Word of the Week: Dreikäsehoch

What do you call a tiny little kid in German? A Dreikäsehoch! Literally translated, this colloquial German word means “three-cheeses-tall,” but has little to do with cheese and instead defines a child (usually a boy) that we would refer to in English as a “tiny tot.”

A Dreikäsehoch usually refers to a curious and intelligent child who is too small to do much, but tries to act like a “big shot.” If, for example, an ambitious five-year-old tells his parent that he wants to run in a marathon, the parent might respond, “but you are a Dreikäsehoch” – thereby indicating that the child is too little (only three cheeses tall!) to do so.

But why does this colloquial term refer to cheese, of all things?

Throughout history, cheese has always been an important resource. The Greeks considered it a delicacy, using it as a sacrifice for the Gods. The Romans considered it an important part of their diet, carrying slabs of cheese with them as they roamed through Europe. Cheese quickly gained popularity across Europe in the Middle Ages, and people soon knew what to expect when they obtained a wheel, which were usually about the same size and weight, according to WDR.

As a result, cheese become a standard measuring device in homes across Europe. In French, the word caisse refers to both boxes and cheese, and both were used as measuring devices. Similarly in Germany, large wheels of cheese were used as measuring units.

Thus, the word Dreikäsehoch originated in 18th century Northern Germany, referring to little boys no taller than three stacked wheels of cheese.

However, this mildly humorous reference was chosen as the third-most endangered beloved German word in 2007, and is slowly falling out of use in common language.

But perhaps you can help bring this 18th century word back into conversation. Next time you see a tiny tot trying to engage in activities he is too small for, you can remind him that’s he’s still only a little Dreikäsehoch.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

 

Word of the Week: Bandsalat

If you’re a Baby Boomer, Generation X or (in some cases) a Millennial, you may still remember what life was like before the invention of CDs or DVDs. In those long-ago days, you had to listen to your favorite music on cassette tapes or watch movies on VHS. Which means you probably dealt with a Bandsalat at some point.

©dpa

Bandsalat translates to “tape salad”, and no – it’s not the type of salad you can eat. Bandsalat is the mess that forms when a cassette or video tape goes crazy and the tape comes out and gets tangled up in itself. This frequently happened to music tapes when you had to turn the cassette around to listen to the other half of it. Since the music or movie was stored on this tape, a Bandsalat had the potential to ruin it entirely. If the tape had a tear in it, you may not have been able to do much to fix it. But if it’s just tangled, you may have been able to detangle it and roll it back up with the help of a pinky finger and some patience.

Most 80s kids will remember their beloved cassette tapes and the anger they felt when they ended up with a Bandsalat.

If you grew up in the pre-CD era, we know you’ll relate to this word.

And if you didn’t, we hope you feel fortunate that you don’t have to do deal with “tape salads”.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Erbsenzähler

Germans have a very specific word that describes someone who is nitpicky, obsessed with details and a control freak: an Erbsenzähler. In German, the word Erbsen means “peas” and Zähler means counter — as in, someone who is keeping a numerical record. Thus, an Erbsenzähler literally describes someone who counts peas — you know, the kind of peas you might find on your dinner plate.

So how did a “pea counter” become the term for a nitpicky individual?

According to a story that has been passed down for over a century, the term originated in the year 1847, when a German publisher was visiting the Milan Cathedral.

Spiral staircase

Karl Baedeker (1801-1859), founder of a tourism guidebook company called Baedeker, was known for being very precise, careful and calculated. When he was climbing the stairs of the Milan Cathedral one day, German Shakespearen scholar Gisbert von Vincke witnessed one of Baedeker’s most peculiar actions: after every twenty stairs, the book publisher would reach into his right trouser pocket, take out a dried pea and place it in his left trouser pocket. After reaching the top of the cathedral, Baedeker could determine the number of stairs he climbed by checking to see how many peas he had in his left pocket and multiplying them by 20.

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Word of the Week: Luftschloss

Do you spend a lot of time dreaming up a life that you wish you lived? Do you create grandiose scenarios in your mind, or visualize that impossibly expensive 20-bedroom mansion? In German, there’s a special word to describe that “castle in the sky”: Luftschloss.

The word Luft means “air” (or in this context, “sky”), and Schloss means “castle”. The word Luftschloss therefore describes an unrealistic plan or dream that a person longs for, even though it is usually unattainable. The literal translation – “castle in the sky” – is a metaphor for those dreams: they exist only in one’s mind.

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Word of the Week: Familienkutsche

If you have a large family, how do you transport everyone all at once? In the olden days, you would use a horse and buggy. Today, you might choose to buy a minivan for that purpose.

To take your whole family with you on a trip, you would probably need a Familienkutsche. This form of transportation usually has a large amount of horsepower. And no, we are not talking about the animals. We are talking about a vehicle with a lot of power and space – something like a camper van, SUV or minivan.

