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Word of the Week: Backpfeifengesicht

Do you ever look at someone and feel like punching them in the face? Well, Germans have a unique word for that face: a Backpfeifengesicht — a face that’s badly in need of a fist.

This is one of those strange words that’s uniquely German with no English equivalent. The word Backpfeife means “punch/slap” (on the cheek/face) and Gesicht means “face”. The word Backpfeifengesicht therefore means something along the lines of “a face that’s begging to be slapped” – or punched. Or hurt. You get the picture.

We’re sure you know someone with a Backpfeifengesicht – someone you just can’t get through to without a good punch or a slap. Maybe it’s your mortal enemy. Maybe it’s someone with a stupid grin that you’d like to wipe off that face. Maybe it’s a person who tells insulting jokes that make others cry. Or maybe it’s someone whose face you just can’t stand, for whatever reason. To you, that face is is need of a fist – and you’re thinking about giving it one.

A well-known German punk band, Die Ärzte, titled one of their songs “Backpfeifengesicht”. The lyrics revolve around a person who has a stupid look on his face – a look that nauseates the songwriter.

The origin of the word is unclear, but Backpfeife was used in northern Germany throughout the 19th century and comes from Backe (“cheek”) and Pfeife (“whistle”) – and basically means “a slap that whooshes/whistles along the cheek”

A similar word is Ohrfeige (“ear slap”), which stems from the Middle Ages and is often used as a synonym for Backpfeife. But regardless of how, why or where that open palm of yours lands, you can be sure that the receiver had a Backpfeifengesicht that tempted you to make the move. If you’d rather avoid conflict, maybe it’s best not to look directly at that face.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

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