Word of the Week: Sparwitz

We all know someone who tries to make jokes that no one laughs at. Some people are notoriously good at telling jokes that aren’t funny (or that no one comprehends). It would be ironic to call their attempts “jokes” in the first place, so Germans have a better word for them: Sparwitze

A Sparwitz is a joke that isn’t funny or doesn’t make sense. In English, this is sometimes called an “anti-joke”. It could be a random phrase that doesn’t have much purpose and will leave people raising their eyebrows in confusion. Should they laugh? Maybe they’ll force a chuckle or maybe they’ll stare at the person telling the Sparwitz with a blank expression. The term Sparwitz comes from the words sparen (“to save”) and Witz (“joke”). It’s a joke where the jokester saves his humor for himself, leaving you with something less than funny. 

Here’s a few Sparwitze examples: 

Have you ever seen a Schnitzel run through the woods? No? Well, that’s how fast they are!

What do you call a cookie under a tree? A shady cookie! 

Two mushrooms are walking in the woods. One says “hi”, the other one says “ahhh, but mushrooms can’t speak!” 

These Sparwitze are neither funny, nor do they make much sense. Sometimes, however, the randomness of the anti-joke may cause some unexpected laughter. Some comedians even try to provoke laughter through use of Sparwitze. In English, this is referred to as anti-humor and their stand-ups are known as alternative comedy. As you can imagine, getting an audience to laugh at a Sparwitz is much more difficult than getting them to laugh at a good old joke! 

But in general, if someone is telling you some German Sparwitze that they perceive as jokes, tell them to spare you of that. 

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Riechkolben


Do you know someone who has a nose like Pinocchio? Or maybe a nose that reminds you of Rudolph? Germans would call such noses a Riechkolben!

The term comes from the words riechen (“to smell”) and Kolben (which best translates to “conk” – a colloquial term for nose). A Riechkolben defines a very large or swollen nose – one that catches your attention. Perhaps someone with a Riechkolben is suffering from a cold and has a red and oversized nose, perhaps someone got hit in the face, or perhaps someone just has a naturally large nose. Whatever the reason, you’re more likely to describe that large object on their face as a Riechkolben than a Nase (“nose”). 

It’s probably not the nicest way to refer to someone’s nose. After all, who wants to be acknowledged for having a Rudolph-sized nose on their face? 

But it is not always an insult in German. The term Riechkolben is also a medical one: it is a synonym for the olfactory bulb, a neural structure that is involved in creating a sense of smell. The olfactory bulb is located at the bottom of the brain – not the nose. So in this regard, the Riechkolben has nothing to do with the size of one’s nose and simply describes a part of the human anatomy. 

Most Germans, however, will use it to describe what they see. 

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Musikantenknochen

When you accidentally smash your inner elbow into a table or a door, you might scream in pain because the impact affected your Musikantenknochen – your so-called “musician’s bone”. But what exactly is that? 

In English, you might have heard the term “funny bone” used to describe a sensitive location in your arm. In German, this is called your Musikantenknochen, which comes from the words Musik (“music”) and Knochen (“bone”). It describes the part of your arm that is especially sensitive when you hit it against a hard surface. But what does this have to do with music? 

Well, the term can be deceiving because your Musikatentenknochen has nothing to do with music and it is not even a bone! In reality, it is the ulnar nerve – a nerve that runs along the ulna bone and is the largest unprotected nerve in your body (meaning it is just under the surface of your skin). That means it is highly sensitive and prone to injury. Some describe the feeling of hitting your Musikantenknochen against a hard surface as a sensation similar to a small electric shock. That’s sure to cause some people to cry out in pain.

It is unclear why Germans call this nerve the “musician’s bone”, but some believe it has to do with the perceived vibrations that arise when impacting the area. Others say it has to do with the cries people make when they hurt their Musikantenknochen

But one thing’s for sure: most of us are not going to sing to the sound of that music! If we hurt our Musikantenknochen, it’s best not to talk to us until we come back to our senses. 

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Fruchtfleisch

With summer around the corner, many of us are drinking more smoothies and fruit juice than usual. From fresh-squeezed orange juice to strawberry smoothies, there’s plenty of options to energize yourself on a hot day! But here’s a question for you: with Fruchtfleisch or without?

