Word of the Week: Tatendrang

Have you ever leapt out of bed on a particular morning flooded with the uncontrollable urge to get something done, such as hit the gym, clean up your home, or finally start writing that novel you’ve already mapped out in your mind? Then you were gripped by a sense of “Tatendrang.”

Germans are often defined in international organizations, when experts suggest how to work with folks from all over the world, as “task oriented people.” Such generic cultural cliches may not, of course, apply in each and every individual case. (Some German teenagers, for instance, may exhibit the same lack of “Tatendrang” when their parents suggest they clean up their rooms as many of their similarly cheeky and rebellious counterparts all over the world.)

So “Tatendrang” – which literally means “action urge” – describes that feeling you have when you just can’t wait to start getting stuff done. Another in a long and proud line of awesome German compound nouns, it is based on the words “Tat” (action, deed, task) and “Drang” (urge). (This is not to be confused, however, with “Tatort” (Scene of the Crime), which just happens to be the most popular and longest-running detective series on German television.)

Clearly the opposite early morning urge (rising early is another classic German cultural trait) to “Tatendrang” would be the desire to hit the snooze button and sleep in. People who do not like mornings in Germany are, moreover, known as “Morgenmuffel” (morning curmudgeons, morning grumpus) – and they are definitely a minority in a nation of “task oriented” early risers.

Word of the Week: Überzeugungskraft

Top politicians tend to possess it. So do the best trial lawyers and the most charismatic of silver screen sirens. It’s called “Überzeugungskraft” – literally “the power to convince” – and it’s something most of us either admire in others or aspire to achieve ourselves in various fora, from the personal to the political.

There is no plural form for this compound noun composed like so many German expressions of (at least!) two separate words – “Überzeugung” (conviction or – depending on the context – convincing) and “Kraft” (strength, power).

So it literally means “the power of convincing,” as opposed to “the power to persuade” which is “Überredungskraft” (which essentially means the power to persuade or talk someone into something).

The verb form is “überzeugen” (to convince). If someone is “überzeugend,” they are “convincing.” And if an individual is “überzeugt” he or she is “convinced” (or dedicated) or – in the religious sense – “devout.”

In this vein, you could for instance say: “Die Deutsche Mannschaft hat überzeugend gespielt.” (The German team gave a convincing performance.) Or one might say: “Sie kann sehr überzeugend sein.” (She can be very convincing.)

To ease the mind of a supporter of renewable sources of energy you could moreover, for instance, suggest: “Sie dürfen überzeugt sein, dass Deutschland die Energiewende schafft.” (You may rest assured that Germany will achieve its energy transition. – In this context: from a complete phaseout of nuclear power by 2022 towards more renewable sources of energy.)

At the same time, the expression “zu der Überzeugung gelangen / kommen dass … ” translates into “to become convinced that … ” or “to arrive at the conviction that … ” something or other may be the case. “Kraft” – not to be confused with a certain American company that produces cheese products and other foodstuffs – meanwhile adds the “oomph” to round out this expression.

Alternatively, a lack of strength in the physical sense is described via the adjective “kraftlos,” whereas a lack of power in the political sense is “machtlos.” Someone who has been stripped of their power, in turn, has been “entmachtet.”

Power, pure and simple, is “Macht” in German. But to achieve bona fide power, at least in the democratic sense of the word, you will need to convince others to genuinely believe in the particular course you would like to chart. To this end, you would be well advised to burnish your own personal powers of conviction, or “Überzeugungskraft.”

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: 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: 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

Word of the Week: Purzelbaum

The German word Purzelbaum sounds like some sort of strange tree. After all, the German word for tree is Baum. But this term actually describes an acrobatic move often practiced by kids – the so-called somersault. 

When you were a kid, you probably remember practicing your somersaults in the backyard. Rolling around may have been fun for your. In German, these are called Purzelbäume (singular: Purzelbaum). It’s a colloquial term primarily used by kids and their parents – after all, adults generally don’t roll into a somersault very often or have a need to describe this. The term comes from the words Purzel (to stumble or fall ungracefully) and aufbäumen (to rear up). The word thus describes the motions of falling and getting up at the same time – sort of like you do when you roll into a somersault. 

© dpa / picture alliance

A Purzelbaum can be executed for fun or by mistake – like in an accident. If, for example, you’re downhill skiing and lose control of your skis, you might fall straight into a Purzelbaum. If you’re lucky, you’ll escape unharmed. Similarly, competitive athletes (such as soccer players) may roll into a somersault if they trip over someone or something. Let’s hope your Purzelbäume have all been intentional!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy