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Walter Miller's German
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Gary Lynch
2021-06-07 00:26:35 UTC
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This article contains minor spoilers about the novelette, "The
Darfsteller."

I have just finished a group discussion of Walter M. Miller, Jr's "The
Darfsteller", which first appeared in the January, 1955, issue of
_Astounding_Science_Fiction_. One aspect of the story no one could
explain was the origin of the title, which appears to be a pun in
German, combining "Darsteller" (actor) with the first-person, singular
form of "dürfen" (to have permission to). According to Wikipedia, this
term applied to a human actor on a stage normally populated by robots
under control of an AI. The human is free to interpret the scene
according to his own instincts, not as a slave to a central control.

The big question that neither we nor Wikipedia could answer was "Why
German?" The story is set in a large, American metropolis that looks
like New York City and the title is never tied to anything within the
story. It seems clear that Miller was pretty fluent in German to invent
such a word, but the same cannot be said of the average science fiction
reader in 1955.

I have parsed a few Miller biographies but cannot find anything that
looks like an explanation. Does anyone have an idea?

Advance thanks for any insights.
Dorothy J Heydt
2021-06-07 00:49:00 UTC
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Post by Gary Lynch
This article contains minor spoilers about the novelette, "The
Darfsteller."
I have just finished a group discussion of Walter M. Miller, Jr's "The
Darfsteller", which first appeared in the January, 1955, issue of
_Astounding_Science_Fiction_. One aspect of the story no one could
explain was the origin of the title, which appears to be a pun in
German, combining "Darsteller" (actor) with the first-person, singular
form of "dÃŒrfen" (to have permission to). According to Wikipedia, this
term applied to a human actor on a stage normally populated by robots
under control of an AI. The human is free to interpret the scene
according to his own instincts, not as a slave to a central control.
I seem to remember reading that "darfsteller" made its way into
theatrical parlance in English, meaning "an actor who won't take
direction." Lorenzo the Magnificent, e.g.
Post by Gary Lynch
The big question that neither we nor Wikipedia could answer was "Why
German?" The story is set in a large, American metropolis that looks
like New York City and the title is never tied to anything within the
story. It seems clear that Miller was pretty fluent in German to invent
such a word, but the same cannot be said of the average science fiction
reader in 1955.
I have parsed a few Miller biographies but cannot find anything that
looks like an explanation. Does anyone have an idea?
Advance thanks for any insights.
Well, as I said, I *think* the term made it into English.

And this Wikipedia article suggests that I may have remembered
the definition correctly.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Darfsteller

