Not least of the bewildering ways in which Proteus plunges the reader into the waves of Stephen's thoughts, with little connection to the dry land of dialogue and action, is its refusal to translate his kaleidoscopic multilingualism into English. Just as Dante's phrase maestro di color che sanno introduces a number of thoughts in Italian, Gotthold Lessing's terms nacheinander and nebeneinander trigger further expressions in German. As a young man Joyce studied German in order to read Hauptmann's plays (Ellmann 76, 87) and he continued to learn more of it during his years in Europe (including especially some time spent living in Zurich), but he never became as fluent in the language as he was in French and Italian.
Stephen thinks of the two elderly women who cautiously descend the steps from Leahy's Terrace as "Frauenzimmer," a word for women that has dismissive, derogatory connotations, like the English "wenches." Gifford notes that the word meant, "originally, 'a lady of fashion,' subsequently, and in contempt, 'a nitwit, drab, sloven, wench.'"
After a long recollection of a French-language conversation that he held in Paris with Patrice Egan, Stephen concludes with the German word "Schluss," or Ending, Conclusion. Gifford translates the sense contextually as "the mild exclamation 'enough!'"
Still later in Proteus, Stephen thinks of his fear of the water in comparison to Mulligan's heroism, asking himself, "Would you do what he did? A boat would be near, a lifebuoy. Natürlich, put there for you." The German word, meaning Naturally, carries the same sardonic self-mockery as Stephen's Italian expression "O si, certo!" (Yeah, right!) a bit earlier.