Word of the Week: Stein im Brett

Let’s pretend your coworker surprised you with your favorite Starbucks drink during work. How do you feel about her? Most likely, she is now on your good side. Germans might even say you now have a Stein im Brett with her (literally translated: a “stone in the board”).

In German, if someone has a Stein im Brett with you, it means that person now has your sympathy. In other words, that person did something to win you over. But to understand where this phrase came from, we will have to take a close look at the origins of this strange German saying.

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The benefits of learning German in 2019

We’re two weeks into a new year – a time of resolutions and planning. Why don’t you make learning German one of your intentions?

About 130 million people worldwide consider German their native or second language. It is the most widely spoken native language in the European Union, the third most widely taught foreign language in the US and the EU, and the third most widely used language on websites. It is the official or most widely spoken language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and several other regions such as South Tyrol. Plus, one tenth of all books worldwide are being published in German. It is no secret that learning German makes you more employable (while also allowing you to read the works of Kant and Hegel in their native language – another plus!).

For many, learning German might seem like a daunting task. After all, Duden states that there are 23 million words in the German language. But an average German speaker only uses 12,000 to 16,000 words in his or her everyday life, which makes learning German a little more manageable! And even with a small vocabulary you can create bigger, longer words. For those of you who know a little bit of German already, we’re sure you know what we mean! German words are like chemical elements: you can combine several of them to make something entirely new!

Germans are also the single largest ethnic group in the US (with almost 50 million Americans claiming German ancestry), and 1.38 million people in the US speak German, according to the US Census. A 2015 study also found that interest in German is growing at a particularly high rate in China, India in Brazil, and that 15.4 million people worldwide are currently learning German.

At GermanyinUSA.com, we regularly post a German Word of the Week to share fun, interesting or unusual German words with our readers, and also provide information to help you learn German wherever you may be. We invite you to take a look at our latest words and feel free to suggest others in the comments!

Word of the Week archive

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 care 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 a colleague who speaks too much in meetings, I’m sure we have all got a Dampfplauderer in our lives!

Word of the Week: Freundschaftsdienst

Sometimes you do things for other people that you don’t like. Why do you do it? Because of your Freundschaftsdienst!

The German word Freundschaftsdienst means “friendship duty”. It is a word that describes the obligations that come with a true friendship.

Let’s look at an example:

You’re allergic to cats, but your friend is traveling for the holidays and desperately needs a cat sitter. You begrudgingly agree to take in the cat, and spend the next two weeks sneezing and taking anti-histamine pills.

You endure all of this suffering because of your Freundschaftsdienst. Being a friend means doing favors for the other person, even when it inconveniences you.

Here’s another example:

You have a 6 am flight tomorrow morning and you have not begun packing. Your friend calls you crying because she just broke up with her boyfriend. You know you have a lot to do, but you choose to spend the night consoling her. The next morning, you’re rushing to the airport with little to no sleep. Enduring this was your Freundschaftsdienst.

Naturally, you expect your friends to do the same for you. If this isn’t the case, you may want to reconsider who you provide your Freundschaftsdienst to. Be selective, and make sure the Freundschaftsdienst is a two-way street.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Lebenskunst

Is your life as beautiful as a painting in an art gallery? Then you have mastered Lebenskunst!

Lebenskunst means “the art of living well”. It comes from the words leben (“to live”) and Kunst (“art). If your life is filled with fine wines, exotic travels, delicious food, strong friendships and many hobbies, you have probably mastered the art of living; in other words, your life itself is beautiful – like art.

You don’t have to be wealthy to be a Lebenskünstler (“artist of life”). You simply need to understand how to make the journey through life as joyful as possible. Every individual has a different idea of how to create an artful, magical life that gets you excited to wake up every morning. Some people may be struck by the magic of a beautiful sunrise, and need nothing more to experience joy. For others, drinking a $300 bottle of wine would
be an example of Lebenskunst.

But here’s one tip we can give you: if you see the beauty in every detail of life and use this beauty to create your own happiness, you’ll be on your way to becoming a Lebenskünstler. In very little time, examples of Lebenskunst will surround you.

Word of the Week: Schnapsidee

In German, there’s a special word for a really bad idea: Schnapsidee. Directly translated, this word means “booze idea” – and it describes a plan of action that’s so bad that you must have been drunk when you dreamed it up!

The German word Schnaps is a term for clear spirits, but it is often used to refer to alcohol in general. When someone is under the influence of alcohol, they are more likely to come up with crazy ideas that Germans call Schnapsideen. Getting a ridiculous tattoo might be considered a Schnapsidee – especially if you do it impulsively after a few drinks.

But you don’t have to be drunk to have a Schnapsidee. Germans use the term to refer to any outrageous or unrealistic ideas, regardless of your sobriety status. Buying a horse for your backyard is probably a Schnapsidee (unless you live on a farm). For most, base jumping would also be a Schnapsidee – as would be rappelling off the side of a cliff. The term, however, is relative: for some, anything out of the ordinary would be a Schnapsidee, while for the more adventurous, only few things would be an outrageous “booze idea”.

What’s your idea of a Schnapsidee? Having children? Skydiving? Moving to Africa? Let us know in the comments!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Kopfkino

Does your imagination run wild? Do you think up detailed stories in your head? Maybe you’ve got a Kopfkino entertaining you all day long!

The German word Kopf means “head” and Kino means “movie theater”. Kopfkino therefore describes a cinema in your head. But unlike scheduled movies at your local theater, a Kopfkino can start playing anytime, whether you’re at the office, in the classroom or in the middle of a dull conversation.

Sometimes having your own built-in movie theater can be useful. If you’re on a long train ride, for example, having a wild imagination helps pass the time. But if you’re having trouble concentration on an important task, then your Kopfkino may do more harm than good – even if your daydreams are pleasant!

Perhaps you have a one-hour deadline to finish a task at the office. All of a sudden, your Kopfkino starts playing and you suddenly find yourself laying at the beach, a warm breeze blowing through your hair as the man or woman of your dreams approaches you. Palm trees sway above your head and the worries of daily life disappear – until the movie starts playing and you realize you’re still at your desk!

But not every Kopfkino is pleasant. If you’re highly anxious or worried, you might have worst-case scenarios play out in your head. If you have an active Kopfkino, let’s hope it prefers romantic comedies over horror films! And make sure you know where the pause button is.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Sitzriese

Have you ever been to a movie theater and found yourself seated behind the tallest person in the room? This person’s head was probably blocking your view, leaving you frustrated throughout the film. In German, there’s a special word for this kind of person: Sitzriese (“seated giant”)!

The word Sitzriese comes from sitzen (“to sit) and Riese (“giant”). It defines a person who looks deceptively tall while sitting down. A Sitzriese typically has a long waist and short legs, making them appear tall while seated and short while standing up.

On the contrary, the German word Sitzzwerg (“seated dwarf”) refers to the opposite – someone who appears short while sitting, but tall while standing up.

We’re all different shapes and sizes, and you can be sure that the Germans have a nickname for everyone! But if you’re at a concert, movie theater or a performance, you better hope that you end up behind the Sitzzwerg, since the Sitzriese will block your view!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

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.