Lowlands-L: Beyond the Pale: A border-crossing guide for language learners
Lowlands-L: Beyond the Pale: A border-crossing guide for language learners

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A word to avoid: “moonshine”

Much to the amusement of my American-born companions, and to my own amusement as soon as it had escaped my mouth, I once referred to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 27 No. 2 as “Moonshine Sonata,” literally translated from the delightful work’s German by-name Mondscheinsonate.

Go ahead and google “moonshine,” and you’ll find lots of instances where “moonlight” should have been used. This is a common mistake among non-native speakers of English in whose first languages the equivalents of “moonshine” can be used for “moonlight” (besides German Mondschein also Low Saxon Maandschien, Limburgish maonesjien, Dutch maneschijn, Frisian moanneskien, Danish måneskin, Dano-Norwegian måneskinn, Neo-Norwegian månesjin, Swedish månsken and others).

By now you will have guessed that English “moonshine” is not the same as “moonlight.” “Moonshine” refers to privately and therefore usually illegally distilled hard liquor — zelfgemaakte sterkedrank in Dutch, schwarzgebrannter Schnaps in German.

If there were such a thing as a “Moonshine Sonata” it would sound quite different from Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” Don’t you agree?

Reinhard “Ron” F. Hahn (Member of Lowlands-L)
Seattle, Washington, USA, April 10, 2008


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