The term Familienkutsche comes from Familie (“family”) and Kutsche (“carriage”). In the olden days this may have referred to a horse-drawn carriage, but today, it refers to a large automobile filled with parents, children and all of their stuff. A Familienkutsche is great for road trips in the countryside, but it’s not something you want to try to find parking for in a city!

Word of the Week: Narrenruf

We’re in the midst of carnival season in Germany, so it’s only fitting that our Word of the Week is something that will come in handy during these festive days!

© dpa / picture-alliance

Our Word of the Week is Narrenruf, which means “fool’s shout”.

A Narrenruf is whatever revelers shout to each other on the streets during a carnival celebration. It is a call used to greet each other in the midst of the partying and festivities. In this way, you greet others celebrating carnival and acknowledge your mutual excitement.

Each carnival-celebrating region has its own unique Narrenruf. In Cologne, you’ll most likely hear people shouting Kölle Alaaf (“long live Cologne!”).

In other parts of Germany, including Düsseldorf and Mainz, you may here people shouting Helau!

In Berlin, you may hear Hajo! Other common Narrenrufe are Ahoi! (Bavaria and northern Germany), Ho Narro! (Konstanz) and Schelle-schelle-schellau! (Allgäu).

Make sure you know the proper Narrenruf for that region before shouting it out!

The word Narr is the medieval German word for fool. In 18th century writings, the term was often written as Narro. Its origins, however, are not known. The word Ruf simply means “call” or “shout” (as nouns). The Narrenruf has a huge cultural value for carnival in Germany. Everyone who celebrates knows and uses one. It is simply part of the tradition.

So next time you’re celebrating carnival with Germany, find out what the Narrenruf is in your area and use it to greet others during the festivities!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Elefantenrennen

Few things are as annoying as being stuck behind a truck on a highway – with no way around. Germans have a unique word for one such phenomena.

The German word Elefantenrennen translates to “elephant racing”. But this strange German word has little to do with elephants.

“Elephant racing” occurs when one truck tries to overtake another truck on the highway with minimum speed difference. This results in a blockage of lanes – making it challenging (or sometimes impossible) to pass the large vehicles.

Like elephants, trucks can be massively sized, take up a lot of space and keep you stuck behind them.

An Elefantenrennen can cause slow-downs and traffic jams when there are many vehicles on the roads. In fact, Elefantenrennen is even illegal in Germany (that is: trucks overtaking trucks at “low speeds” is illegal). That doesn’t stop it from happening every once in a while.

If you’re stuck behind two racing elephants, the best thing you can do is slow down and hope the race ends quickly.

Word of the Week: Herrengedeck

When you find yourself at a bar, do you usually opt for a mixed drink consisting of beer and liquor or a strawberry daiquiri?
If you go for the beer cocktail, then you are ordering a so-called Herrengedeck.
The German word Herrengedeck means “gentlemen’s menu”. And no, we’re not talking about steaks or other “manly” foods. A Herrengedeck is a “manly” drink consisting of two types of alcohol. Stereotypically, men order beer, schnapps and whiskey, while women order sweeter mixed drinks.

© colourbox

Of course, this is merely a stereotype, but Germans have a word for everything – including manly mixed drinks. So if you’re a man and you’re trying to impress the other guys, make sure you order a Herrengedeck. If you’re in eastern Germany, you’ll probably receive a cocktail containing beer and sparkling wine. If you’re in northern or west Germany, you’ll probably get a mixture of beer and Korn (a German hard liquor made from fermented rye). A Herrengedeck varies based on the region but one thing is for sure: it’s manly. You don’t want to be caught dead with a pina colada in your hand, do you?

Word of the Week: Litfaßsäule

© picture alliance / Johann Pesl

If you’ve been to Germany, you’ve probably seen many Litfaßsäulen – especially in the cities.

Litfaßsäule is a tall cyclindrival advertising column usually placed on sidewalks (in English, you would call this a Morris column). Although several European cities use this type of structure for advertising, they were actually invented in Germany. Thus, the word Litfaßsäule is also uniquely German.

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Word of the Week: schräger Vogel

Last week we looked at the word Eigenbrötler, which refers to a pecular person who spends most of his time alone, doing his own thing. This week, we have another similar word for you.

The term schräger Vogel translates to “slanted/crooked bird.” But in this case, the word schräg means “strange” instead of “crooked”. And it has nothing to do with our feathery friends.

Instead, the term refers to a semi crazy and strange person. A schräger Vogel is someone that may have unusual habits. Instead of saying “what a weirdo”, you might say “what a schräger Vogel“.

The term first arose in the 16th century. Back then, people used the word Vogel (“bird”) to create metaphors for strange people. Those with pecularlities were often called komischer Vogel (“strange bird”) or seltener Vogel (“rare bird”). In fact, the oldest documented use of this term was in the writings by Reformation leader Martin Luther!

At some point, the term evolved to schräger Vogel, but it is not clear when that evolution occurred. In addition to schräger Vogel, today we continue to use the word Vogel to refer to craziness. Instead of saying “you have a screw loose”, a German might say, “Du hast einen Vogel!” (“You have a bird!”).

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany