Collabortage

Yes, that’s a new word in the blog title: collabortage. It’s a tech-industry phenomenon that needed a name and never had one before. Collabortage is what happens when a promising product or technology is compromised, slowed down, and ultimately ruined by a strategic alliance between corporations that was formed (at least ostensibly) to develop it and bring it to market.

Collabortage always looks accidental, like a result of exhaustion or management failure. Contributing factors tend to include: poor communication between project teams on opposite sides of an intercorporate barrier, never-resolved conflicts between partners about project objectives, understaffing by both partners because each expects the other to do the heavy lifting, and (very often) loss of internal resource-contention battles to efforts fully owned by one player.

Occasionally the suspicion develops that collabortage was deliberate, the underhanded tactic of one partner (usually the larger one) intended to derail a partner whose innovations might otherwise have disrupted a business plan.

I coined the term during an IRC conversation after a friend expressed dark suspicions that the MeeGo alliance between Intel and Nokia might have been a ploy by Intel to screw up Nokia’s ARM-centered product strategy in order to favor Intel’s Atom processors. I do not endorse this theory, but it started me thinking of various historical examples, such as Microsoft’s browser-technology collaboration with Spyglass, for which there is in fact strong reason to suspect deliberate collabortage.

Joint software projects seem especially prone to collabortage – joint software projects involving a port to new hardware even more so. Since I’ve been writing about it and people will ask, I don’t think Nokia’s just-concluded alliance with Microsoft is intentional collabortage; both companies need it to work too badly for that. On the other hand, read “In memoriam: Microsoft’s previous strategic mobile partners” to read about a great deal of (probably inadvertent) collabortage in Microsoft’s past.

Feel free to point out other examples in the comment thread. The most interesting examples would be those in which there is reason to suspect intentional collabortage, but the unintentional kind is interesting too as an illustration of diseconomies of scale and the way partnerships often suffer from misaligned incentives.

69 thoughts on “Collabortage

  1. IBM-Microsoft: OS/2? Sybase-Microsft: SQL Server? It’s been a long time but I remembered thinking then that MS might have entered both of these relationships in order to buy time and cover for their redirected efforts. Maybe, maybe not. Either way, great word.

  2. Never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence…

    Why is it that I can’t think of a single Microsoft `partner’ that gained in the long run?

  3. >Never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence…

    Yes, but sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice. Collabortage is a particular gray area of such indistinguishibility.

  4. Corollary: Never attribute to malice on Microsoft’s part that which can be adequately explained by incompetence on their competitors’ part. Internet Explorer version 3.x and up was a vastly better browser than its competition until 2002 or so; ultimately, that’s why it won.

    Possible actual example of collabortage: the SGI-Microsoft “Fahrenheit” joint effort, of which nothing really came.

  5. The IBM/Apple collaboration on Pink/Taligent? Vague memory, I know, but it was heralded as promising and nothing ever came of it…

  6. The additional capabilities of a “partnership” to delay product, confuse product lines,
    slow purchases, and lose the memo, sap the strength of hardware companies, too.

    Examples:

    Intel/HP partnership – Itanium & PA Risc

    Perhaps: The ARC effort to standardize Windows and Unix on Alpha. (That was so long ago,
    I can’t even remember the names of the companies involved – do any still exist?)

    Going back to the 80s, there used to be this thing called the VAR market and there
    were always massive channel conflicts there, until that channel ceased to exist.

    On my bad days I envision a stream of covert MBAs trained as undercover agents
    emerging from some sort of college cabal, whose secret mission (possibly unconscious)
    is to serve whoever gave them the kool-aide before they graduated.

  7. Incidentally, sabotage is usually done by individuals to large groups, in exchange for their own material or ideological gain. I don think this is where you want to go with collaborage, but I’ve seen quite a few execs go mess up a company, get out before they hit bottom, and then return to their “roots”.

    It happens to countries, too.

  8. >Incidentally, sabotage is usually done by individuals to large groups, in exchange for their own material or ideological gain.

    Historically this isn’t quite true. The reason it’s called “sabotage” after a sabot (wooden shoe) is that the prototype instances are believed to have been part of an artisan’s revolt against the beginnings of mechanized textile miiling – the protesters jammed the looms with sabots. While this etymology is disputed, it does show that the practice has long been associated with conflict between groups, not only individual actions.

  9. I worked at Sybase when MS got the codebase. Everyone working there at the time knew what was happening, even as management was talking about all the great things the joint operations would yield.

    I’d widen the scope a bit, to include standards bodies. There is a lot of intrigue there, but again, MS comes to mind first with the open document formats stuff. The Rambus stuff, of course, and way back, the various standards efforts around Unix, back when there were a lot of vendors on the SVR strain that folks actually cared about.

    I’d add in CDE, but I’m pretty sure that was collaborism – the intentional infliction of pain upon one’s serfs.

  10. So that’s the name for what happened when Microsoft licensed Java from Sun.

    What would you call Novell and AT&T partnering to produce UnixWare?

  11. What would you call Novell and AT&T partnering to produce UnixWare?

    A two-man job, with a Mormon flavor?

  12. It’s clever the way you worked the word “abort” in there, but I’d suggest that you drop the ‘r’ and make it “collabotage”. It’s easier to read and say that way, and the connection to “sabotage” would be stronger.

  13. I’d suggest that you drop the ‘r’ and make it “collabotage”. It’s easier to read and say that way, and the connection to “sabotage” would be stronger.

    Money.

  14. Plus “collabotage” sounds like it already has a soundtrack by the Beastie Boys to go with it.

    You missed the obvious example of SCO’s UnitedLinux “partnership”, by the way, though that seems mostly to have been an attempt to guarantee they had someone to threaten.

  15. The IBM/Apple collaboration on Pink/Taligent? Vague memory, I know, but it was heralded as promising and nothing ever came of it…

    Not so. IBM’s p-Series servers and workstations (AIX), and Apple’s PPC line of desktops and laptops are the bastard stepchildren of the unholy Taligent alliance. Watch a p-Series machine boot, and if you look very carefully, you’ll see an Apple copyright notice in there, along with a Taligent copyright notice. The same notice exists on some PPC Macs.

    As a Unix systems engineer, I’ve worked on most of the major Unix flavors — Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, IRIX, Xenix, AT&T System V, SCO, OS X, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and, of course, Linux. :)

    I’d add in CDE, but I’m pretty sure that was collaborism – the intentional infliction of pain upon one’s serfs.

    I agree. CDE is an exercise in pain.

    As for collabortage — Novell and Microsoft?

  16. I’m telling all y’all that it’s a mirage

    I’m telling all y’all it’s collabotage!!!

    Starring: Nathan Wind As Cochise

    Alasondro Alegre as “The Chief”

    Vic Colfari as Bobby the Rookie

  17. It took my brain a while to figure out that “collabortage” wasn’t read “coll-abortage”. As posters above have said, if you want people to quickly grok the “sabotage” bit, get rid of the “r”.

  18. Embrace, extend, extinguish.

    I didn’t have any trouble parsing it…

    Maybe cause “abort” pushes no buttons for me?

  19. Collabrotage. Might as well spell it the way people will tend to say it.

  20. Then what’s collabacide (rhymes with fratracide and suicide)? Sort of a mutual destruction pact? Knowing or unknowing?

  21. “I coined the term during an IRC conversation after a friend expressed dark suspicions that the MeeGo alliance between Intel and Nokia might have been a ploy by Intel to screw up Nokia’s ARM-centered product strategy in order to favor Intel’s Atom processors.”

    Its a only INTEL strategy that will fail eventually. they have excluded AMD / ARM etc from it. Only Atom 3 CPUs are supported (not even desktop processors).

  22. >Never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence

    That is just what the evil, power-mongering scumbags want you to think. Just because it is (probably) true most of the time does not mean it is always true. Just like with “conspiracy theories”; just because incompetence is more common than malice, and than conspiracies, does not mean that malice and conspiracies don’t exist. Though no doubt the scumbags and conspirators would prefer you to think that they don’t.

  23. I agree with the above – lose the “r”.

    It makes it harder to work out the pronunciation, without strengthening the association with “collaborate”.

  24. > Most mergers end up being collabortage. “Synergies! There are synergies!”. My pattotie there are.

    80% of mergers fail – they decrease the total value of the companies involved.

    Yours,
    Tom

  25. > does not mean that malice and conspiracies don’t exist.

    Actually I expect they follow a power curve. Conspiracies of one (planning a secret yourself) – wildly common, conspiracies of two – very common, etc. Large conspiracies tend to become open agendas, though.

    Yours,
    Tom

  26. @Tom

    I distinguish between “conspiracy” (a group of people secretly plot to achieve a common goal) and “collusion” (a group of people who understand that each others’ interests are aligned work to achieve a common goal without any plotting or coordination; they can tell by the other players’ actions that they are also working toward that goal.)

  27. Would this be similar to the green push to make ethanol from corn and to continue the process evven after it has been proved to be counter-productive and uses more energy then it creates. The unintended (or intended) consequence of driving up food prices would also be one of the examples of intentional fail. Now we are watching the same thing with wind power and EVs.

  28. @GoneWithTheWind
    “ethanol from corn”

    I never ever saw the point of burning food for profit.

    Except as a “plot” to use tax money to buy votes.

  29. And they’re doing more of it! EPA is pushing to increase the fraction from 10 to 15%, saying all cars built after 2001 can handle it (and what about my 1995 Blazer, hmmm?), and there’s a law on the books in Minnesota calling for it to be raised to 20%.

  30. @Jay Maynard
    “And they’re doing more of it! ”

    In principle, converting organic waste to fuel is not wrong. That might actually add value to the waste.

    But burning valuable stuff has never been a winning strategy. And currently, most organic waste is simply too valuable to burn.

  31. I assume you coined this on the model of “sabotage”, but to me it looks closer to “cabotage”, which is a different form of market manipulation.

  32. >Except as a “plot” to use tax money to buy votes.

    That accounts for at least 80% of everything the government has done for decades.

  33. 80% of mergers fail – they decrease the total value of the companies involved.

    But they boost the careers of the executives who pushed for them …

  34. Like other posters, the OS/2 was the first thing I thought when I read the post, but…

    Microsoft’s interest was and is to remain a software maker. It didn’t want IBM in its space.

    Nokia is a hardware manufacturer and has basically cried uncle in its software capacity. Microsoft doesn’t have any interest in destroying it.

    With Nokia/Microsoft, I’m going with the malice/incompetence route. I still think Microsoft will hurt Nokia, but I’m not necessarily ascribing malice.

  35. Classic example from the first dot.com bubble was SET, Secure Electronic Transactions. It was the bastard child of two competing “secure” transaction systems mooted by competitors. One was backed by Microsoft and one of Visa or Mastercard, I forget who the tech backing of the other was, perhaps IBM or a big bank, and of course, the other credit brand, MasterCard or Visa.

    The Wikipedia link has some causes of its failure http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secure_Electronic_Transaction, but it leaves out the big one: The vendors backing it could not agree who the enemy was, CyberCash, or Netscape, or each other, and never had any interoperability testing.

    The “standard” was designed as a reaction to CyberCash’s working payment and wallet system. Netscape invented SSL immediately, which addressed a much smaller part of the problem domain, but did provide a credible solution.

    I worked on a “collaboration” between CyberCash, Toshiba, Visa and Netscape, none of our code would interoperate, in any way, with the other SET members, i.e. IBM, MS, MasterCard, etc.

  36. @ Tom DeGisi
    > 80% of mergers fail – they decrease the total value of the companies involved.

    I would be interested in seeing the evidence for that assertion.

  37. >I would be interested in seeing the evidence for that assertion [that 80% of mergers fail].

    I can’t cite a source, but this is part of the folklore you’ll pick up if you go to business school.

  38. >> I would be interested in seeing the evidence for that assertion [that 80% of mergers fail].

    > I can’t cite a source, but this is part of the folklore you’ll pick up if you go to business school.

    (Richard Dawkins Voice)The Google says: There are hundreds of studies.(/Richard Dawkins Voice)

    That could all be wrong, of course. 90% of medical studies are reputed to be wrong (says a medical study). I’m not sure scholars are any more accurate when other people’s money is on the line than they are when other people’s lives are on the line.

    Yours,
    Tom

  39. How about Apple/AT&T? When the iPhone was released, AT&T was known for having the best network in the U.S. Now, that claim rings hollow, even though they’ve spent tons of money (at negative real rates of return) to try to keep up with the demand on their network. AT&T got so badly screwed that they were willing to let go of iPhone exclusivity.

  40. “Why is it that I can’t think of a single Microsoft `partner’ that gained in the long run?”

    I can think of a few, but they are specific subset: they cooperated with MS in order to develop some technology on a strongly MS-based platform – and then sold the whole thing to MS and cashed out. Example: Preben Damgaard. ( http://www.damgaard.com/Who/ ) Pretty much this is how all their Dynamics product range came into being. But I cannot think of one that gained AND stayed independent.