"...generally hated by directors even when they performed
excellently."
--
Dorothy J. Heydt
Vallejo, California
djheydt at gmail dot com
Www.kithrup.com/~djheydt/
Wolffan
2021-06-07 03:39:31 UTC
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Post by Dorothy J Heydt
Post by Gary Lynch
This article contains minor spoilers about the novelette, "The
Darfsteller."
I have just finished a group discussion of Walter M. Miller, Jr's "The
Darfsteller", which first appeared in the January, 1955, issue of
_Astounding_Science_Fiction_. One aspect of the story no one could
explain was the origin of the title, which appears to be a pun in
German, combining "Darsteller" (actor) with the first-person, singular
form of "dürfen" (to have permission to). According to Wikipedia, this
term applied to a human actor on a stage normally populated by robots
under control of an AI. The human is free to interpret the scene
according to his own instincts, not as a slave to a central control.
I seem to remember reading that "darfsteller" made its way into
theatrical parlance in English, meaning "an actor who won't take
direction." Lorenzo the Magnificent, e.g.
Post by Gary Lynch
The big question that neither we nor Wikipedia could answer was "Why
German?" The story is set in a large, American metropolis that looks
like New York City and the title is never tied to anything within the
story. It seems clear that Miller was pretty fluent in German to invent
such a word, but the same cannot be said of the average science fiction
reader in 1955.
I have parsed a few Miller biographies but cannot find anything that
looks like an explanation. Does anyone have an idea?
Advance thanks for any insights.
Well, as I said, I *think* the term made it into English.
And this Wikipedia article suggests that I may have remembered
the definition correctly.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Darfsteller
"...generally hated by directors even when they performed
excellently."
Ah. Dustin Hoffman’s character in Tootsie, Michael Dorsey, and the reason
why Dorsey became Dorothy Michaels...
Michael F. Stemper
2021-06-07 13:30:40 UTC
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Post by Gary Lynch
This article contains minor spoilers about the novelette, "The
Darfsteller."
I have just finished a group discussion of Walter M. Miller, Jr's "The
Darfsteller", which first appeared in the January, 1955, issue of
_Astounding_Science_Fiction_. One aspect of the story no one could
explain was the origin of the title, which appears to be a pun in
German, combining "Darsteller" (actor) with the first-person, singular
form of "dürfen" (to have permission to). According to Wikipedia, this
term applied to a human actor on a stage normally populated by robots
under control of an AI.
Having just re-read "The Darfsteller" Saturday, I can confirm that what
Wikipedia says is consistent with the story.
Post by Gary Lynch
The big question that neither we nor Wikipedia could answer was "Why
German?" The story is set in a large, American metropolis that looks
like New York City
... which was the landing point for a lot of European immigrants;
especially in the post-War era. Of course non-English terms were in
use in such an environment.
Post by Gary Lynch
like New York City and the title is never tied to anything within the
story. It seems clear that Miller was pretty fluent in German to invent
such a word,
Which answers "Why German instead of Basque or Italian?"
Post by Gary Lynch
but the same cannot be said of the average science fiction
reader in 1955.
I think that you're possibly underestimating the average science fiction
fan of 1955 (or any other year). A couple of points:
1. If we are to believe a lot of reminiscences, the average science
fiction fan of 1955 probably lived in NYC.
2. At the risk of claiming "fans are slans", we are probably more
curious than the average person.
3. The story works just fine without knowing that the word is a pun.
At least it did on Saturday.
--
Michael F. Stemper
Zechariah 7:10
J. Clarke
2021-06-07 14:30:20 UTC
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On Mon, 7 Jun 2021 08:30:40 -0500, "Michael F. Stemper"
Post by Michael F. Stemper
Post by Gary Lynch
This article contains minor spoilers about the novelette, "The
Darfsteller."
I have just finished a group discussion of Walter M. Miller, Jr's "The
Darfsteller", which first appeared in the January, 1955, issue of
_Astounding_Science_Fiction_. One aspect of the story no one could
explain was the origin of the title, which appears to be a pun in
German, combining "Darsteller" (actor) with the first-person, singular
form of "dürfen" (to have permission to). According to Wikipedia, this
term applied to a human actor on a stage normally populated by robots
under control of an AI.
Having just re-read "The Darfsteller" Saturday, I can confirm that what
Wikipedia says is consistent with the story.
Post by Gary Lynch
The big question that neither we nor Wikipedia could answer was "Why
German?" The story is set in a large, American metropolis that looks
like New York City
... which was the landing point for a lot of European immigrants;
especially in the post-War era. Of course non-English terms were in
use in such an environment.
Post by Gary Lynch
like New York City and the title is never tied to anything within the
story. It seems clear that Miller was pretty fluent in German to invent
such a word,
Which answers "Why German instead of Basque or Italian?"
Post by Gary Lynch
but the same cannot be said of the average science fiction
reader in 1955.
I think that you're possibly underestimating the average science fiction
1. If we are to believe a lot of reminiscences, the average science
fiction fan of 1955 probably lived in NYC.
2. At the risk of claiming "fans are slans", we are probably more
curious than the average person.
3. The story works just fine without knowing that the word is a pun.
At least it did on Saturday.
4. Fen tend to be nerden who tend to be STEMen and at that time just
about any STEM degree required 2 years of college German.
5. Ever tried to hit on a femfan and gotten cussed out in Japanese,
Mandarin, Sindharin, and Dothraki?
Dorothy J Heydt
2021-06-07 15:54:31 UTC
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Post by Michael F. Stemper
Post by Gary Lynch
This article contains minor spoilers about the novelette, "The
Darfsteller."
I have just finished a group discussion of Walter M. Miller, Jr's "The
Darfsteller", which first appeared in the January, 1955, issue of
_Astounding_Science_Fiction_. One aspect of the story no one could
explain was the origin of the title, which appears to be a pun in
German, combining "Darsteller" (actor) with the first-person, singular
form of "dÃŒrfen" (to have permission to). According to Wikipedia, this
term applied to a human actor on a stage normally populated by robots
under control of an AI.
A human actor, what's more, who would not* take direction.

