Word of the Week: Eiertanz

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Have you ever wondered what to do with any leftover colored Easter eggs you don’t plan on keeping for next year or are unable to eat anytime soon? How about conducting an “Eiertanz” (egg dance) with them, an expression that once was taken literally but today has an altogether different meaning.

“Eiertanz” is mostly used as a figure of speech to indicate how an individual might “beat around the bush” by avoiding the heart of a matter. In this vein, Germans might use the expression “einen Eiertanz aufführen/vorführen” (performing an egg dance) to connote careful or complex behavior and/or conversation used as a stalling and/or avoidance tactic.

Originally, however, this expression was actually used to describe a type of dance that was literally performed around eggs strewn about the dance floor. Among the first known German literary references to an “Eiertanz” was a citation dating back to 1795 in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre” (Wilhelm Meisters Apprentice Years), in which the character Mignon dances blindfolded between eggs laid out on a floor.

Similar expressions include “Herumeiern” and “Herumgeeiere,” which essentially boils down to “waffling around” or engaging in stalling tactics in difficult situations or social scenarios.

The expression “German Eiertanz” moreover wended its way into the English language according to news agency Bloomberg in 2011 to describe Germany’s alleged reluctance in dealing with the euro crisis.

A common “Spielart” (gaming tactic) of the “Eiertanz” is the “Salamitaktik” (salami strategy), which can in particular be observed in politics.

The English expression “walking on eggshells,” however, is not entirely synonymous with “Eiertanz.” This figure of speech applies more to avoiding conflict or confrontation with a disgruntled partner or adversary, particularly in the personal versus the political realm and is used more to critique the person being avoided due to their generally moody behavior.

Word of the Week: Tortenheber

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What do you use to lift up a piece of pie and place it on a plate? A Tortenheber, of course!

It seems that Germans have a word for everything, even simple objects that do not have a name in English. One such object is the so-called Tortenheber, which translates directly to “pie lifter” or, more indirectly – “cake shovel”. If you don’t know what that is, do not worry – you’ve probably seen one, but can’t think of its name!

A Tortenheber is a tool with a handle and a triangle-shaped surface that is used to pick up a slice of cake or pie and move it onto a plate. This makes it easy to serve cake to a large group of guests – especially when the cake is dry and falling apart. It also prevents servers from having to use their fingers or other tools to serve slices of cake.

Search for a pie spatula, pie lifter, cake server,  cake shovel or any other variation online and you will find photos of a Tortenheber. Luckily, Germans are less likely to get confused when asking for one at the store, since they have a word that clearly defines this highly specific kitchenware.

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By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Verdauungsspaziergang

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What do you do when you ate too much? You go on a Verdauungsspaziergang, of course!

A Verdauungsspaziergang is a walk that you take to get you moving and help you digest your food more quickly.

This colloquial term comes from the words Verdauung (“digestion”) and Spaziergang (“a walk”). A direct translation would be a “digestion walk”. After stuffing yourself, it may be wiser to go for a Verdauungsspaziergang instead of lying down, which would ultimately make it more difficult to get moving again. By getting some fresh air and moving your body, you are speeding up the digestion process.

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In German, there’s a saying that emphasizes this belief: Nach dem Essen sollst du ruh’n oder tausend Schritte tun (“After eating you should rest or take a thousand steps.”) This phrase originated in Ancient Rome, which suggests that people have believed in the benefit of a “digestion walk” for centuries.

So next time you eat too much, avoid the temptation of lying down – and go for a walk instead!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Geborgenheit

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The German word Geborgenheit is difficult to translate, but it encompasses a range of feelings that make it a powerful word. A translation dictionary might describe Geborgenheit as “feelings of security”, but that does not do the word justice. Geborgenheit is the sum of warmth, protection, security, trust, love, peace, closeness and comfort. Imagine all of those feelings described in one word – that’s Geborgenheit!

Perhaps the best way to understand Geborgenheit is through examples. Someone might describe Geborgenheit as the feeling he gets when he visits his grandmother and she brings out his favorite dish from childhood. Another person might describe Geborgenheit as the feelings he or she gets when returning to their old bedroom in their parents’ house. It could be the feeling you get at a fireplace beside your lover, or the feeling you get when you are under your blanket on a cold night. Basically, Geborgenheit can be the result of any situation where you feel secure, content and protected.

