German word of the day: Der Spaßvogel

Looking to describe someone who is the life of the party? This fun German compound noun will come in handy.

German word of the day: Der Spaßvogel
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Quite popular in Austria, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein, this term describes someone who enlivens the mood, amuses those around her with momentary joy, and lives for jokes and laughter. 

A Spaßvogel  enjoys spreading fun, often with the express intention of cheering up those around her. This word can be broken down into “Spaß” (fun) and “Vogel” (bird). 

While the term has nothing to do with any actual bird or animal specimen, the image of someone flying in to make a joke, only to fly away again to find her next audience, is a fitting image.

The fun friend who makes a few silly jokes and undoubtedly cheers you up is a Spaßvogel

In English we may call her a jester, jokester, or, “the life of the party.”

The word Spaß was integrated into the German language in the late 1600s and originates from the Italian “spasso.” Originally, “spasso” best translated to the German words der Zeitvertreib (pastime), die Zerstreuung (distraction), or das Vergnügen  (pleasure). 

READ ALSO: 10 German words which come from Italian

That the origins of Spaß in German are linked to the concept of passing the time, distraction, and pleasure, makes our understanding of Spaßvogel even more rich.

A Spaßvogel, then, can be understood as someone who distracts and spends time with glee and enjoyment, or at least tries to. 

While the term Spaßvogel is generally used in a light-hearted manner, it does not always have a sunny connotation.

When calling someone a Spaßvogel, it could have a more cynical undertone, and be used to call out a person for taking things lightly, perhaps even a bit too lightly. 

To some, a Spaßvogel is someone who is not to be taken seriously, someone who lives just for the sake of the joke. 

Therefore, it is important to understand the surrounding context of this word, especially if using it to describe someone you do not know very well!

READ ALSO: Nerdy flowers to alcoholic birds: The 12 most colourful German insults


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The everyday Austrian groceries that have a double meaning

The food that you put in your shopping basket at the Austrian supermarket isn’t just the ingredients for a tasty dinner, it can also add some flavour to your spoken German.

The everyday Austrian groceries that have a double meaning

Like in many languages, spoken German is peppered with colloquialisms that don’t seem to make much sense at first glance. For some reasons, Austrians and Germans are particularly fond of spicing up their Umgangssprache by giving groceries new meanings.

Eier (eggs)
Eier are not just the things that you crack into your frying pan in the morning, they are also the two ovals that hang between a man’s legs.
If you want to compliment a man on his bravery you can say that er hat dicke Eier (he’s got fat eggs).

Or, if you a football hits you in the wrong place you can say “Aua, das hat mich direkt in die Eier getroffen!” (that hit my eggs). 

By the way, your Nudel (pasta) completes the trinity of the male genitalia.

READ ALSO: Nine German expressions that perfectly sum up spring in Austria

Birne (pear)
More anatomy here: your head is sometimes referred to in everyday speech as either your Birne or your Rübe (turnip). This is somewhat equivalent to the word ‘noggin’ in English dialect.

Kartoffel (potato)
The German word for a potato in Germany is also used as an insult for people who are ethnically German. It could also be used ironically by Germans to describe typically German behaviour. Er ist eine richtige Kartoffel! is an insult you might reserve for someone who wears socks and sandals outdoors.

READ ALSO: Austria: Six German expressions to entice your Wanderlust

Kartoffel as a description for Germans has become controversial in recent years, with some conservative politicians warning that it is being used in school playgrounds to bully German children.

In Austria, the word for potato is Erdapflel.

Wurst (sausage)
Austrians famously care about their sausages. Most regions have their own local delicacy and will proudly insist that it is the best in the country. But the word Wurst can also be used to mean that you don’t care.

So, if you want to tell someone you don’t give a toss, you can say: Das ist mir völlig Wurst! (That’s complete sausage to me).

Apparently, the phrase comes from the fact that butchers once used leftover meat in their sausages.

Bier (beer)
An expression using the German word for beer is similar. To say Das ist nicht mein Bier is to say that’s not my business (and is usually used just after you’ve poked you nose into someone else’s affairs).

READ ALSO: These eight words show just how different German and Austrian Deutsch can be

The origins of this phrase seem obscure. One theory has it that the word Bier has come to replace Birne (pear), which is used to mean Sache (thing) in some dialects.

Salat (salad)
The word for lettuce or salad can be used in a couple of ways in everyday speech. If someone is talking gibberish then a Wortsalat is coming out of their mouth.

Additionally, if you have the salad (den Salat haben) then you are counting the cost for a misadventure.

Sahne (cream)
You might not be surprised to hear that the word for cream signifies exclusivity in German. Much like the expression crème de la crème, German speakers call something erste Sahne to mean it is top notch.