_____
*Or rather, could not, because he didn't have a built-in
tape-reader (and he'd destroyed the tape).
______
Post by Michael F. Stemper
Having just re-read "The Darfsteller" Saturday, I can confirm that what
Wikipedia says is consistent with the story.
Post by Gary Lynch
The big question that neither we nor Wikipedia could answer was "Why
German?" The story is set in a large, American metropolis that looks
like New York City
... which was the landing point for a lot of European immigrants;
especially in the post-War era. Of course non-English terms were in
use in such an environment.
Post by Gary Lynch
like New York City and the title is never tied to anything within the
story. It seems clear that Miller was pretty fluent in German to invent
such a word,
Which answers "Why German instead of Basque or Italian?"
Which also raises the question, "Was it German-- or Yiddish, a
language that added many words to the English theatrical
vocabulary?"
Post by Michael F. Stemper
Post by Gary Lynch
but the same cannot be said of the average science fiction
reader in 1955.
I think that you're possibly underestimating the average science fiction
1. If we are to believe a lot of reminiscences, the average science
fiction fan of 1955 probably lived in NYC.
2. At the risk of claiming "fans are slans", we are probably more
curious than the average person.
3. The story works just fine without knowing that the word is a pun.
At least it did on Saturday.
And, I repeat, it's theatrical jargon.
--
Dorothy J. Heydt
Vallejo, California
djheydt at gmail dot com
Www.kithrup.com/~djheydt/
Michael F. Stemper
2021-06-07 18:22:48 UTC
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Post by Dorothy J Heydt
Post by Michael F. Stemper
Post by Gary Lynch
This article contains minor spoilers about the novelette, "The
Darfsteller."
I have just finished a group discussion of Walter M. Miller, Jr's "The
Darfsteller", which first appeared in the January, 1955, issue of
_Astounding_Science_Fiction_. One aspect of the story no one could
explain was the origin of the title, which appears to be a pun in
German, combining "Darsteller" (actor) with the first-person, singular
form of "dürfen" (to have permission to). According to Wikipedia, this
term applied to a human actor on a stage normally populated by robots
under control of an AI.
A human actor, what's more, who would not* take direction.
_____
*Or rather, could not, because he didn't have a built-in
tape-reader (and he'd destroyed the tape).
And also because he was constitutionally unable to do so.
Post by Dorothy J Heydt
Post by Michael F. Stemper
Having just re-read "The Darfsteller" Saturday, I can confirm that what
Wikipedia says is consistent with the story.
Post by Gary Lynch
The big question that neither we nor Wikipedia could answer was "Why
German?" The story is set in a large, American metropolis that looks
like New York City
... which was the landing point for a lot of European immigrants;
especially in the post-War era. Of course non-English terms were in
use in such an environment.
Post by Gary Lynch
like New York City and the title is never tied to anything within the
story. It seems clear that Miller was pretty fluent in German to invent
such a word,
Which answers "Why German instead of Basque or Italian?"
Which also raises the question, "Was it German-- or Yiddish, a
language that added many words to the English theatrical
vocabulary?"
Could very well have been Yiddish.
Post by Dorothy J Heydt
Post by Michael F. Stemper
Post by Gary Lynch
but the same cannot be said of the average science fiction
reader in 1955.
I think that you're possibly underestimating the average science fiction
1. If we are to believe a lot of reminiscences, the average science
fiction fan of 1955 probably lived in NYC.
2. At the risk of claiming "fans are slans", we are probably more
curious than the average person.
3. The story works just fine without knowing that the word is a pun.
At least it did on Saturday.
And, I repeat, it's theatrical jargon.
Are you saying that it is theatrical jargon *outside of the story*?
--
Michael F. Stemper
This sentence no verb.
Dorothy J Heydt
2021-06-07 19:47:01 UTC
