Word of the Week: Moin

Like last week, your business partner takes you in an elevator to the meeting room, but this time you are up north, maybe in Kiel. It’s 6 pm. Somebody steps in, looks at you, and says “Moin!” Did that person oversleep and wish “good morning” at the end of the day?

Certainly not! Northern Germans use “Moin!” as a typical local greeting all day long. Your immediate guess will be that it is the regional version of “morning”. Maybe, maybe not. What does it mean and where does it come from?

The etymology of “moin” is uncertain. The connection to the standard German word “Morgen” (morning) seems natural, but is debated. Using “Guten Moin!” as a term for “Good morning!” for example would not be seen as correct and create raised eyebrows with any North German. Probably, “Moin!” comes from the East Frisian word “mōi” respectively from the Middle Low German “moi(e)”, which both mean “good/nice/lovely”. In East Friesland, they also say “Moin Dag!” corresponding to a Standard German “Guten Tag!” (“good day!”). So in this case, the best translation for today’s “Moin!” would be “Have a good one!” People in other parts of the country might use “Moin!” as well, but not during the whole day.

Frequently, you hear the reduplication “Moin-Moin!”. This expression is deemed to be more polite and can especially be used in response to the single “Moin!” Some people regard this as overdoing, though. “Moin-Moin!” might be derived from the Frisian phrase “Moi Morn!” (“Good morning!”), but it is no longer limited to the morning: Just like the simple term, North Germans (and some Danish and Dutch as well) use it throughout the day.

“Moin” continues its success across the country, and even entered the lingo of young Germans: “Moinsen!” is a modification of “Moin!”, and a very casual greeting among youths.

Although the expression originated at the North Sea coast, the oldest mention can be traced back to 1828, where “Moin!” and “Moin-Moin!” emerge as a greeting among officers in the “Berliner Conversations-Blatt für Poesie, Literatur und Kritik”.

The German Navy allows “Moin!” as a semiformal salutation. According to sailors, this greeting promotes a less formal atmosphere and a spirit of comradeship.

So, using “Moin!” as a greeting is a good idea in Northern Germany, and across the border in Southern Denmark and the Eastern Netherlands. It will not be understood in Southern Germany, unless you happen to talk to somebody who served in the navy.

Word of the Week: Wandervogel

Long summer days are ahead of us, which means it’s the perfect time to go for a hike! When you wake up on a cloudless Saturday morning, do you have a burning desire to strap on your hiking boots and explore the great outdoors? If so, you might be considered a Wandervogel.

In German, the word Wander means “hiking,” and Vogel means “bird.” When combined, these words refer to a person who enjoys hiking or traveling on foot. Like a bird of passage, the Wandervogel moves from one place to the next, whether for a daylong adventure or a longer journey.
This term was used in a well-known poem written by Otto Roquette (1824-1896), in which he compares himself to the migratory birds soaring carelessly across the sky.

Although the term can be used to describe anyone who explores and tries to connect with nature, it is also the name of a popular German movement launched in Berlin in 1896. More than a century ago, a group of German youths founded the Wandervögel, an organization whose members yearned for the pre-industrial days in which societies were closer to nature. They rejected big cities, greed, materialism and oppressive politics, and strived for a culture in which they returned to nature and valued independence, freedom, adventure and individual responsibility.

Wearing hiking boots and shorts, the Wandervögel gathered for long walks in the mountains and forests of Germany, camping under the stars and singing old German folk songs.

The two World Wars of the 1900s affected the development of the movement. After World War I, the Wandervögel united with other youth groups.

The movement, however, was banned by the Nazis in 1933, who established the Hitler Youth to replace all others. After World War II came to an end, the Wandervögel group was reignited, but a number of factions also sprung off of it and it wasn’t the same.

Today, the term has little to do with any of these organizations. People usually define a Wandervogel as a person who is in tune with nature – but it’s not as commonly used as it used to be. If you’re a free spirit that soars through life seeking your next outdoor adventure, there’s a good chance you’re a Wandervogel.

Word of the Week: Sauwetter

Look outside, what do you see? If it’s gray, rainy or cold, you’re experiencing what Germans would call Sauwetter – a term for lousy weather! Directly translated, however, Sauwetter means “pig weather”.

Cloudy with a chance of… pigs?

Not exactly.

When it rains, the earth becomes soft and mud beings to form. Pigs feel most comfortable in the mud – so a rainy day is ideal for them. On sunny days, pigs would much rather lie in the shade. Some say that the word Sauwetter was a term first used by hunters in German; since wild pigs are most active when it rains, the best times to hunt them is on a rainy day. As a result, such days were called Sauwetter (“pig weather”) days.

But the term Sau is used in front of other German words too. Animal names are often used as prefixes in the German language, giving those words the traits of the animal. In some parts of Germany, placing the term Sau in front of another word makes it more extreme and emphasizes its unpleasantness (pigs were often viewed as unpleasant and dirty). Two more examples are Saukalt (extremely cold) and Sauarbeit (dirty work).

Today, the word Sauwetter is used to describe any sort of unfortunate weather occasion, including rain, sleet, wet snow, extreme cold, flooding or extreme heat. Basically, any weather that is unpleasant or inconvenient may be referenced that way – whether or not there are pigs in the area.
Unfortunately for Germans, Sauwetter is not uncommon in Germany. And unfortunately for us at the Embassy, it’s not uncommon in Washington either. We’re in the midst of a very rainy week that we hope will end soon!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Nabelschau

The German word Nabelschau means “navel-gazing” or “staring at your navel”. But in this case, it doesn’t refer to anyone else’s belly button – just your own.

In a literal sense, Nabelschau means looking at your own navel for a long period of time. But most people probably don’t do that. In the German language, the term has a negative connotation and refers to self-absorbed pursuits, self-centeredness or excessive contemplation of oneself. The Nabelschau is a narcissistic activity – one that distracts from the things that are truly important in life.

