Word of the Week: Katzengold

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Ever gone panning for gold? Probably not, but if you have, be careful not too get too excited when you find Katzengold!

Literally translated, Katzengold means “cat’s gold”, but it has nothing to do with your furry housemate. The best English translation is “fool’s gold.” The word Katzengold usually refers to pyrite – a very common mineral that is often mistaken for gold. During the California Gold Rush, many people had their dreams crushed when they realized that the mineral they had found was actually Katzengold, not real gold! Although it can still be used for jewelry, it is far less valuable! Real gold can be worth $1,700 per ounce, while the same amount in Katzengold or Fool’s Gold – might just get you $1. Sometimes, however, Katzengold might contain traces of real gold – but extracting it is difficult.

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But why would Germans call the mineral pyrite Katzengold? It seems that this was simply the evolution of a very old German word. Initially, the Old High German word Kazzüngold was used to describe the substance. This meant “gold-yellow cherry resin” and had nothing to do with cats.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Hüftgold

Many of us may be  carrying a few extra pounds around the middle, and in German there’s a nice word it: Hüftgold!

Directly translated, Hüftgold means “hip gold”, and it refers to the extra weight around your hips. One English translation would be “love handles”, although Hüftgold refers more to the hips than to a person’s love handles. Both the English and German words, however, refer to the weight in a friendly manner: after all, who wouldn’t want hips as valuable (or beautiful) as gold?

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However, most people who possess Hüftgold don’t want it, and they choose to exercise or eat healthier to cut down on that Hüftgold.

But there’s also another definition for the term: Hüftgold may also refer to the calorie-rich foods that cause you to gain weight. In this context, Hüftgold could refer to that gallon of chocolate chip ice cream in your fridge or the french fries you ate last night. Either way, the Hüftgold that you consume will transform into the Hüftgold that you carry.

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By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Bierernst

If you’re trying to express how serious you are about something, what word would you use? In German, you would say you are bierernst (“beer serious”). No joke! Or is it?

The word bierernst (which is an adjective) does not sound like one that you would use to express your seriousness. But it is – seriously! Someone who is bierernst about something is someone who is not kidding around. Germans are clearly serious about their beer – so serious, in fact, that the word “serious” is overly emphasized when combined with the word “beer”.

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Let’s look at an example: your friend tells you she is moving to Fiji. At first, you think she’s joking – why would she take off and fly thousands of miles away? She looks at you sternly and tells you that she is bierernst. At this point, you know she’s telling the truth.

The term can be traced back to the early 1900s. At the time, it was assumed that wine makes people act happy and relaxed, whereas beer changes someone’s mood and makes them more serious. But whether or not this is the case, you can still use the word bierernst to express your sincerity!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy 

Word of the Week: Stein im Brett

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Let’s pretend your coworker surprised you with your favorite Starbucks drink during work. How do you feel about her? Most likely, he or she is now on your good side. Germans might even say you now have a Stein im Brett with him/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.

The phrase has its roots in the 16th century, when a board game called Tric-Trac was popular (in English, this game was often called “tables”, and later evolved into Backgammon). Tric-Trac, as the Germans and French call it, is one of the oldest games in the world, and first appeared in Europe during the 9th century. In the board game, players strategically block their opponents from advancing by creating a blockage with two stones (or, more recently, with cubes). During the Middle Ages, German Tric-Trac players began calling this situation a “stone in the board.”

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Over time, this phrase made its way into the German language in different contexts. If, for example, someone was traveling by a horse-drawn carriage and left the carriage on its own for a while, then a friend who guards the carriage had a Stein im Brett with the traveler. Literally, the friend served as a type of blockage to ill-intentioned people who might otherwise try to steal the carriage. Like the stones in the board game, the friend blocked opponents from making a move.

But the phrase continued to evolve, and is now used to describe any situation in which someone gains someone else’s favor. So by giving someone preferential treatment, helping them with a project or paying them a compliment, it could very well be that you will have a Stein im Brett with them.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Eiertanz

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Have you ever wondered what to do with any leftover colored Easter eggs you don’t plan on keeping for next year or are unable to eat anytime soon? How about conducting an “Eiertanz” (egg dance) with them, an expression that once was taken literally but today has an altogether different meaning.

“Eiertanz” is mostly used as a figure of speech to indicate how an individual might “beat around the bush” by avoiding the heart of a matter. In this vein, Germans might use the expression “einen Eiertanz aufführen/vorführen” (performing an egg dance) to connote careful or complex behavior and/or conversation used as a stalling and/or avoidance tactic.

Originally, however, this expression was actually used to describe a type of dance that was literally performed around eggs strewn about the dance floor. Among the first known German literary references to an “Eiertanz” was a citation dating back to 1795 in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre” (Wilhelm Meisters Apprentice Years), in which the character Mignon dances blindfolded between eggs laid out on a floor.

Similar expressions include “Herumeiern” and “Herumgeeiere,” which essentially boils down to “waffling around” or engaging in stalling tactics in difficult situations or social scenarios.

The expression “German Eiertanz” moreover wended its way into the English language according to news agency Bloomberg in 2011 to describe Germany’s alleged reluctance in dealing with the euro crisis.

A common “Spielart” (gaming tactic) of the “Eiertanz” is the “Salamitaktik” (salami strategy), which can in particular be observed in politics.

The English expression “walking on eggshells,” however, is not entirely synonymous with “Eiertanz.” This figure of speech applies more to avoiding conflict or confrontation with a disgruntled partner or adversary, particularly in the personal versus the political realm and is used more to critique the person being avoided due to their generally moody behavior.

Word of the Week: Tortenheber

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What do you use to lift up a piece of pie and place it on a plate? A Tortenheber, of course!

It seems that Germans have a word for everything, even simple objects that do not have a name in English. One such object is the so-called Tortenheber, which translates directly to “pie lifter” or, more indirectly – “cake shovel”. If you don’t know what that is, do not worry – you’ve probably seen one, but can’t think of its name!

A Tortenheber is a tool with a handle and a triangle-shaped surface that is used to pick up a slice of cake or pie and move it onto a plate. This makes it easy to serve cake to a large group of guests – especially when the cake is dry and falling apart. It also prevents servers from having to use their fingers or other tools to serve slices of cake.

Search for a pie spatula, pie lifter, cake server,  cake shovel or any other variation online and you will find photos of a Tortenheber. Luckily, Germans are less likely to get confused when asking for one at the store, since they have a word that clearly defines this highly specific kitchenware.

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By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Verdauungsspaziergang

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What do you do when you ate too much? You go on a Verdauungsspaziergang, of course!

A Verdauungsspaziergang is a walk that you take to get you moving and help you digest your food more quickly.

This colloquial term comes from the words Verdauung (“digestion”) and Spaziergang (“a walk”). A direct translation would be a “digestion walk”. After stuffing yourself, it may be wiser to go for a Verdauungsspaziergang instead of lying down, which would ultimately make it more difficult to get moving again. By getting some fresh air and moving your body, you are speeding up the digestion process.

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In German, there’s a saying that emphasizes this belief: Nach dem Essen sollst du ruh’n oder tausend Schritte tun (“After eating you should rest or take a thousand steps.”) This phrase originated in Ancient Rome, which suggests that people have believed in the benefit of a “digestion walk” for centuries.

So next time you eat too much, avoid the temptation of lying down – and go for a walk instead!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Geborgenheit

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The German word Geborgenheit is difficult to translate, but it encompasses a range of feelings that make it a powerful word. A translation dictionary might describe Geborgenheit as “feelings of security”, but that does not do the word justice. Geborgenheit is the sum of warmth, protection, security, trust, love, peace, closeness and comfort. Imagine all of those feelings described in one word – that’s Geborgenheit!

Perhaps the best way to understand Geborgenheit is through examples. Someone might describe Geborgenheit as the feeling he gets when he visits his grandmother and she brings out his favorite dish from childhood. Another person might describe Geborgenheit as the feelings he or she gets when returning to their old bedroom in their parents’ house. It could be the feeling you get at a fireplace beside your lover, or the feeling you get when you are under your blanket on a cold night. Basically, Geborgenheit can be the result of any situation where you feel secure, content and protected.

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Most languages (including English, French and Russian) do not have a word for this expression. However, adequate translations of Geborgenheit do exist in Dutch and Afrikaans. And Germans are particularly fond of this term: in 2004, the Deutscher Sprachrat (German Language Council) and the Goethe Institute selected Geborgenheit as the second most beautiful word in the German language. A beautiful word for a beautiful feeling!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Morgenmuffel

Are you a grouch in the morning? Do you glare at everyone who tries to speak to you before noon? Well, my friend, that makes you a Morgenmuffel (“morning grouch”)!

This German word describes those who struggle to wake up in the mornings. If you – or someone you know wanders the earth like a zombie before their first cup of coffee, they’re probably a Morgenmuffel. These “morning grouches” are often in a bad mood and usually avoid early-morning conversations. They may, however, be much cheerier and productive at night — the type of people that Americans would call “night owls.” But in English, there is no equivalent for the word Morgenmuffel.

The German word Muffel (“grouch”) has been around for at least several hundred years, and its etymology is quite interesting. The Duden, a dictionary of the German language, traces it back to the Dutch word moppen, which morphed into the Low German mopen and ultimately, Mops (a type of dog known in English as a “pug”). The verb muffeln (“to chew with a full mouth”) and muffig (“damp, moldy”) are also related. A German dictionary from the year 1793 describes a Muffel as both a creature with low-hanging lips (most often, a dog) and as an ill-tempered person who hangs his head low and has a grim expression (much like such a dog).

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Look at a picture of a pug. Does that remind you of a grouch? To some, the resemblence was uncanny – and today, the word Muffel is applied to anyone who is in a bad mood. You can be a Sportmuffel (someone who is disinterested in sports), a Krawattenmuffel (someone who becomes a grouch when he has to wear a tie), a Lesemuffel (someone who hates to read), or a Trinkgeldmuffel (someone who begrudges the idea of tipping at a restaurant). The list goes on and on: in German, you can be a Muffel at just about any occasion!

But the most common Muffel is of course the Morgenmuffel. Chances are, you either are one or you know one. So grab that cup of coffee and lift your head up a little higher. It might be early, but things aren’t so bad!

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By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Honigkuchenpferd

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If you’ve got a big dorky grin across your face, a German might tell you that you’re grinning like a Honigkuchenpferd – a “honey-cake-horse.” Basically, a horse-shaped honey cake. But why the strange comparison?

Well, even Germans aren’t quite sure where the expression came from, but they use it frequently. A close English equivalent would be “to grin like a Cheshire cat”, since the striped purple cat from Alice in Wonderland is known for its excessively large smile.

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A Honigkuchenpferd, on the other hand, is a Lebkuchen (gingerbread) horse that usually has a big grin painted onto its face with icing (these are often found on fairgrounds and marketplaces). But rather than describe the pastry, Germans more often use the term to describe a person with a grin so big that it lights up the room.

A teenager who just had his or her first date might be grinning like a Honigkuchenpferd – or someone who just got a promotion at work. Whatever the reason, their smile is unusually large – almost as large as the smile on a horse-shaped honey cake.

There are multiple other ways to make the comparison as well: someone can laugh like a horse-shaped honey cake (lachen wie ein Honigkuchenpferd) or radiate like a horse-shaped honey cake (strahlen wie ein Honigkuchenpferd) – you get the picture.

So next time you see your German-speaking friend, colleague or family member smiling from ear to ear, you may want to tease them about it and call them a Honigkuchenpferd!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy