“I am a jelly doughnut”

Turns out this is quite an old ending to an older story, dating from 1993 and with many repetitions on the web, but it completely convinces me that the urban legend is wrong:

An actual resident of Berlin would say, in proper German, “Ich bin Berliner.” But that wouldn’t have been the correct thing for Kennedy to say. The indefinite article “ein” is added to a statement like this, Eichhoff explains, to express a metaphorical identification between subject and predicate. In fact, “ein” is required in a sentence such as this unless the speaker wants to be taken literally.

For example, the German sentences “Er ist Politiker” and “Er ist ein Politiker” both mean “He is a politician,” but they’re understood by German speakers as different statements. The first means, more exactly, “He is (literally) a politician.” The second means “He is (like) a politician.” You would say of George W. Bush, “Er ist Politiker.” But you would say of an organizationally astute coworker, “Er ist ein Politiker.”

Link from an urban legends site, via Language Hat.

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