Some of us love it, some of us don’t. Fruchtfleisch comes from the words Frucht (“fruit”) and Fleisch (“meat”). But this type of “meat” is one that our vegetarians can comfortably consume. Fruchtfleisch means the “meat of the fruit” – basically, the internal part of a fruit (the part that most people eat). Fruchtfleisch can refer to the inside of the fruit or it can refer to pulp (since pulp is made up of a fruit’s “meat”). Some people prefer their juice with Fruchtfleisch, while others buy it without it.

When you peel an orange, the inside of the orange is called its Fruchtfleisch. Similarly, when you drink orange juice with pulp, you would refer to the pulp as Fruchtfleisch.

The Fruchtfleisch has more vitamins than the juice alone. Plus, it has fiber! So make sure to eat your “meat”!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Liegewiese

What do Germans do in the summer? Some travel, some hike, some swim – and others simply lounge on a Liegewiese.

The German word Liegewiese has no English equivalent. It comes from liegen (“to lie down”) and Wiese (“field”). Directly translated, Liegewiese means “lying-down-field”. It defines a place that Germans like to go when they want to relax – a grassy field.

A Liegewiese is simply just a lawn – often next to a swimming area – where people go to sunbathe. It’s essentially not more than a large patch of grass, but this grassy area is unique because it attracts sunbathers. If you visit an outdoor swimming pool in Germany in the summertime, you’ll probably notice a large area next to it where people lounge on their beach-towels in the grass. Some may have umbrellas and chairs; others lie on just a towel. Clearly Germans appreciate the simple pleasures of life; a Liegewiese has few features to it aside from mowed grass.

A Liegewiese is a great alternative for sunbathers who have no access to a beach. And at times like these, finding yourself an isolated grassy patch may be a great way to catch some rays.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Spargelzeit

It’s white asparagus time! Well, in Germany it is. In fact, this time of year is so significant to Germans that it even has it’s own name: Spargelzeit!

The word Spargel means asparagus and Zeit means time. The term Spargelzeit refers to the time of year when white asparagus is harvested in Germany (some call it Spargelsaison – “asparagus season”). For Germans, it’s a special time of year: after all, they can’t always get fresh white asparagus in the supermarkets! White asparagus grows underground with no exposure to sunlight, thus keeping it from turning green. It’s a healthy food that’s rich in nutrients and low in calories, making it an especially good choice for those who are health conscious. Most German regions have soil rich enough to grow white asparagus, but Baden-Württemberg and Lower Saxony grow more asparagus than other states and take pride in this fact. The city of Schwetzingen, located in Baden-Württemberg, calls itself the “Asparagus Capital of the World” and even hosts an annual Spargelfest (asparagus festival). To be fair, though, there’s many regions that host a springtime Spargelfest.

In Germany, asparagus lovers often use the white stalks to prepare a traditional meal that consists of asparagus, hollandaise sauce, Black Forest Ham and boiled potatoes. There are countless other recipes whose prime ingredient is white asparagus, and Germans only have a short time to try them all out: the Spargelzeit is typically over by mid-June. So if you’re in Germany in the springtime, make sure to see what the hype is about and order a dish that contains white asparagus – you won’t regret it (unless you hate vegetables)! 

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Gewohnheitstier

Are you a creature of habit? Do you wake up at the same time every day, eat the same meal every morning, take the same route to work – and like it that way? If so, Germans would call you a Gewohnheitstier

The word Gewohnheit roughly translates to “habit” and Tier means “animal”. A Gewohnheitstier is someone that’s a so-called “habit animal” that lives the same routine every day, by choice. This type of person hates change and strives to maintain a certain lifestyle. 

A typical Gewohnheitstier might, for example, have their alarm set for 7 a.m. every morning, leave their home by 7:45, pick up a coffee on the way and arrive at the office at 8:30 sharp. After work, the Gewohnheitstier might choose to take an afternoon walk along the same route that he or she always takes. The Gewohnheitstier may then watch their favorite nightly news channel, read exactly 30 pages in a book and hit the sack at the same time every night. Sound like anyone you know? 

