their disagreements after a week when relations reached such a low that members of her government had variously referred to each other as “wild pigs” and “gherkin troops” (rank amateurs).

Hmmm…”gherkin troops”. I like it. But whence does it derive? A cack-handed translation from German? The only military reference to gherkins I can find on the web say that Napoleon fed gherkins to his troops and the 40% of the US “pickle” (as they call them) production during WWII went to the troops.

Well, you could hardly call the Grande Armée “rank amateurs” and while many US troops in WWII were undertrained and casual in their attitude to authority, they did play a major part in the Allied victory, so why the derogative meaning?

The Telegraph has it as “Gurkentruppe” or “cucumber troops”, which it translates as “bunch of idiots”. That doesn’t take matters much further.

The other question to be asked is: “How long before Matthew Parris claims he introduced it to British media?”

UPDATE: Andrew Hammel’s useful site for all things German is on the case, so perhaps we’ll know the answers to these mysteries soon.