Word of the Week: Weichei

A “Weichei” (soft egg) has nothing to do with eating breakfast in Germany and everything to do with insulting a (usually) male individual by suggesting he really should “man up” about something or other, lest he run the risk of mockery for his wimpy ways.

This expression, like many jocular insults, is often used in jest of course. But it can be deployed to suggest someone is really being a “wimp” – either as a general character trait or within the context of a certain situation.

Yet another German compound noun, it is comprised of the words “weich” (soft) and “Ei” (egg), to literally mean “soft egg,” but actually mean “wimp.” It is thereby a synonym of sorts for “Feigling” (coward).

Another similar expression that boils down to mean just about the same thing is “Warmduscher”, which literally means “hot showerer.” This expression is used to connote someone who is a “wimp” because he (again, this usually applies exclusively to guys!) takes hot showers.

So if you are a guy and happen to be in Germany and hear someone call you a “Weichei” or a “Warmduscher”, you may want to ask why you have been branded a “wimp” by somebody.

“Waschlappen” (wash cloth) and “Memme” – a reference (like Mamme, or mammory) to female breasts – are also similar to “Weichei” in that they may be used as to describe a “wet rag” or “womanly” type of “wimpy” or “sissy” guy.

A “Weichei”, however has nothing to do with the soft-boiled eggs Germans enjoy during breakfast.

This is not the kind of Weichei we’re talking about.

Word of the Week: Leseratte

Do you read every night? Are you obsessed with your book collection? Do you feel like there’s something missing whenever you’re without the pages of your favorite author? Germans would likely call you a Leseratte!

In German, lesen means “to read” and Ratte means “rat” — yes, the kind you might find in the subway tunnel… or the pet store. So directly translated, Leseratte means “reading rat”.

But don’t feel insulted.

The word Ratte is often used to define someone who loves something very much. A Leseratte is a person who loves picking up a good book. Meanwhile, a Wasserratte is a person who loves being in the water (Wasser means “water”) and a Landratte is someone who is afraid to set foot on a boat and would rather spend his or her life on land.

But unlike a “book worm” (in German: Bücherwurm) who lives with his nose between the pages (and doesn’t get out very much!), a Leseratte simply loves to read. The closest English equivalent would be an “avid reader”.

The colloquial term originated in the late 19th century and has been used ever since. Rats were considered voracious creatures and people who “devoured” books without end were thus compared to rats. Although the presence of the word “rat” may give the word a slightly negative connotation, a Leseratte describes someone who possesses a love of books — which is in no way negative. So crack those books and keep on reading, you Leseratte!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Schlaumeier

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A “Schlaumeier” is someone who is clever or cunning. Given that this expression is deployed more often than not in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, it is best to be on your guard if someone calls you a “Schlaumeier.”

In German, “schlau” means clever, whereas “Meier” is a common surname, like “Smith” in English. Back in the Middle Ages, a “Meier” was someone who administered the property of a noble or ecclesiastical landowner. They often worked on a “Meierhof” or “Meiergut” (farm or estate). Later, as regular folk acquired more property rights, a “Meier” was also an independent sharecropper or farmer. Similarly, a “Meierei” was a “Pachtgut” (leasehold) farm or a dairy, which is also known as a “Molkerei.

Somehow over the centuries the expression “Schlaumeier” evolved to mean a clever, cunning or crafty person. Somebody who believes they are particularly clever may, in this vein, be jokingly branded a “Schlaumeier.”

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Synonyms for “Schlaumeier” include “Schlauberger,” “Schlaufuchs” (clever fox), and “Schlaukopf” (clever head). More critical synonyms might be “Angeber” (show-off), “Besserwisser” (know-it-all), “Intelligenzbestie” (intelligence ‘beast’) or – more colloquially – “Klugscheißer,” “Klugschnacker” or “Klugschwätzer” – all variations of what could essentially be defined as a kind of “know-it-all” teller of tall tales.

So “Schlaumeier” is usually a verbal imposter: This would-be compliment might more often than not be laced with a facetious undertone. Yet this expression is usually issued as a missive from one person to another in jest. So if someone exclaims in a teasing tone “Hey, du Schlaumeier du!” (Hey, you Schlaumeier you!), it could be interpreted as an exasperated or mocking term of endearment, especially when accompanied by a friendly pat on the back and a hearty chuckle.

A fun and oft-used related phrase in German is “Vereinsmeier” (Club-Meier). It pertains to Germans’ penchant for joining all sorts of clubs, such as athlectic clubs, gardening clubs or chess clubs. Germans like to get together in such clubs or associations (Vereine). Someone who, however, might be considerd to be too involved in too many such clubs, or take his or her involvement in such clubs just a tad too seriously, is often mockingly or derisively described as a “Vereinsmeier.”

Both “Schlaumeier” and “Vereinsmeier” are masculine nouns that are hardly ever used in a feminine form. Variations of the surname Meier, incidentally, include Maier, Mair, Mayer, Mayr, Meyer and Meyr.

Word of the Week: Dampfplauderer

You know that friend of yours who just won’t stop talking? That person you can never get off the phone, or the person who goes on and on with pointless stories? Germans have a name for someone like this: a Dampfplauderer! A Dampfplauderer is a person who has always has something to say, but never says anything of substance. This sort of person likes to hear him or herself talk. Unfortunately for the rest of us, we’re often stuck listening to a Dampfplauderer, pretending to be interested while contemplating how to end the conversation. The English translation for the word Dampfplauderer is “chatterbox” – and that’s a pretty good translation. The word chatterbox, after all, is usually associated with someone that has a lot of idle chatter, but says very few meaningful things. Listening to a Dampfplauderer, you might start wondering what the point of their story is, only to realize there is no point. The term consists of the words Dampf, which means “steam”, and plauder, which means “chat”. So a literal translation could be “steam chatter” – someone whose words come out like steam – lacking real substance.

Whether it’s a friend who likes to talk or someone who speaks too much in meetings, I’m sure we have all got a Dampfplauderer in our lives!

Rennpappe: the “racing cardboard” of East Germany

If you’re familiar with East German cars, you probably know that they’re not the best quality. But that’s probably an understatement: they were so bad, in fact, that Germans began referring to them as Rennpappe, which means “racing cardboard”.

The colloquial term Rennpappe comes from rennen (“to race/run”) and Pappe (“cardboard”). The term mockingly refers to the cheaply-produced Trabant cars – an East German automobile made of inexpensive materials.
The Trabant (also referred to as a Trabi) featured a two-stroke engine and was constructed using Duroplast – a hard plastic consisting of recycled materials. Since the vehicle was built using recycled waste, there was a widely-held misconception that it was made of cardboard, and over time, East Germans referred to the Trabi as a Rennpappe.

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Between 1957 and 1991, the German Democratic Republic produced 3.7 million Trabis. Due to its poor economy and lack of materials, however, the wait time for the four-passenger vehicle was 14 years.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, many East Germans drove to the West in their Trabants. But many soon realized they would rather have a second-hand western car than a new Trabi, since western cars were more efficient, produced less pollution and were overall better quality. As a result, the Rennpappen were often given away for free, abandoned, or in some cases sold for 1 Deutsche Mark (DM). The Trabant factory, located in Saxony, was shut down in 1991 due to low demand.

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Over time, however, the Trabant became a symbol of East Germany, and its value began to increase. Having a Rennpappe today is special: they are viewed as antique collector’s items, and often put on display during German festivals, parties and events. And although they are more frequently called Trabis, Germans who used to own one back in the day might still refer to them as their Rennpappe.

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By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

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