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Most languages (including English, French and Russian) do not have a word for this expression. However, adequate translations of Geborgenheit do exist in Dutch and Afrikaans. And Germans are particularly fond of this term: in 2004, the Deutscher Sprachrat (German Language Council) and the Goethe Institute selected Geborgenheit as the second most beautiful word in the German language. A beautiful word for a beautiful feeling!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Morgenmuffel

Are you a grouch in the morning? Do you glare at everyone who tries to speak to you before noon? Well, my friend, that makes you a Morgenmuffel (“morning grouch”)!

This German word describes those who struggle to wake up in the mornings. If you – or someone you know wanders the earth like a zombie before their first cup of coffee, they’re probably a Morgenmuffel. These “morning grouches” are often in a bad mood and usually avoid early-morning conversations. They may, however, be much cheerier and productive at night — the type of people that Americans would call “night owls.” But in English, there is no equivalent for the word Morgenmuffel.

The German word Muffel (“grouch”) has been around for at least several hundred years, and its etymology is quite interesting. The Duden, a dictionary of the German language, traces it back to the Dutch word moppen, which morphed into the Low German mopen and ultimately, Mops (a type of dog known in English as a “pug”). The verb muffeln (“to chew with a full mouth”) and muffig (“damp, moldy”) are also related. A German dictionary from the year 1793 describes a Muffel as both a creature with low-hanging lips (most often, a dog) and as an ill-tempered person who hangs his head low and has a grim expression (much like such a dog).

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Look at a picture of a pug. Does that remind you of a grouch? To some, the resemblence was uncanny – and today, the word Muffel is applied to anyone who is in a bad mood. You can be a Sportmuffel (someone who is disinterested in sports), a Krawattenmuffel (someone who becomes a grouch when he has to wear a tie), a Lesemuffel (someone who hates to read), or a Trinkgeldmuffel (someone who begrudges the idea of tipping at a restaurant). The list goes on and on: in German, you can be a Muffel at just about any occasion!

But the most common Muffel is of course the Morgenmuffel. Chances are, you either are one or you know one. So grab that cup of coffee and lift your head up a little higher. It might be early, but things aren’t so bad!

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By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Honigkuchenpferd

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If you’ve got a big dorky grin across your face, a German might tell you that you’re grinning like a Honigkuchenpferd – a “honey-cake-horse.” Basically, a horse-shaped honey cake. But why the strange comparison?

Well, even Germans aren’t quite sure where the expression came from, but they use it frequently. A close English equivalent would be “to grin like a Cheshire cat”, since the striped purple cat from Alice in Wonderland is known for its excessively large smile.

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A Honigkuchenpferd, on the other hand, is a Lebkuchen (gingerbread) horse that usually has a big grin painted onto its face with icing (these are often found on fairgrounds and marketplaces). But rather than describe the pastry, Germans more often use the term to describe a person with a grin so big that it lights up the room.

A teenager who just had his or her first date might be grinning like a Honigkuchenpferd – or someone who just got a promotion at work. Whatever the reason, their smile is unusually large – almost as large as the smile on a horse-shaped honey cake.

There are multiple other ways to make the comparison as well: someone can laugh like a horse-shaped honey cake (lachen wie ein Honigkuchenpferd) or radiate like a horse-shaped honey cake (strahlen wie ein Honigkuchenpferd) – you get the picture.

So next time you see your German-speaking friend, colleague or family member smiling from ear to ear, you may want to tease them about it and call them a Honigkuchenpferd!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Sehnsucht

The German language is filled with words that do not exist in English. One such word is Sehnsucht, which is difficult to translate accurately. Sehnsucht is a deep emotional state; it describes an intense longing, craving, yearning or “intensely missing” something or someone. English translations do not do this term justice; it is a much more emotionally charged word in German.

Someone can possess Sehnsucht for a faraway place – a deep yearning to be somewhere else, one that consumes your thoughts. Someone could also have Sehnsucht for another person; two lovers separated by distance may possess this sort of craving for each other. Someone could also have Sehnsucht for a different life – one that occupies their dreams while their reality is mediocre.