For a Gewohnheitstier, this sort of lifestyle is enjoyable. But lack of flexibility might make certain situations difficult, such as travel or any change in one’s environment. If the grocery store runs out of their favorite breakfast ingredients or they are taking a trip to another country, then the Gewohnheitstier is forced to break their routine.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Eselsbrücke

Do you have a hard time remembering information, whether you’re studying for a biology test or trying to remember an address? Do you have a method to help you? 

In German, a trick that helps you retain information is called an Eselsbrücke – which literally translates to “donkey bridge.” A close (but less humorous) English equivalent would be “mnemonic device”. But why call a mnemonic device a “donkey bridge”? Everyone knows that donkeys aren’t the most intelligent of creatures. 

Donkeys are stubborn and hate going through water, since they have a hard time estimating its depth. As a result, they are very careful – and prefer staying on dry land. Back in the day – when donkeys were used to transport heavy loads over long distances – people built little bridges for them to cross over streams and rivers (spoiled, right?). These bridges were a short cut to a destination – just like an Eselsbrücke is a short cut to your memory! 

© dpa / picture alliance

Today, an Eselsbrücke refers to those catchy phrases or other mnemonic devices you might use to trigger your memory. You probably remember ROY G. BIV – the acronymn used to remember the spectrum of colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.) Or maybe you dictated the phrase “My Very Excited Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies” to remember the nine planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) – back when Pluto was considered a planet, that is.

Whatever your method, whatever your style, just remember that an Eselsbrücke is the tool you are using to retain that information. And who knows, maybe you’ll need your own Eselsbrücke to remember this word!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Blumenpracht

If you visit a small town in Germany in the spring or summer, we’re sure you’ll see at least one beautiful Blumenpracht on someone’s balcony. That’s because Germans love to show off their flower displays! 

The term Blumenpracht comes from the words Blume (“flower”) and Pracht (“splendor” / “glory” / “magnificence”). Blumenpracht describes a glorious display of flowers – one that has any nature lover turning their heads in awe. Blumenpracht is more than just a few flowers in a pot; it’s a very serious display of flowers that goes beyond what your average person would have at home. This type of flower display requires lots of attention and care. 

But Blumenpracht is not necessarily found in someone’s home or garden. It can also be found in public spaces – like a park or botanical garden. If it makes you whip out your camera or stop in awe, then you’re surely looking at a magnificent Blumenpracht.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Nervensäge

Is there someone who irritates you to the point of insanity? Does it feel like this person is sawing through your nerves every time they speak? In German, you would call them a Nervensäge

A fusion of the words Nerven (“nerves”) and Säge (“saw”), the term describes someone who annoys, bothers or irritates you persistently – in a figurative sense, someone who cuts through your nerves. This might be a child who asks constant questions when you are busy, a coworker who won’t stop talking when you’re trying to work or a mother-in-law who questions you about every detail of your life. 

The English phrase “getting on someone’s nerves” is closely related, but there is no equivalent for the German word Nervensäge, other than “nuisance” or “pain in the neck.” 

Some people have more delicate nerves than others — making them more vulnerable to the effects of a Nervensäge. Others have a higher tolerance, and are only affected if a Nervensäge persistently pushes them to their breaking point. 

A good – but rather dramatic – example of a Nervensäge is portrayed in the 1996 comedy film “The Cable Guy” (in German: Cable Guy – Die Nervensäge). In the film, a lonely cable guy named Chip tries desperately to befriend one of his customers, Steven. At first, all goes well and the two seem to be forming a normal friendship. But after a few days, Chip begins to bombard his new friend with voice messages (at one point, 10 in a row) and “runs into” him everywhere he goes. At this point, the cable guy has become a true Nervensäge that clings onto his new friend. He ultimately escalates to violence and stalking – which goes beyond the levels of a traditional Nervensäge – but throughout much of the show, Chip is a good example of someone who really knows how to “saw” through someone’s nerves. 

You probably won’t meet anyone like the cable guy, but we are sure you’ve been around a Nervensäge – someone who just knows how to push your buttons. If not, then props to you for being so tolerant!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy