eine Königin unter den Bieren (among vs under)

Discussion in 'Deutsch (German)' started by Hau Ruck, Mar 28, 2012.

  1. Hau Ruck

    Hau Ruck Senior Member

    United States - Midwest
    English - U.S.
    Hallo Alles,

    I understand that unter can mean both under and among. I've never quite understood how one could distinguish which the speaker is saying?

    As in the classic: Eine Königin unter den Bieren

    How would a person know to assume this as a queen among beers rather than a queen under beers?
    Why would they not choose perhaps zwischen for clarity?

    Vielen Dank im voraus!
  2. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    It is an idiom.
    And "zwischen" has clarity but another sense. It means that the queen is placed between the beers.

    In our case "unter" is an idiom.
    Der beste der Studenten=der beste unter den Studenten.
    (I am not sure if this usage is colloquial language. but it definitely does not mean that the best student lies under the other students, or that they are stayin on him.)
    So it is clear that one of the beers is the queen and this is just the one you are referring to.

    There is also "Das König unter den Bieren" and that uses a grammatical joke.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2012
  3. das brennende Gespenst Senior Member

    Berlin, Deutschland
    Australisches Englisch
    I know nobody likes a pedant, but I disagree that it's an idiom. An idiom is a set phrase which has a meaning independent from the words that make it up. Unter simply has a few different meanings, one is a spatial meaning, translated into English by "under" (Ich sitze unterm Tisch), there's non spatial meaning, which can be translated by "among".

    The Großwörterbuch Deutsch als Fremdsprache as these examples (from http://de.thefreedictionary.com/unter, meanings 5, 6 and 7)

    Ist einer unter euch, der die Antwort kennt?
    Unter den Eiern waren zwei faule.
    Es gab Streit unter den Schülern.
    Teilt die Schokolade unter euch auf.
    sich unter das Volk, das Publikum mischen
    Zucker unter die Eier rühren

    If this were an idiom, we would find that there would only be a limited number of instances in which unter translates to "among", each one being a separate idiom. Instead, we can make an unlimited range of new sentences. Unter allen Schmetterlingen ist dieser am Hässlichsten. It's likely that no one has ever said that sentence before.

    As for when to know whether it's best translated by "under" or "among", you simply have to use context. It's not hard. Which makes more sense out of these to translations for Es gab Streit unter den Schülern => There was a fight under the pupils or There was a fight among(st) the pupils? It's the same with other prepositions, and not only in German. Obviously if I say "I'm giving a talk on Karl Marx", context will tell you that I mean "about him" rather than "on top of his exhumed body".
  4. dec-sev Senior Member

    I don't like pedants either buy I'm a pedant myself :) You're right, there is a huge difference betweeen an idiom and an advertising slogan.
  5. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    You are right. I removed this. How would you translate "Wendung/Redewendung" in this case?
    "Unter" is not used in the usual sense but in a special sense (in potential infinite cases, however - infinite in a metaphorical sense, because we have only a finite amount and length of words). What is the correct English word for this?

    Unter -> in der Menge der
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2012
  6. dec-sev Senior Member

    May be "expression", but I'm not an Enslish native either. As far as I know it's written on the bottles of a certain beer maker. "Flashe" ist weiblich in Deutsch, daruber dürfte das Wort "König" verwendet sein. Dies bin mir nicht sicher, aber man muss sagen, es kam ein guter Werbungsslogan heraus, wenn du den Idiom genannt hast ;)
  7. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    There are two ad slogans (for different brands)

    Das König unter den Bieren/das König der Biere (wordplay with gender - is "wordplay" correct here?)
    Die Königin unter den Bieren
  8. Sowka

    Sowka Senior Member

    German, Northern Germany
    Hello :)

    Moderator note: We already have a
    thread about the use of "Königin", "das König" in such a beer-slogan context.

    In the present thread, please focus on the use of "unter", meaning "among". Thank you! :)
  9. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    I see. Thanks for the link.

    Der König zwischen den Bieren.

    What is the difference in meaning?
    It is not the king of the beers. It is just a king in the middle of the beers.
    But this does not make sense. "Biere" does not mean "bottles with beer" but "kinds of beer".
    Beer is a singularetantum, usually. But there is a plural "die Biere" - this is an expression for "die Biersorten" and has no singular in this meaning (as far as I see).
    This is a semantic reason that blocks other meanings of "unter".

    You can say "der König unter den Flaschen" or "die Königin unter den Flaschen".
    Here it does not block the meaning of placement. "Flaschen" is a common plural.

    Exception: If you mean "Die Flasche"="Der Unfähige"=the incompetent - it has the same asignment meaning as in "unter den Bieren". It is a person here, and the meaning of placement in space is blocked, too.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2012
  10. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    I think we've drifted a bit away from the OP's question.

    If you just see a single sentence then it is impossible to know certainly which one is meant but that's something you also encounter in English. Just think of the "sex on TV" joke.

    Our brain tells us which of the two possiblities is most likely and then there's always context.

    "Eine Frau unter drei Männern" means most likely "A women among three men" instead of "A woman under three men" but I'm sure you can figure out which one is true if you have some more sentences.
  11. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    I think, after I unfortunately drifted away a little bit we came back.

    I just want to summarize:

    How would a person know to assume this as a queen among beers rather than a queen under beers?

    This is because of context. There is no context to allow the second. It is the default meaning in this case.

    Why would they not choose perhaps zwischen for clarity?

    This has another meaning, it is usually related to the space relation.
  12. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I agree with Frank. There is no formal way to know. In most cases, this is not a problem because only one interpretation is meaningful (in a given context). Unless you really believe the the sentence is about a queen being buried by beer bottles, you have to assume it means among.

    If you say eine Frau unter drei Männern and you can't be sure your listeners won't think of a woman having sex with three men at the same time then you have to rephrase or to provide additional context.
  13. Hau Ruck

    Hau Ruck Senior Member

    United States - Midwest
    English - U.S.
    Hello and thank you to everyone for contributing. :)

    I agree that it is much easier to read and comprehend the proper usage. I think perhaps (in my thoughts - I did not write my question so well I think) that I would like to know when to properly use unter when composing a sentence myself. I would hate to sound ignorant in using unter when it was not correct to do so. :)

    Is there a certain reason/situation for using unter as among? Perhaps a guideline or basic rule that causes this to be? Is it just "one of those things" in language that I just have to accept? Could I use unter anytime I wish to say "among" and feel safe doing so?

    Thank you again. :)
  14. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Lets put it this way: I can't think of any case where unter wouldn't be a suitable translation of among. In cases where among is possible but between would be better (e.g. among/between two alternatives), it would also be better to use zwischen in German.
  15. Hau Ruck

    Hau Ruck Senior Member

    United States - Midwest
    English - U.S.
    Perfect! Thanks berndf and everyone. :)
  16. djweaverbeaver Senior Member

    English Atlanta, GA USA
    The way you can tell is by context. Honestly, there are very few times in which "the queen under the beers" would make any sense. Think a little bit about English grammar. In English, generally between is used for two things, and among is used for more than two. There are definitely exceptions to this, especially when the emphasis of the choice is on distinct, individual items or one-to-one relationships (e.g. She is trying to decide between a BWM, an Audi, and a Porsche for her new car. or The differences between German, Chinese, and Arabic are significant). Also, think about how among and between mean different things when speaking about location and direction. (eg. Max walked between the trees. vs. Max walked among the trees.)

    The same differences apply largely to zwischen ≈ between and unter ≈ among in German.

    I'd also add that we would normally probably saying "A king among beers" in English, but I would leave it as queen here because it is referring to the Warsteiner Brewery which as a queen's crown on the front of each bottle with the logo.
  17. Hau Ruck

    Hau Ruck Senior Member

    United States - Midwest
    English - U.S.
    Thanks djweaverbeaver. That helps greatly on the unter/zwischen part of what I was inquiring about. :)
  18. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    Neither king nor queen is grammatically correct in German because "das Bier" is neuter. On the other hand, the more strange the slogan the more people remember it.
    But it could be worse like "Das König der Biere." :D
  19. djweaverbeaver Senior Member

    English Atlanta, GA USA

    Maybe they're referring to the brewery (die Brauerei). One might also wonder why they say "Eine Königin..." instead of "DIE Königin...". Companies usually like to go for superlatives.

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