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.

Continue reading “Word of the Week: Erbsenzähler”

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: Jeck

Carnival seems to be the best time to have a look at an interesting German word: Jeck.

The word is used almost exclusively in the Rhineland, especially in the city of Cologne and, to a slightly lesser degree, in Bonn and Düsseldorf, the strongholds of German carnival.

Jeck can be a noun (ein Jeck), as well as an adjective (you can be jeck). Originally, it refers to a person who actively participates in a carnival celebration. During Carnival, all inhabitants of Cologne are, or at least should be, somewhat jeck.

But the more important meaning of the word is used year round. In this sense, it is an adjective that reflects the tolerant Cologne way of life and the general attitude of the Rhinelanders, who like to refer to themselves as jeck.

Ein Jeck thus means a humorous person who does not take things – or himself – too seriously. The Jeck may even be slightly crazy, but in a nice way. At least in the Rhineland area, the word clearly has a positive connotation.

Famous Rhineland sayings (Jeder Jeck ist anders – “Every Jeck is different” or Jet jeck simmer all – “We’re all a little jeck”) express this concept of tolerance. Knowing – with a wink– that you are not perfect helps in recognizing that others aren’t either. They are, in fact, as jeck as you are.

Word of the Week: Frühlingsgefühle

Large parts of the countryside may still be covered in snow, but in some areas people have already had the pleasure of taking the first stroll of the year outside without a jacket. The first signs of Spring have sprung!

As the temperatures rise and the days become longer and brighter, our mood often improves. When walking down the street you see more people smiling, the salesperson might be a bit friendlier. Even the security guard seems to get into the spirit.

This seasonal happiness is what Germans call Frühlingsgefühle (literally: spring feelings). Frühlingsgefühle describe the increased amount of energy and vitality that many experience during this time of the year.

Some scientists argue that the cause is the reduced production of Melatonin, a hormone known to cause fatigue. Others say that the advantages of modern civilization’s electric lights has saved the northern hemisphere from this ancient experience.

Regardless of the explanation of this phenomenon the Germany.info team wishes all of our readers nothing but the best as we move into Spring.

Word of the Week: Krass

Have you ever had a friend tell you an amazing story and you just weren’t sure how to react? Enter the word krass, the ultimate comeback word for any situation!

Mostly used among younger Germans, krass is very informal and can mean practically anything. Originally krass had several meanings. Several literal translations are glaring, blatant and complete. However, there is no exact translation for the way krass is used today. In fact, the popularity of the word probably comes from its meaninglessness. This allows it to be used whenever comment on something you maybe shouldn’t or express something there just isn’t a word for. Krass is a word that helps you out in precarious situations.

Word of the Week: Gute Vorsätze

At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, many of us transform suddenly from inebriated revelers to neurotic dieters as we make shedding those extra holiday pounds one of our primary resolutions for the New Year.

As if wiping our individual slates clean, dismissing all the missteps we may have taken or things we did not get done over the course of the past 12 months, we decide that THIS is the year to finally, for instance, shed those extra 20 pounds, get our finances in order, or spend more time with friends and family.

In German, such New Year’s resolutions are known as “gute Vorsätze fürs neue Jahr“. And “to make resolutions” is simply to engage in “(gute) Vorsätze fassen.

As a stand-alone noun, “Vorsätze” (plural) can be translated, depending on the context, as intents, intentions or resolutions.

Prefacing this with “gute” (good) is generally the preferred expression at the beginning of the year, to express how we have “good intentions/resolutions” for the New Year. And adding the verb “fassen” (grab/seize/grasp, as well as comprehend/realize, among other possible meanings/usages) rounds out the expression “gute Vorsätze fassen.

The expression “mit typischen Neujahrsvorsätzen” meanwhile means “with typical New Year’s resolutions.”

As in the United States, this is a common practice in Germany, where lists of New Year’s resolutions, or “gute Vorsätze,” are not uncommon.