Fröscheln

A colleague of mine at school was telling me about a trip she took to Almsee recently. Almsee, also known in English as Alm Lake, is a lake in Upper Austria:

Almsee, Austria

While my colleague was walking by the lake, she came across these signs:

Signs at Almsee

The first sign is quite unspectacular. It translates into English as ‘Don’t destroy nature! Feeding [the ducks] harms the waterfowl and the lake!’. The second sign, however, is more interesting, translating as ‘Catching frogs – so-called FRÖSCHELN is prohibited’.

Fröscheln? That’s not a word I’d seen before.

You could translate this into English as ‘frogging’, which means ‘to hunt or trap frogs’. This is also a new word to me. It seems to follow the same pattern of fishing as the practice of catching fish – we take the noun, fish, and convert it into a verb, to fish. The same is done in German. We take the noun Fisch ‘fish’, and add the verb suffix -en to turn it into a verb, fischen.

Up to this point, I had thought fish were the only animals to have their very own verb to describe their capture. To be fair, this is understandable since fishing is not only a common means to get food, but also a widely enjoyed pastime. Activities that are lesser known or less frequently undertaken tend not to have their own verbs; instead we tend to use verbal constructions. If you catch butterflies, for instance, you’d probably refer to this as Schmetterlinge fangen and not something like schmetterlingen or schmetterlingeln (although I do love the idea of this as a verb. What would the past participle be? Geschmetterlingt? Wouldn’t it be great if it was treated like a separable verb – schmettergelingt! Or even schmettergelungen! If you were successful in your attempt to catch the butterflies, you could say it was schmettergelungen! I digress.)

What I noticed is that the way the verb fröscheln is formed differs from fischen. We don’t just take -en, but rather -eln­ (plus the umlaut, but that’s nothing crazy). There are lots of verbs that take -eln­ instead of -en, and when it comes to derivation, there are some tendencies. Putting aside the verbs that take -eln­ simply because the root ends in -l (e.g. Doppel-doppeln, Hagelhageln), this ending can sometimes have an iterative or a diminutive effect, or it creates verbs that imitate a noise (e.g. nuscheln, quasseln, etc.).[1] I don’t get much onomatopoeia from fröscheln, but it does have this slight air of diminution to me. Although this might just be because I’m now thinking about diminutives. It certainly feels iterative since you wouldn’t necessary stop frogging once you’ve frogged your first frog.

Fröscheln doesn’t seem to be a standard German word by any means. It’s not in the Duden,[2] and I struggled to find many sources that use the word. I did manage to find one document[3] from 1795:

Newspaper from 1795
Example of Fröscheln from page 506 (my underline)

…although I’m not sure fröscheln is actually being used in the sense of ‘to catch frogs’ here.

There’s a Bavarian dictionary from 1872 (Bayerisches Wörterbuch)[4] that includes the word fröscheln:

Example of fröscheln in the Bayerisches Wörterbuch (1872, my underline)

…although interestingly it looks like the capture of frogs is referred to here as froschen (formed analogously to fischen), while fröscheln is defined simply as ein Spiel, ‘a game’.

Speaking of games, one slightly more recent example of a use of fröscheln is the board game Fröscheln, which came out in 1998:

Fröscheln – the board game

…although here it’s not about catching frogs, but rather getting your frogs to the end to reach the princess.

I found an article from 2020 with one instance of the verb being used in an es-construction (analogously to es regnet):

“Es ‘fröschelt’ wieder” (Südostschweiz, photo (c) Henk Melcherts) [5]

Es “fröschelt” wieder. What does this mean? Could fröscheln refer to frogs being more abundant? So when there are lots of frogs, could you say ‘it frogs’?

Why can nobody agree on the meaning of fröscheln?

Fortunately, I was able to find a couple of written online sources where fröscheln is actually used in the sense of catching frogs. Here is a mention in an article from 2008:

Die im Vergleich zu früheren Zeiten heute nur mehr wenig verbreitete Tradition des Fröschelns (Froschfang zu Nahrungszwecken) ist aktuell nur mehr sehr vereinzelt, z.B. aus dem inneren Salzkammergut, bekannt. Offenbar werden von älteren Ortsansässigen sporadisch einige wenige Amphibien (vor allem wohl Grasfrösche) auf den Speiseplan gesetzt (Weißmair, mündliche Mitteilung). In KYEK & MALETZKY (2006) bekommt man jedoch einen Eindruck davon, in welchen Mengen Frösche noch in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts zu kulinarischen Zwecken gefangen wurden. In konkreten Befragungen wird angegeben, dass zur Hauptwanderzeit im Frühjahr von vielen Familien je hunderte Exemplare gefangen und in den Kochtopf befördert wurden. HASLINGER (1979) berichtet von ca. 15 Personen, die an drei Abenden im April dem Fröscheln am Almsee nachgingen und geht von „tausenden“ Tieren aus, die in die Bratpfanne wandern.

Excerpt from Moser (2008: 109, my emphasis) [6]

According to this article, which is about endangerment and protection of species, the tradition of fröscheln is not very widely practised anymore. It’s defined as the capture of frogs for the purposes of eating (as opposed to as a game or for sport, for instance). It is apparently only really known within the Salzkammergut (a resort area in Austria where Almsee is located). In fact, this article specifically names Almsee as a location where people have ‘frogged’ in the past.

Another article refers to the practice of ‘frogging’, also in the context of species conservation:

Es ist geradezu ein Skandal, daß unter Berufung auf alte Traditionen in der Region Grünau-Almsee-Ödseen das „Fröscheln” noch fröhliche Urständ feiert. Alljährlich in den Monaten März und April kommen die „Fröschler” während der Nacht und fangen die in Paarungsstimmung befindlichen Grasfrösche auf ihren Wanderungen zu den Laichgewässern, um zwei kleine Froschschenkel als Delikatesse zu gewinnen.

Excerpt from the Zeitschrift für Ökologie, Natur- und Umweltschutz (1979, Jahrgang 1, Heft 4, page 20, my emphasis) [7]

Here, fröscheln also seems to be used in the sense of people capturing frogs, in this specific case at night and during the mating season, also for the purposes of eating them. Interestingly, the word fröscheln has apparently spawned another word: Fröschler, ‘frogger’, i.e. ‘one who frogs’. So if you catch fish, you’re a Fischer, and if you catch frogs, you’re a Fröschler – wonderful!

The word fröscheln is definitely regional as opposed to standard, and is dotted around sparsely here and there throughout history with different meanings. And this is only natural – with -eln being the productive verbal suffix that it is, people are bound to create new and unique verbs from Frosch as they come across new situations and contexts that call for them. The use of fröscheln to mean ‘to frog’, ‘to capture frogs’, looks like it’s fairly specific to the Almsee area. While I do love the word fröscheln and while it would be brilliant if this was more widely known, I’m quite happy that the actual practice of fröscheln is now prohibited and that there’s little need for this word to become anymore widespread – although I might see if I can get my hands on that board game!

Final thought: It looks like some people use “fröscheln” in yet another way… analogously to “vögeln”, it would seem!

(Go to the website where I found this photo to see what I mean!)
“Fröscheln”
Photo (c) Conny Müller, connymüller.de [8]

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[1] https://is.muni.cz/do/rect/el/estud/pedf/ps12/wortbild/web/pages/02-2_derivation.html (accessed 14.07.2022)

[2] I checked the online Duden since that’s all I had access to when writing this: https://www.duden.de/suchen/dudenonline/fr%C3%B6scheln (accessed 14.07.2022)

[3] Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung vom Jahre 1795. Zweyter Band. April, May, Junius. Numero 159 (8.6.1795). https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Z5qZhpNaBhMC&pg=PA505&lpg=PA505&dq=fr%C3%B6scheln+zeitung&source=bl&ots=2a9aIhBkh6&sig=ACfU3U21eFBlSQJaXEyTIjGOFOkS17SQ8w&hl=de&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwia3aSno7L4AhUoQkEAHVeFDO0Q6AF6BAgaEAM#v=onepage&q&f=false (pg. 506) (accessed 14.07.2022)

[4] Bayerisches Wörterbuch. 1872. https://www.bavarikon.de/object/bav:BSB-MDZ-00000BSB10999435?lang=de (pg. 829) (accessed 14.07.2022)

[5] https://www.suedostschweiz.ch/aus-dem-leben/2020-12-20/leserbild-des-jahres-2020-monat-maerz (accessed 14.07.2022)

[6] Moser, Johannes. 2008. “Gefährdung und Schutz”. Denisia 0022, 107-112. https://www.zobodat.at/pdf/DENISIA_0022_0107-0112.pdf (accessed 14.07.2022)

[7] http://www.wfoissner.at/data_prot/Foissner_1979_3-7.pdf (pg. 20) (accessed 14.07.2022)

[8] Photo (c) Conny Müller, connymüller.de, kunst-im-blauen-haus.de. Retrieved from https://www.fotocommunity.de/photo/froescheln-conny-mueller/43821110 (14.07.2022)

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