The word is a paronym of the Greek word omphalaskepsis (“navel-gazing”) – a form of self-contemplation often practiced as an aid to meditation. But while omphalaskepsis is a positive practice that allows you to connect with yourself, the Nabelschau is usually not – at least, not in colloquial German.

If someone accuses you of exhibiting a Nabelschau, that person probably thinks of you as self-absorbed. Don’t take it as a compliment.

Word of the Week: Studentenfutter

If you’re craving a healthy snack, what do you go for? Studentenfutter, perhaps? The German word Studentenfutter means “students’ feed”, but describes what we typically refer to as trail mix. And it has an interesting story dating back to the 1600s.

The word Studenten means “students” and Futter means “feed”, but students aren’t the only ones to eat this delicious, healthy snack, which usually consists of raisins, nuts and dried fruit. Back in the 17th century, however, students were more likely to consume trail mix than regular Germans – and here’s why:

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Word of the Week: Katzenwäsche

You overslept and don’t have time for a shower – what do you do? In Germany, a Katzenwäsche would be your solution!

The German word Katze means “cat” and Wäsche means “washings” (or “laundry”, depending on the context). Literally translated, it describes a cat’s daily process of licking itself clean.

But in the human context, a “cat wash” is a quick clean-up that is not entirely sufficient. It is often used for children who do not take a bath every day – but can also be applied to adults in a hurry. If you don’t have time for a shower, you might wash yourself in the bathroom sink – a procedure that would be considered a Katzenwäsche. A typical Katzenwäsche does not use much water and does not get you very clean. It typically just involves washing your face, brushing your teeth or applying deodorant – and often even less! You might be more presentable, but you still won’t match up to the days that you fit in a shower.

The use of the word evolved from its literal translation of a “cat wash”. Cats are generally afraid of water and spend about two to three hours licking themselves clean every day. Their tongues are covered in papillae, which are coarse, hair-like growths that are used for self-grooming. But unlike the prolonged Katzenwäsche by your furry friend, a human Katzenwäsche is much quicker and much less efficient.

Unless you’re in a hurry, you’re better off taking a shower!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Kehrwoche

Germans have a reputation for being clean, and here’s something that backs up the stereotype: Kehrwoche. The German word Kehrwoche means “sweep week” and refers to the time period in which a resident of an apartment building is assigned to clean the common areas.

If you live in a German apartment building, you might wake up one day and find a sign on your door reading Kehrwoche. The sign indicates that it’s your turn to clean the building. It’s no fun, but every resident has to do it at one point or another. For the duration that the sign hangs outside your door, you are responsible for sweeping the stairways and taking care of the sidewalk at the entrance. Sometimes that even means raking leaves or shoveling snow.

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Word of the Week: Tante-Emma-Laden

If you’re making dinner and you forgot an ingredient, what do you do? Well, some of you might head over to a grocery store. But depending on where you are, it might be easier to walk to the Tante-Emma-Laden around the corner!

Directly translated, Tante-Emma-Laden means “Aunt-Emma-Store”, but it defines what Americans would call a “mom-and-pop grocery store” or a “corner store.” A Tante-Emma-Laden usually has all of your basic needs, from food items to bathroom necessities to newspapers and cleaning supplies. Many of them also sell lottery tickets. So if you need a few small groceries or want to pick up a quick snack, your nearest “Aunt-Emma-Store” is the place to go!

Unlike large German grocery stores such as Aldi and Lidl (or in the US: stores like Safeway and Giant), a Tante-Emma-Laden is much smaller and personable. It is frequently family-run or family-owned and employees are more likely to help you find what you need.

© dpa / picture alliance

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Word of the Week: Schneidersitz

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When you’re sitting cross-legged, what do you call that position? In English, you might say you are “sitting Indian style”, but in German, that is the so-called Schneidersitz (“tailor’s sitting position”).

The Schneidersitz describes a very typical cross-legged position that you might use during meditation, classroom discussions or any other situation that requires you to sit comfortably on the ground.

This term originated several centuries ago, when tailors (Schneider) used to sew all clothing by hand. Back then, tailors often sat cross-legged on the table across from their sewing machine. This prevented any cloth or material from falling onto the ground. This position also made it easier to work with heavier material.

© DPA / picture-alliance

In workspaces that employed more than one tailor, the Schneidersitz was also a way to use up as little space as possible; a tailor’s assistant(s) were often found sitting cross-legged in the corner while they did their work.
Today, however, the Schneidersitz has little to do with tailors – especially since factories produce much of the world’s clothing.

Instead, the Schneidersitz simply refers to the cross-legged position that everyone uses at some point or another. So whether you’re sewing or meditating, now you have a name for your sitting position: the Schneidersitz!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

© DPA / picture-alliance

 

Word of the Week: Kaffeeklatsch

© dpa / picture-alliance

You probably know that Germans love gathering for Kaffee und Kuchen (“coffee and cake”), traditionally in the afternoon between lunch and dinner. But did you know there’s a name for this type of social gathering? Germans call their afternoon coffee-and-cake sessions a Kaffeeklatsch (“coffee gossip”).

Like the name implies, a Kaffeeklatsch presents the opportunity for coffee (or tea) and conversation. It can be held in someone’s house, at the office or even at a cafe. Traditionally, however, a Kaffeeklatsch is held in someone’s home – often on Sundays. Many Germans use Kaffee und Kuchen as an opportunity to invite friends or family to catch up. And they’ll sometimes make quite an event out of it, bringing out a pretty tablecloth and their best tableware. In addition to coffee, Germans will usually serve some sort of pastry, whether it’s homemade cheesecake or something sweet from the bakery.

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