Word of the Week: Kehrwoche

Germans have a reputation for being clean, and here’s something that backs up the stereotype: Kehrwoche. The German word Kehrwoche means “sweep week” and refers to the time period in which a resident of an apartment building is assigned to clean the common areas.

If you live in a German apartment building, you might wake up one day and find a sign on your door reading Kehrwoche. The sign indicates that it’s your turn to clean the building. It’s no fun, but every resident has to do it at one point or another. For the duration that the sign hangs outside your door, you are responsible for sweeping the stairways and taking care of the sidewalk at the entrance. Sometimes that even means raking leaves or shoveling snow.

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Word of the Week: Tante-Emma-Laden

If you’re making dinner and you forgot an ingredient, what do you do? Well, some of you might head over to a grocery store. But depending on where you are, it might be easier to walk to the Tante-Emma-Laden around the corner!

Directly translated, Tante-Emma-Laden means “Aunt-Emma-Store”, but it defines what Americans would call a “mom-and-pop grocery store” or a “corner store.” A Tante-Emma-Laden usually has all of your basic needs, from food items to bathroom necessities to newspapers and cleaning supplies. Many of them also sell lottery tickets. So if you need a few small groceries or want to pick up a quick snack, your nearest “Aunt-Emma-Store” is the place to go!

Unlike large German grocery stores such as Aldi and Lidl (or in the US: stores like Safeway and Giant), a Tante-Emma-Laden is much smaller and personable. It is frequently family-run or family-owned and employees are more likely to help you find what you need.

© dpa / picture alliance

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Word of the Week: Schneidersitz

© colourbox

When you’re sitting cross-legged, what do you call that position? In English, you might say you are “sitting Indian style”, but in German, that is the so-called Schneidersitz (“tailor’s sitting position”).

The Schneidersitz describes a very typical cross-legged position that you might use during meditation, classroom discussions or any other situation that requires you to sit comfortably on the ground.

This term originated several centuries ago, when tailors (Schneider) used to sew all clothing by hand. Back then, tailors often sat cross-legged on the table across from their sewing machine. This prevented any cloth or material from falling onto the ground. This position also made it easier to work with heavier material.

© DPA / picture-alliance

In workspaces that employed more than one tailor, the Schneidersitz was also a way to use up as little space as possible; a tailor’s assistant(s) were often found sitting cross-legged in the corner while they did their work.
Today, however, the Schneidersitz has little to do with tailors – especially since factories produce much of the world’s clothing.

Instead, the Schneidersitz simply refers to the cross-legged position that everyone uses at some point or another. So whether you’re sewing or meditating, now you have a name for your sitting position: the Schneidersitz!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

© DPA / picture-alliance

 

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.

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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: Elefantenrennen

Few things are as annoying as being stuck behind a truck on a highway – with no way around. Germans have a unique word for one such phenomena.

The German word Elefantenrennen translates to “elephant racing”. But this strange German word has little to do with elephants.

“Elephant racing” occurs when one truck tries to overtake another truck on the highway with minimum speed difference. This results in a blockage of lanes – making it challenging (or sometimes impossible) to pass the large vehicles.

Like elephants, trucks can be massively sized, take up a lot of space and keep you stuck behind them.

An Elefantenrennen can cause slow-downs and traffic jams when there are many vehicles on the roads. In fact, Elefantenrennen is even illegal in Germany (that is: trucks overtaking trucks at “low speeds” is illegal). That doesn’t stop it from happening every once in a while.

If you’re stuck behind two racing elephants, the best thing you can do is slow down and hope the race ends quickly.

Word of the Week: Eigenbrötler

We all know someone who hates teamwork, avoids other people and willingly spends a lot of time alone. You might call someone like this antisocial or introverted. But in German, you would call this person an Eigenbrötler.

Eigenbrötler is a noun that comes from the words eigen (ones “own”) and Brot (“bread”). Basically, this describes someone who eats his or her own bread. But there’s more to it.

The German word Eigenbrötler is a very old word that first arose in the 16th and 17th centuries. Back then, the term was used to identify a person who kept to him or herself in a care- or retirement home. Instead of participating in community meals, an Eigenbrötler would pay to eat his or her “own bread” (meals) all alone. An Eigenbrötler often also paid extra to have his or her own furniture, room and other necessities. Overall, an Eigenbrötler did his own thing, separate from all the other residents in the home.

Today, Germans use this word to describe any type of person who keeps to him or herself. An Eigenbrötler is absolutely not a team player and tries to avoid participating in group activities. Usually, he or she has some peculiar habits or traits and spends more time alone than with others. We all know someone like this – right?

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

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!

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany