You might have heard the stereotype: Germans have no sense of humor. A 2007 survey of 30,000 people ranked Germany as the country with the worst sense of humor. We are not amused!
But perhaps German humor is simply misunderstood. Many German words – especially compound word constructions – are lost in translation, simply because there is no equivalent in other languages. Our “Word of the Week” series should help you understand words as complex as Backpfeifengesicht (“a face in need of slapping”), Honigkuchenpferd (“honey cake horse”) and Kabelsalat (“cable salad”). The more you understand Germany’s strangest and most unusual words, the more humor you will find in the language!
British comedian Stewart Lee agrees. In an op-ed he wrote for The Guardian, he said it took him a while to understand German humor – but once he did, he couldn’t stop laughing. Much of English-language humor, he said, stems from words that have double or triple meanings, thereby creating humor that thrives on confusion. Since the German language has so many compound words and specificity, “it provides fully functional clarity”.
As a result, Lee writes, the German “sense of humor is built on blunt, seemingly serious statements, which became funny simply because of their context.”
“I looked back over the time I had spent in Hannover and suddenly found situations that had seemed inexplicable, even offensive at the time, hilarious in retrospect. On my first night in Hannover I had gone out drinking with some young German actors. ‘You will notice there are no old buildings in Hannover,’ one of them said. ‘That is because you bombed them all.’ At the time I found this shocking and embarrassing. Now it seems like the funniest thing you could possibly say to a nervous English visitor.”
But despite the differences between English and German humor, there are plenty of German stand-up comedians, some of which perform their acts in English! Notable German comedians include classics Loriot and Karl Valentin and modern comedians Dieter Nuhr, Anke Engelke, Eckart von Hirschhausen, Oliver Welke and Tom Gerhardt.
By Nicole Glass, German Embassy