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Post by Michael F. Stemper
Post by Dorothy J Heydt
Post by Michael F. Stemper
Post by Gary Lynch
This article contains minor spoilers about the novelette, "The
Darfsteller."
I have just finished a group discussion of Walter M. Miller, Jr's "The
Darfsteller", which first appeared in the January, 1955, issue of
_Astounding_Science_Fiction_. One aspect of the story no one could
explain was the origin of the title, which appears to be a pun in
German, combining "Darsteller" (actor) with the first-person, singular
form of "dÌrfen" (to have permission to). According to Wikipedia, this
term applied to a human actor on a stage normally populated by robots
under control of an AI.
A human actor, what's more, who would not* take direction.
_____
*Or rather, could not, because he didn't have a built-in
tape-reader (and he'd destroyed the tape).
And also because he was constitutionally unable to do so.
Post by Dorothy J Heydt
Post by Michael F. Stemper
Having just re-read "The Darfsteller" Saturday, I can confirm that what
Wikipedia says is consistent with the story.
Post by Gary Lynch
The big question that neither we nor Wikipedia could answer was "Why
German?" The story is set in a large, American metropolis that looks
like New York City
... which was the landing point for a lot of European immigrants;
especially in the post-War era. Of course non-English terms were in
use in such an environment.
Post by Gary Lynch
like New York City and the title is never tied to anything within the
story. It seems clear that Miller was pretty fluent in German to invent
such a word,
Which answers "Why German instead of Basque or Italian?"
Which also raises the question, "Was it German-- or Yiddish, a
language that added many words to the English theatrical
vocabulary?"
Could very well have been Yiddish.
Post by Dorothy J Heydt
Post by Michael F. Stemper
Post by Gary Lynch
but the same cannot be said of the average science fiction
reader in 1955.
I think that you're possibly underestimating the average science fiction
1. If we are to believe a lot of reminiscences, the average science
fiction fan of 1955 probably lived in NYC.
2. At the risk of claiming "fans are slans", we are probably more
curious than the average person.
3. The story works just fine without knowing that the word is a pun.
At least it did on Saturday.
And, I repeat, it's theatrical jargon.
Are you saying that it is theatrical jargon *outside of the story*?
Yes. I've known that since I don't know when, and I don't speak
Yiddish, but I've known the term for years, defined as "an actor
who won't take direction."
--
Dorothy J. Heydt
Vallejo, California
djheydt at gmail dot com
Www.kithrup.com/~djheydt/
Quadibloc
2021-06-07 20:16:39 UTC
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Yes. I've known that since I don't know when, and I don't speak
Yiddish, but I've known the term for years, defined as "an actor
who won't take direction."
Although I recognized it was your meaning that it was real-life
theatrical jargon from context, just now I thought I'd see if I could
find confirmation.

An ordinary Google search on the term only produces references to
the story, and searching on Google Books with a date range up to 1954
produces nothing. So this example of theatrical slang seems to have
left behind few footprints.

It's possible that if it is Yiddish instead of German, it is actually
spelled slightly differently in actual use - one slim possibility to
explain my difficulty.

John Savard
Titus G
2021-06-08 02:47:33 UTC
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On 8/06/21 7:47 am, Dorothy J Heydt wrote:
snip
Post by Dorothy J Heydt
Post by Michael F. Stemper
Post by Dorothy J Heydt
A human actor, what's more, who would not* take direction.
Are you saying that it is theatrical jargon *outside of the story*?
Yes. I've known that since I don't know when, and I don't speak
Yiddish, but I've known the term for years, defined as "an actor
who won't take direction."
Walter M. Miller Jr. is one of my favourite authors and The Darfsteller
was a solid 4 star read for me. Thank you for the background comments in
this thread.

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