  41. “I can’t cite a source, but this is part of the folklore you’ll pick up if you go to business school.”

    I’ve read somewhere a good metaphor for it. Take two second-rate athletes, tie their legs together, and expect they can run faster than before. Usually does not work. However, two weight-lifters can often lift a bigger weight than each alone if cooperating just right. So the question is always: are these runner companies or weight-lifter companies?

  42. My view of this phenomenon is considerably darker than Eric’s.

    I viewed it more as a direct means for an individual in power to subtly
    alter outcomes in their favor.

    People with MBAs and/or degrees in foreign relations or communications
    already know all the tricks in people management for good or ill. (I’m
    trying to remember either a patrick mcluhan book or a chomsky book that
    talked to it)

    They use these skills to futz up the works in exchange for their long term gain, elsewhere. Call them… Collabrotistas…

    They use subtle techniques, like:

    Firing all the engineers to improve the bottom line, then exiting before no new product hits the pipeline
    Putting two conflicting personalities in charge of portions of the product line
    Lose the memo
    Forget to order product
    Slander the effective people on the golf course
    Starting a fight between engineering and marketing
    Overselling

    Another concept for you to savor is that of entryism, which in part explains the disruption of unions and reform movements in times past.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entryism

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COINTELPRO

    While the soviets executed “entryism” on the American left so effectively that many of our home-grown “liberals” are still replaying hoary old Dept V propaganda cliches from the 1940s, nearly two decades after the USSR folded up – and thinking they invented them –

    Many of the techniques date back at least as far as the early struggles between coal miners and coal mining companies, which (if you run through wikipedia) are quite horrifying and illuminating.

    Collabortage is used equally effectively by those of the left or right, those with money and power.

    Some other examples:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wobblies

    There was a really famous strike where the instigators of the violence were *all* in the pay of the corporation, happened around 1928 or so, don’t remember.

    Recently, the Egyptian government didn’t get the memo about how to use COINTELPRO.

    The Tea party succumbed to entryism.

    Moving back to the Collabrotista concept, there are a half dozen people whose otherwise successful-looking careers I track, as a sure sign of buying long term put options on the company they are actually working for.

    They are individuals with great power, all with degrees in some sort of communications media, with wierdly successful careers despite the wreckage they leave behind.

    There are many subtle ways of disrupting an organisation available to those that have studied these things. Are there people consciously, actively, doing it? Odds are, yes.

  43. Based on how badly IBM screwed up OS/2 *after* the divorce from Microsoft, I’d say it is more likely that it was IBM that botched the collaboration. Some of the things IBM botched with OS/2:

    1. Almost no marketing. Something most consumers don’t know is that shelf space in stores is essentially sold, kind of like real estate.

    The reason boxes of Windows 95 were in nice displays in the front of the store, with banners hanging over them, and OS/2 was on the bottom shelf in the most remote, cobweb infested, poorly lighted row is because Microsoft spent marketing money to buy good positioning in the store. IBM spent little.

    2. Poor developer support. This was nicely illustrated by a story that (I think) Jerry Pournelle told.

    At some major trade show (Comdex?) he went to IBM’s booth, where they were actually displaying OS/2, and asked what it would take to develop for it. They gave him an application to join the developer program, which would get him the SDK and official tools. The application was long and required details of your plans for OS/2 products. If IBM approved, you would be allowed to join the expensive program.

    Then he went to Microsoft’s both and asked what it would take develop for Windows 95. They handed him the SDK and documentation.

    3. Almost no marketing, part two. When a developer would persevere and jump through the hoops to be allowed to do an OS/2 application, IBM would not kick in and help promote it. Other OS companies (hello Microsoft and Apple) are actually interested when someone writes an interesting program that showcases their OS, and will feature it in ads, or promote it on their sites.

    What is sad here is that IBM had the perfect opportunity. Between the time Microsoft committed to Windows 95 and the time Windows 95 shipped, Microsoft was in a vulnerable position. Windows 95 had some Windows 3 compatibility, but it was not anywhere near complete and seamless.

    OS/2 offered all of the things Microsoft was touting as advantages of Windows 95 over Windows 3, and it had much better Windows 3 compatibility. IBM could have approached marketing it from the angle of “why wait for Windows 95?” Every reason Microsoft gave for people to switch from Windows 3 to Windows 95 applied to OS/2, so IBM could use Microsoft’s own marketing against them–except with OS/2 people could switch right away and get those advantages (without losing their Win 3 stuff because of OS/2′s near perfect compatibility). Why wait months for Windows 95?

  44. Collabortage

    What a brilliant use of English. With two quick snips and one quick pasting, you’ve made a new word that is instantly recognizable and understandable. I love English!

    Try doing that in Chinese.

  45. What a brilliant use of English. With two quick snips and one quick pasting, you’ve made a new word that is instantly recognizable and understandable. I love English!

    You think English is brill? Try German. Although neologisms of this sort in German mainly work through concatenation; I suspect the same is true of Chinese.

    Japanese is host to countless clever portmanteaux, many of which span across two languages. The Japanese word bakkushan comes from the English “back” and the German “schön” for beautiful. It refers to what we might call a “butterface”, a woman with an ugly face but a nice body: she only looks good from the back!

  46. >The Tea Party is committing entryism!

    And a damn good thing too, whatever that totalitarian-loving shithead Monbiot has to say about it.

    No more politics in this thread. Attempts will be summarily deleted.

  47. You think English is brill? Try German.

    A few centuries ago, English and German were basically the same thing. English has evolved to form multi-word compound nouns, while German does not permit them. Therefore, where English might have a three-word construct such as “sporting goods store”, German will insist that the corresponding “Sportwarengeschäft” remain a single word. And rest assured that if announcements from such a business are attriubted in a newpaper to the company’s “Sportwarengeschäftpresseamt”, no fluent German speaker will have a bit of trouble sussing out what that means, even if he can’t look it up in his Wörterbuch.

  48. >A few centuries ago, English and German were basically the same thing.

    Pedantry alert: More than a “few” centuries, actually. To get even tolerably near “the same thing” you have to go back about a thousand years to Old Low German and Anglo-Saxon. You’re right about German and compound nouns, but that rule might be a lot younger. If required to guess, I’d put my money on it being a High German thing and only firmed up relatively recently, like in the last 400 years. Might even be one of M. Luther’s crotchets – that guy managed to impose his personally mutated idiolect of High German as a national language by translating the Bible into it.

  49. as for Chinese, new ideograph combinations do not automatically have meaning. The new meanings have to be taught.

  50. A few centuries ago, English and German were basically the same thing. English has evolved to form multi-word compound nouns, while German does not permit them.

    Oh, is that why German words have magnets coated with superglue on the ends: get them too close together, and they stick permanently?

  51. tzs Says: Based on how badly IBM screwed up OS/2 *after* the divorce from Microsoft, I’d say it is more likely that it was IBM that botched the collaboration. Some of the things IBM botched with OS/2:
    (list of things followed)

    No matter how badly IBM screwed up, Microsoft couldn’t just let them hang themselves. They actively did things on their end to kill OS/2. One of them was to put code into Windows that would check if it was being run under OS/2. If the answer was “yes”, Windows would die.

    IBM discovered this pretty quickly, and modified OS/2 to patch Windows to prevent this. Microsoft immediately changed Windows to defeat the patch.

  52. “>> does not mean that malice and conspiracies don’t exist.

    >Actually I expect they follow a power curve. ”

    This reminds me of what a historian friend of mine told me. “Of course I believe in conspiracies. In fact, I believe in a whole lot of them. I think there are and were so many conspiracies in the world that their summed-up effect closely resembles a market.”

    Indeed. Every time you sign an NDA you enter a conspiracy. There are hundreds of thousands of them. The kind of people who make up the crazy stories about the Illuminati, the Freemasons or the Jesuits are irrational not because they believe in a conspiracy but because they don’t believe in all the other ones, i.e. they don’t believe the summed-up effect of hundreds of thousands of conspiracies can effectively control and limit any one of them.

  53. > Pedantry alert: More than a “few” centuries, actually. To get even tolerably near “the same thing” you have to go back about a thousand years to Old Low German and Anglo-Saxon.

    Quite. A big element of the divergence is that English is basically a very successful creole, twice over in fact, first with the language of the Vikings (still Germanic, but from the Scandinavian branch of the family), then with Norman French after 1066 (and all that).

    Incidentally, I second (or possibly third) the suggestion to drop the r. Even in languages which allow adjacent stressed syllables, as English does, they’re still phonologically marked and best avoided for a successful neologism. It’s worth noting that the two misparses we’ve seen alluded to in the thread, /?k?.l?.?b??.t??/ and /k?.?læ.b??.?t???/ both have the optimal alternating pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables (I particularly like the second example, “collabrotage”, repair of an undesirable stress pattern by metathesis is quite theoretically provocative if you happen to be the sort of phonology geek I am).

    Going with “collabotage” (/k?.?læ.b?.?t???/) would be best from about every point of view I can think of. You’ve still got a nice tidy substring-substring combination of both graphemes and phonemes, you make the transition point in a syllable that has the same rhyme in both words, and every syllable that’s stressed in each of the source words is also stressed in the portmanteau.

    As a matter of fact, I’d have trouble coming up with a rigorous generative analysis of exactly why you decided to put the r in in the first place :) Unless it was morphological: did you decide to replace the suffix in collabor-ate with enough of the rightmost phonemes in sabotage to be reminiscent of it?

  54. Oh, foo, my meticulously crafted phonemic transcriptions came out wrongly. Should have used HTML entities, I suppose. Anyway, read coll-abortage for the first one and collabrotage for the second and you’ll get my point, I’m sure.

  55. >Unless it was morphological: did you decide to replace the suffix in collabor-ate with enough of the rightmost phonemes in sabotage to be reminiscent of it?

    That was exactly it, yes. The portmanteau is “collaboration” + “sabotage”.

  56. I was very slightly involved in the MS-IBM fiasco on OS2. It was no surprise a complete clash of cultures. Those who weren’t around in those early days may have a hard time believing this but MS was lean and mean and gave their coders free rein to work. IBM was bloated and slow just like today.

    The way the collaboration worked was that each group would exchange code once a week. IBM down in Boca and MS up in Richmond. IBM coders were given a quota. They had to write x number of lines a week. This hardly encouraged compact code. The padded the code with comments and other tricks to increase the number of lines. Then they would send their block of code off to their collaborators in Richmond where the code teams were competing on generating compact and fast code. They’d get the bloated and slow IBM code, do what they called a sizzle on it and shaazaam! 500 lines of code would be reduced to 40 lines of comment free and just about unreadable code that was blindingly fast.

    Next week when the IBM coders got their code back they’d find their weeks quota of work thrown in the trash pile. You can imagine how things went from there.

    BK

  57. ‘The portmanteau is “collaboration” + “sabotage”.’

    …and I thought that you had deliberately chosen to put the word ‘abort’ in there. Goes to show that Conspiracy is but another name for Accident.

  58. A big element of the divergence is that English is basically a very successful creole, twice over in fact, first with the language of the Vikings (still Germanic, but from the Scandinavian branch of the family), then with Norman French after 1066 (and all that).

    Maybe even more times than that. As ESR pointed out, English comes from the “Low German” branch of the motley collection of dialects referred to as “German” (back when a Roman probably couldn’t tell the difference between the Saxons and Bavarii without a scorecard). The area where Low German was spoken was in the coastal plains, on and near navigable waters that facilitated travel and trade all around the Baltic and North Seas. It had a simpler grammar (with no distinction between “accusative” and “dative” cases, and the distinction between those and the nominative limited to a subset of nouns). One could argue that the German dialects carried to Britain by the Angles and Saxons were already creoles of the more complex grammar favored in the Alpine South.

    The invading Germanic tribes came into contact with “Britons” whose own Celtic languages had been influenced by Roman rule south of Hadrian’s Wall. There was prior adoption of Latin script in favor of traditional runes, and borrowings of words from the Romans directly, as can be seen in the modern German word for emperor (Kaiser), taken directly from the Roman title derived from the cognomen “Caesar”. These two periods of Latin influence, that of the later Norman kings and their noblemen, and the ongoing interactions with the Scandanavian branch of the Germanic family, are why I describe English as “the bastard child of the Germanic and Romance families”.

    By contrast, High German was the language of the Holy Roman Emperor, which office was held by a Bavarian and a Bohemian during a time when official court business was conducted in German rather than Latin, beginning the notion of an “official German”. Consequently, it already had the Imperial cachet when Luther translated the Bible into German. He didn’t use pure High German though; he deliberately tried to make the writing less formal and stilted than that used in Imperial, legalistic-sounding documents, but he did retain the four-case, three-gender (with split 2nd person familiar/formal), inchoherent plural-formation mess that survives in modern German. Luther’s Bible and Gutenberg’s press created a unified written “Standard German” long before there was anything close to a unified spoken language. And it shows.

  59. I like this portmanteau, but like LS says, it flows much better (and unpacks to its referents more easily) when written as collabotage.

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