German word of the day: Die Selbstbeweihräucherung

Charlotte Hall
Charlotte Hall - [email protected] • 14 Mar, 2023 Updated Tue 14 Mar 2023 17:18 CEST
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'Selbstbeweihräucherung' is something you want to avoid at all costs in Austria - especially on your CV.


Selbstbeweihräucherung is a journey of a word. Contracted from “Weihrauch” (incense, think: priests swinging their censers) and “Selbst” (the self), the nominalised verb creates the image of someone shrouding themselves in smoke and the smell of Myrrh. 

So what does this strange image mean? 

In Austria, praise can be rare. Self-praise, meanwhile, is considered by many Austrians to be a full blown faux pas. Selbstbeweihräucherung is a metaphor for inappropriate or excessive self-congratulation. 

The image of self-incensing is a vivid, but a strange one, and its origins are just as mysterious.


Weihrauch hearkens back to the old high German “wīhrouch” from 750 - 1000 AD. In the Germanic regions, it was used by many different civilisations, from the medicinal or symbolic smokes of Germanic tribes, to Roman smoke-offerings, a practice later adapted (somewhat reluctantly) by the Orthodox Christian and Catholic Church. 

READ ALSO: Essential German words to know as a student in Austria

In Catholicism, the rising incense smoke is used as a symbol for the prayer - the praise - of the Christian people rising up to God. So, the connection to “praise” is clear - but there’s another reason incense lends itself as a metaphor to self-congratulation. 

There is a saying in German that “Eigenlob stinkt” (self-congratulation stinks). It turns out there is in fact a long history of associating self-praise with smell: the phrase appears for the first time in written form in a book of sayings from 1541. Even before this, in 1494, satirist Sebastian Brant wrote in the poem “Narrenschiff” (Ship of Fools): 

“Daß Lob stinkt aus dem eigeneneignen Munde.”
The praise stinks out of one’s own mouth.

So, it’s possible Selbstbeweihräucherung actually refers to the sometimes overwhelming, even smothering effect of incense. 

If this is the effect it has on Austrian nerves, it’s probably something best avoided - in your CV and dinner parties alike. 

READ ALSO: Ten pieces of Austrian slang you’ll never learn in class

Example sentences: 

Seine Rede war eine regelrechte Selbstbeweihräucherung.
His speech was a down-right adulation of the self. 

Das müssen wir umschreiben, das klingt nach Selbstbeweihräucherung.
We have to re-write that, it sounds like self-praise. 

Ihre Bewerbung war gut, aber es gab ein Bisschen zu viel Selbstbeweihräucherung.
Her application was good, but there was a little too much self-congratulation in it. 




Charlotte Hall 2023/03/14 17:18

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thevicks2001 2021/04/04 06:35
the article on selbstbeweihrauchrung says that Incense was adapted by the church from Roman or Germanic tribes. It also originates in the incense offered in the temple in Jerusalem and in the Tent of the Presence which predated that.

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