The term comes from the words das Sehnen (“yearning”) and das Siechtum (“a lingering illness”). The yearning described by Sehnsucht is, in some regards, like an illness, because it is all-consuming and will not go away easily. What do you have Sehnsucht for? Your star-crossed lover? A life in Hawaii? Your childhood? Or the future of your dreams?

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: gute Vorsätze

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At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, many of us transform suddenly from inebriated revelers to neurotic dieters as we make shedding those extra holiday pounds one of our primary resolutions for the New Year.

As if wiping our individual slates clean, dismissing all the missteps we may have taken or things we did not get done over the course of the past 12 months, we decide that THIS is the year to finally, for instance, shed those extra 20 pounds, get our finances in order, or spend more time with friends and family.

In German, such New Year’s resolutions are known as “gute Vorsätze fürs neue Jahr”. And “to make resolutions” is simply to engage in “(gute) Vorsätze fassen.”

As a stand-alone noun, “Vorsätze” (plural) can be translated, depending on the context, as intents, intentions or resolutions.

Prefacing this with “gute” (good) is generally the preferred expression at the beginning of the year, to express how we have “good intentions/resolutions” for the New Year. And adding the verb “fassen” (grab/seize/grasp, as

well as comprehend/realize, among other possible meanings/usages) rounds out the expression “gute Vorsätze fassen.”

The expression “mit typischen Neujahrsvorsätzen” meanwhile means “with typical New Year’s resolutions.”

As in the United States, this is a common practice in Germany, where lists of New Year’s resolutions, or “gute Vorsätze,” are not uncommon.

Word of the Week: Winterdienst

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If you live in a cold place, there’s a good chance you might get some snow this winter! And if you do, you might stay at home until the Winterdienst clears the roads!

Literally translated, the word Winterdienst means “winter service.” It’s a broad term that can be used to describe any person or service employed to clear the mess created by winter weather conditions, whether it’s snow, ice or freezing rain! The Winterdienst could refer to a snow-plowing service, winter road maintenance, snow and ice control, snow plowing or sanding. If you see people salting the roads, it’s the Winterdienst. If you see someone driving a snowplow, it’s also the Winterdienst!

In English, we don’t have a single word that describes all of these services. It’s a practical – and commonly used – word that you will hear in Germany when the snow begins to pile up. Where is the Winterdienst? Hopefully the Winterdienst will be working overnight to make it safe for you to drive the next morning!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Lebkuchen

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You’ve probably had it – or know what it is; Lebkuchen is a German delicacy commonly found at German-style Christmas markets, as well as other festivals and events. But do you know the origins of the word Lebkuchen? They can be traced back hundreds of years!

As you may know, Lebkuchen is a German treat that is similar to gingerbread. At Christmas markets, it often takes on a heart-shaped form and is topped with icing that spells out messages of joy. The treats can vary in shape and flavor; some are round, some are spicy and others are sweet.

The origins of the holiday delicacy can be traced to ancient times; the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans believed that honey had magical healing powers, so they created a “honey cake” similar to what we now know as Lebkuchen. Some people wore these honey cakes around their neck as a sort of protection against evil. Honey cake has even been found in the tombs of pharaohs who died 4,000 years ago!

But the German-style Lebkuchen we know today first arose in the 13th century. German monks in Ulm and Nuremberg had heard about the healing powers of the magical honey cakes, so they brought the delicacies into the monasteries. Although the origins of the word Lebkuchen itself remain unclear, it is suspected that it comes from the Latin word libum (Fladen, or “flat bread”) or the German word Laib (loaf).

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And while some Germans refer to it as Lebkuchen, others call the delicacy Pfefferkuchen (“pepper cake”), since many types of spices can be added to the cake (and all spices used to be referred to as types of Pfeffer).

In some regions of Germany, it has also been referred to as Lebenskuchen (“cake for life”), Magenbrot (“bread for the stomach”), Labekuchen or Leckkuchen. In most cases, the words either describe the supposed healing properties of the delicacy or use a more general description of its ingredients or appearance.

But one thing is clear: Lebkuchen has become an important part of German culture. Whether you’re at Oktoberfest or a Christmas market (during normal, non-pandemic times), you’re bound to find rows of Lebkuchen hearts and stars lining the booths of vendors. So when you bring your friends and family a souvenir from Germany, don’t tell them it’s gingerbread; refer to it as Lebkuchen!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy