You overslept and don’t have time for a shower – what do you do? In Germany, a Katzenwäsche would be your solution!
The German word Katze means “cat” and Wäsche means “washings” (or “laundry”, depending on the context). Literally translated, it describes a cat’s daily process of licking itself clean.
But in the human context, a “cat wash” is a quick clean-up that is not entirely sufficient. It is often used for children who do not take a bath every day – but can also be applied to adults in a hurry. If you don’t have time for a shower, you might wash yourself in the bathroom sink – a procedure that would be considered a Katzenwäsche. A typical Katzenwäsche does not use much water and does not get you very clean. It typically just involves washing your face, brushing your teeth or applying deodorant – and often even less! You might be more presentable, but you still won’t match up to the days that you fit in a shower.
The use of the word evolved from its literal translation of a “cat wash”. Cats are generally afraid of water and spend about two to three hours licking themselves clean every day. Their tongues are covered in papillae, which are coarse, hair-like growths that are used for self-grooming. But unlike the prolonged Katzenwäsche by your furry friend, a human Katzenwäsche is much quicker and much less efficient.
Unless you’re in a hurry, you’re better off taking a shower!
By Nicole Glass, German Embassy
One thought on “Word of the Week: Katzenwäsche”
Anyone who lived in Germany even as late as the 1960s would find the above discussion quite peculiar. The reason bathrooms had such large lavatories, or even two, was for the daily Katzenwaesche. And both adults and children washed all over pretty well. People took a bath once a week. After all, water was expensive!