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Everything changed; planes flew, and a businessman tossed a sack of letters out of a Junker and invented airmail. - (Garcia Marquez: Memories of My Melancholy Whores)

The closest match I found on Wikipedia's disambiguation page for Junker was Junkers which might refer to German aircraft designer Hugo Junkers. But, the text says "Junker" not Junkers.

What does it mean in this context?

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it's simply a typo for Junkers. No different that say "Toyot" for "Toyota". As a curiosity, in the USA (totally unrelated) "junker" means "an inexpensive used car". – Joe Blow Mar 21 at 14:20
I would say its one of two things. Leaving it as Junkers may lead to confusion about pluralization and/or not sound right. Or the editor, or author, made a mistake and it was never corrected. Since this is a translation, I'm guessing it's the former. But who knows. – Hefewe1zen Mar 21 at 19:52
@Hefewe1zen the Spanish version also uses Junker so it is probably not a misspelling. – JasonStack Mar 21 at 22:01
Perhaps its a simple case of a singular being applied incorrectly? "One toyota vs multiple toyotas" compared to "multiple junkers or one junkers" because the -s is part of the name. – Criggie Mar 21 at 22:13
up vote 16 down vote accepted

The passage certainly refers to the German aircraft company Junkers: the ‘s’ has been omitted. The bit about flinging deliveries out of open cockpits (including the first aerial bombs, which were simply grenades) comes from the very early days of aviation, and seems not to be specific to airmail as far as I can tell.

After the Great War, under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was for a while prohibited from building aircraft, and generally from creating any arsenal of war equipment. Of course it did so anyway. Some of the medium-sized aircraft from that period were essentially designed as bombers and saw service as such during WWII, but were originally categorised as mailplanes. The most famous such example is the Dornier 17.

Less prominent was the supply to the USA of several mailplanes by Junkers, as outlined here. The most influential Junkers model to see WWII service was the versatile and feared Ju88 medium bomber, which essentially superseded the Do17 and excelled in other roles as well.

Junkers also produced the Ju87 ‘Stuka’ dive-bomber, which became symbolic of the trademark German technique of Blitzkrieg: precision bombing of enemy positions and rapid advance by armour, with infantry to take swift control of the shocked defenders. (The Ju88 and other models also undertook dive-bombing, but without the Stuka’s characteristic screech.)

All of this might be why Marquez uses ‘Junkers’ as a particularly evocative aircraft manufacturer, a name that needs no explanation.

The spelling error remains odd, though. I initially speculated that the fault in the quoted passage might have been in the translation from Spanish: just possibly the American translator (in 2005) Edith Grossman might not have had the knowledge of the inter-war Luftwaffe that an English boy-child of the 1970s (i.e. me) had had. Perhaps she had assumed the ‘s’ to represent an erroneous plural, and had mistakenly ‘corrected’ the grammar.

Not so, as far as I can tell. This file appears to give the original Spanish text, as ‘un hombre de empresa tiró un saco de cartas desde un Junker e inventó el correo aéreo.’

Perhaps Junkers is known as Junker in Colombia...?

Even so, we are left with the mystery of this apparently being written by Marquez in the first place, and then getting past both his editor and then his translator as well. You seem to have uncovered something potentially revealing about Marquez’s publishing history. At the very least, why did Grossman not correct the (well-known) manufacturer’s name?

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Yes, you're right: it does not seem to be a typo as my Spanish version of the book has also used "Junker" without 's'. – JasonStack Mar 21 at 11:54
@JasonStack Splendid: thanks for checking. Now we just need a Colombian to tell us how they discuss the inter-war German aviation industry... – Captain Cranium Mar 21 at 12:05
It could potentially just be a simple back-formation - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_back-formations - where the writer has mistakenly assumed 'Junkers' was a plural? (e.g. In a similar vein, I have heard people refer to a 'Mercede') – Jascol Mar 21 at 13:49
@Jascol Indeed, yes. And/or the problem might even have been created or exacerbated by someone along the line knowing not enough German to get the name right, but just enough to remember that the German possessive does not use an apostrophe, so (just maybe) Junkers might have been read as meaning Junker's and therefore 'corrected’ (as one might consider amending someone writing about a Rubik's Cube). Still, I continue to wonder why, in more than ten years, no publisher (that we have found so far) seems to have caught this major author's error in either Spanish or English. – Captain Cranium Mar 21 at 14:10
@ChrisH Yes, Germany was generally prohibited from accumulating military materiel, but also under Article 201, 'During the six months following the coming into force of the present Treaty, the manufacture and importation of aircraft, parts of aircraft, engines for aircraft, and parts of engines for aircraft, shall be forbidden in all German territory.' Of course you are right about the later programme of weapon-ready civil aircraft (Do17 etc.). By 1936 the pretence had pretty much been dropped (Spanish Civil War). – Captain Cranium Mar 21 at 16:45

Since the word "airmail" is mentioned I would indeed think that he meant the German plane and misspelled it. See this Wikipedia article about the plane https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junkers_Ju_88

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Perhaps, in the days when referring to this type of aeroplane was relatively commonplace, it seemed odd to people to refer to a single instance of the plane as "a Junkers" so they tended to say "a Junker". Total speculation. – Max Williams Mar 21 at 8:58
I had a similar suspicion, @MaxWilliams. People likely did that to avoid those who weren't familiar with it being a German word mistaking it for a plural, I imagine. – John Clifford Mar 21 at 9:39
Marquez probably does not mean the Ju88, which was only ever designed as a military aircraft. The Ju88 first flew in 1936, by which time airmail was extremely well established (hence the design disguise of the earlier Do17 bomber, 1933). If Marquez means a specific model it might be the much earlier Junkers F13 (1919), which was exported internationally as a mailplane. I wonder whether his narrator dismissively means 'some famous aircraft from warlike Europe', just as we might use 'Boeing' to suggest 'some extravagantly large airliner', regardless of Boeing's many other designs. – Captain Cranium Mar 21 at 12:28

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