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