For those of you who are unaware, Robert Pattinson is the English actor who plays the role of ‘Edward Cullen’ in the Twilight franchise. One of the most notable things about the actor is his distinctive speech impediment which he has portrayed throughout the series. While most people would find it funny or at least endearing, not everyone is amused by his speech quirks. In fact, some feel that Pattinson is a bit of a jerk for mocking those with speech impediments, especially since he himself has one. While the actor has never been short on chutzpah, this particular quirk has apparently upset a lot of people, enough for him to issue an apology. So just what is this ‘Sternzeichen’ that people are complaining about so much? Here’s a simplified explanation of both the term and the behavior associated with it.

Sternzeichen: The Speech Impediment

If you’ve been following the Twilight series, you know that the character Edward Cullen has a distinct speech impediment. While most people would probably find it endearing, especially since it’s accompanied by a very high-pitched, girlish voice, others are not so amused. As a result of this, a term was coined to describe this particular speech impediment, and it’s known as ‘Sternzeichen’ (German for ‘Stern Sign’) or ‘Pattinson’s curse’ in fanspeak. So what is exactly this ‘Sternzeichen’?

Basically, the ‘Sternzeichen’ is a combination of two German words: ‘Sterne’ (German for ‘star’) and ‘Zeichen’ (German for ‘sign’). This tongue-twister is sometimes referred to as ‘Pattinson’s curse’ because the actor plays the role of the vampire Edward Cullen in the Twilight series. In the show, the character speaks with a distinctly Southern accent, almost like that of a British Englishman named Robert Pattinson. So the name stuck.

According to those who are familiar with German, this combination of words makes no sense. In fact, it’s usually referred to as ‘Sternschleimchen’ (German for ‘Stern’s lungworm’), which is a term used to describe someone with a serious obsession. While this is probably an urban legend, it’s said that the ‘Sternzeichen’ actually results from a mutation caused by a virus that afflicts cats. So it’s not entirely unreasonable for those who suffer from this imaginary condition to be a bit obsessed with stars and especially the Southern United States. Especially since much of the filming for the Twilight series takes place in and around New Orleans. Hence, the name ‘Pattinson’s curse’.

Sternisms: The Behavior

Now, some people might argue that even if the term ‘Sternzeichen’ doesn’t make much sense, the behavior associated with it does. They might feel that since the speech impediment is the result of a virus that afflicts cats, the actor is simply exhibiting his kitty genes. Because of this, they might conclude that he doesn’t really mean any harm by his quips, at least not consciously. This sort of thing is generally considered harmless fun or at least endearing if not a little bit clever. After all, people with cats often find that their feline companions act more like children than like adults, so maybe it’s just the same with Robert Pattinson.

However, there is another side to the ‘Sternisms’ that consist of much more sinister behavior. Some people feel that since Edward is a vampire in the Twilight series, his acts of biting and scratching are completely out of character. This interpretation goes completely against the grain of the series, in which the vampire is generally depicted as a caring and generous individual. For instance, he often gives blood to people who are sick or injured, so it’s difficult to reconcile these two sides: the noble vampire vs. the jerky one. Because of this, those who hold this belief will likely never reconcile their differences and may even see Pattinson as a threat, especially since vampires are known to be immortal and, therefore, always-alive.

So just what is this ‘Sternisms’ that people complain about so much? It’s not entirely clear what, exactly, it is that Pattinson is doing when he makes these jokes. Since he generally seems to be mocking those who have the condition, perhaps he feels that they don’t deserve any sympathy or empathy because they have something that he doesn’t have, namely, a speech impediment, brought on by a virus that afflicts cats. Or maybe he feels that they deserve what they get, since they bite and scratch whoever they come across, just like him. It’s difficult to say. What is clear is that those who take offense at these jokes often feel that Pattinson doesn’t have the right to make them, especially since he has the ability to make a living off of them. So even though they might not really mean it, they may feel that he’s threatening them. And yes, this sort of thing can lead to threats or at least to unpleasant interactions, especially if the victim is someone that Pattinson feels threatened by. (For more information on threats, see the section below entitled: ‘Threats and Bullying’.)

Apology: The Follow-Up

If you happen to be one of the many people who are upset by Pattinson’s ‘Sternisms’, you might be interested to know that he has finally found an appropriate way to apologize. In a recent interview with USA Today, the English actor stated that he was sorry for making light of the condition, even if he didn’t mean to. He attributed his behavior to immaturity and naïveté and stated that he has no idea how much pain his jokes may be causing. While this sort of thing might be enough for some people, presumably those who are still upset over the whole thing, it’s not actually good enough for those who feel that he is a genuine and sinister threat. They want him to genuinely apologize and make things right with those who have the condition, or at least with those who he may have offended.

Luckily, it seems that this sort of misunderstanding may be remedied. In a recent interview with The Verge, Kristen Stewart, who plays Bella Swan in the Twilight series, stated that she had accepted Pattinson’s apology and believed that everything would be OK. She explained that while their on-screen chemistry is often portrayed as being very intense, their real-life interactions are generally very pleasant. In fact, it’s clear that Stewart finds Pattinson to be a very likeable individual. This is probably due to his obvious vulnerability, which is something that those who know him well can detect. This sort of characteristic makes him easy to like, especially since we tend to feel compassion for those who are genuinely sweet and kind, like Edward Cullen, even when they’re playing a character.

Ultimately, the whole story behind the ‘Sternisms’ involves a virus that is said to affect cats. Much like Jack Frost, the mythical creature who bites and scratches his way through the winter, the ‘Sternzerbiss’ (German for ‘Stern’s frostbite’), this disease is associated with winter, cold weather, and nighttime. Basically, this disease causes cats to become extremely empathetic, even to the point of sentimentality. This is a very undesirable condition for those who own cats, as it means that they will feel terrible if they don’t see their companionship as totally symbiotic. Due to this, the empathetic nature of the disease can cause cats to be extremely attached to their owners and, as a result, be extremely protective of them. Because of this, those who are infected will often exhibit the same tendencies as their feline counterparts. This is why cats will often meow at the sight of their owners, or even lick them on the face. It’s also why many people with cats will find that their companions exhibit an unnaturally high degree of maturity, especially when compared to other dogs or most other animals. (For example, they’ll often play hide and seek with their owners or climb into bed with them at night, looking for cuddles and warmth, as opposed to engaging in playfights with other dogs or even other cats.)

The bottom line is that there is a vocal minority who don’t want to see Robert Pattinson’s jokes about his speech impediment because they feel that this is an inappropriate way to joke about a condition that he might be genuinely afflicted with. Those who aren’t bothered by these jokes or at least don’t find them that funny, however, may feel that he is a bit cavalier with insulting those who have the condition and may even feel that he is a threat. Since this is a vocal minority, it may be difficult for the average person to know what they’re getting into when dealing with this particular individual. This is why it’s always a good idea to be careful about how you act around someone who has been known to be, or even is, easily offended.