Word of the Week: Frühjahrsputz

The temperatures are rising, the sun is shining and the flowers are blooming. It’s time to put away those heavy winter coats and bring out the shorts! With the change of the seasons comes substantial housework, which Germans call Frühjahrsputz (spring cleaning)!

Directly translated, Frühjahrsputz means “early-year-cleaning”. It refers to a time in the spring when Germans clean their homes and yards, putting away winter clothes and winter equipment. A Frühjahrsputz is much more thorough than a regular cleaning spree and also involves a lot of reorganizing. Americans use the term “spring cleaning” just as Germans use the word Frühjahrsputz! But the origin of the concept of spring cleaning is neither German nor American.

Some researchers trace the concept to an ancient Jewish practice of cleansing the home ahead of the Passover feast. Similarly, the Catholic Church conducts a thorough cleaning of the church alter before Good Friday. Today, many Germans do their spring cleaning in the days leading up to Easter. But of course, a Frühjahrsputz can be conducted at any time in the spring. So open your windows, dust your furniture and let the sun shine into your spotless home!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Farbenfroh

Are you wearing red pants, a blue shirt and green socks? If so, we’re sure you stand out – and you’re definitely farbenfroh today!

The German word farbenfroh means “color happy”. It is an adjective used to describe someone or something with many colors. Someone’s outfit is farbenfroh if they are wearing many different colors – or even just one bright color that catches people’s attention. An apartment can be described as farbenfroh if its decorations are colorful or if the walls are painted in different colors. Even a program of events can be described as farbenfroh if it includes a diverse program (in English, we would call this a “colorful event”).

Most of the time, farbenfroh is used in a positive context (because after all, who doesn’t like colors?). But if you notice your coworker proudly wearing a bright orange dress that makes her look a little ridiculous, you can simply call her farbenfroh (which is more of a fact and in this context and neither an insult nor a compliment).

Although you can be farbenfroh at any time of the year, it might brighten up a rainy, cloudy or cold day if you add a little bit of Farbe to your life!

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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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Word of the Week: Zukunftsangst

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If you’re learning German, you’ve probably noticed that Germans have a word to describe almost anything. There are, for example, many different words for “fear”, depending on what type of fear you are referring to.

There’s Todesangst (“fear of death”), Höhenangst (“fear of heights”), Prüfungsangst (“fear of taking tests”), Flugangst (“fear of flying”), Trennungsangst (“fear of being separated”) and Höllenangst (literally “fear of going to hell”, but in context it refers to a deep-seated fear), among others.

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One word that many of you might relate to is Zukunftsangst (“fear of the future”). This word describes the fear that follows you (particularly in your younger years) as you try to do well in school and succeed at your internships and in your career. When the course of your future is uncertain, you might develop a Zukunftsangst that haunts you throughout your daily life. Will you be able to get a job after college? Will you be able to afford a place of your own? Will you get that promotion? Will you ever find a husband – or wife? The fear of not getting those things may always be lurking in your mind. For some, this Zukunftsangst may motivate them to work even harder. For others, this fear may be a hindrance.

If you’re secure with the course of your life, you probably don’t have any sort of Zukunftsangst. But no one is fearless, and we’re almost certain that there’s a German word to describe whatever fears you may have!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Gernegroß

Man with mp3 player

Gernegroß. This German word sounds like it would be simple to define – but it’s not. Although it translates to “wanting to be big”, it has nothing to do with one’s height, weight or physical appearance.

Gernegroß is a noun defining a person who sees himself in a better light than others do – someone who likes to brag, show off or act more experienced than they are. There is no English translation, but the words “wannabe” and the colloquial term “whippersnapper” (an overconfident or presumptious young and inexperienced person) come close. Unlike a young whippersnapper, however, a Gernegroß can be any age.

Being called a Gernegroß is not positive. If someone calls you a Gernegroß, they are probably annoyed by how you are acting. It may be time to stop bragging and gain a more humble spirit.

Word of the Week: tote Hose

If you’ve ever been to a party that had nothing going on, you might want to call it tote Hose.

The German word tote Hose is a slang term that originated in the 1980s. Literally translated, tote Hose means “dead trousers”, but it has nothing to do with your pants. The phrase tote Hose is used to describe something that is boring, uneventful or dull – like a bad party or event.

Although it sounds like it should be used as a noun, tote Hose is mostly used in place of an adjective. You might tell your friend, “Gosh, last night’s party was so tote Hose – I only lasted an hour before I ditched my friends to go somewhere else.”

There is no English equivalent for tote Hose; you must simply imagine a phrase that describes an extremely boring or uneventful situation. The phrase remains highly popular among youth in Germany today. There is even a German rock band that named themselves Die Toten Hosen.

So next time you’re bored at a party, feel free to describe it as tote Hose to impress your German friends with your cool new slang. Just don’t tell the host that – or you may never get another invite!

Word of the Week: Schrottwichteln

If you’re American, you’ve probably heard of “Secret Santa” or “White Elephant” gift exchanges. In Germany, however, we have what’s called Schrottwichteln, which basically means “the exchange of crap”.

The holiday season is all about gift exchanges. Even if you’re giving away junk – it’s the thought that counts, right? In German schools, workplaces and social circles, people often organize a so-called Schrottwichteln. The word Schrott means “crap”, “garbage” or “junk”. Wichteln is the organized exchange of gifts during the holiday season. So people who participate in Schrottwichteln essentially give each other things they don’t want themselves – like that ugly Christmas sweater they received from their grandmother or an overly fancy candleholder for which they have no use. Often times, they will regift an item or contribute a gag gift. It is not
uncommon for these gifts to be wrapped up in newspaper, rather than gift wrap – anything to make it look more like junk.

When people organize a Schrottwichteln, they will often set a limit on the value of the item – perhaps 5, 10, 15 or 20 Euros. Participants usually have a few days to decide on a gift – and will often search for the ugliest, funniest or most useless possible item they can think of. Sometimes Schrottwichteln organizers will choose a “winner” – a gift that is the most worthless of all.

Those who participate in Schrottwichteln parties do so for the holiday spirit and the humor associated with it. And if the gift they receive is perfectly useless, they may regift it the following Christmas at another
Schrottwichteln party.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Suppenkasper

Were you a picky eater when you were young? Did you refuse to finish your meals, or sit in front of your plate for hours? Germans would have called you a Suppenkasper!

Literally translated, the word Suppenkasper means “Soup Kasper”, and it refers to a finicky eater – someone who doesn’t finish his or her food. For many parents, this can be frustrating.

But why call their child a Suppenkasper? The term originates from the classic children’s book “Der Struwwelpeter” (published in 1845 by Heinrich Hoffmann). The book features a healthy young boy named Kasper, who sits at the dinner table and refuses to eat his soup (Suppe). As the story goes, Kasper is determined not to eat his soup, and after five days of withering away, he dies of starvation.

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The story is meant to teach kids a lesson: always clean your plate, or else! Today, the story might seem rather harsh and intimidating, and some  would argue that there’s better ways to teach your kids to finish their food. But regardless, the term Suppenkasper is still a popular term to describe finicky eaters. Do you have a Suppenkasper at your table?

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Hexenschuss

Have you ever had a sharp pain in your back – one that leaves you cringing in pain or crouching in agony?

Germans would call that a Hexenschuss – a shot by a witch! Literally translated, Hexe means “witch” and Schuss means “shot” (as in, a gunshot). It might sound strange – especially since witches carry broomsticks and not guns. But either way, any sort of bewitchment on your back is bound to be unpleasant!

A Hexenschuss refers to the sort of lower back pain that leaves you crippled for at least a few seconds – but perhaps even a few days or weeks. Maybe you pulled a muscle or injured yourself. Most likely you’ll reach for the Ibuprofen and hope that the pain subsides. But back in the Middle Ages, Germans had more supernatural beliefs attributed to this sort of pain.

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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