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GERMAN LANGUAGE

Why traditional German names are often used as insults

An interesting quirk of colloquial German is that many insults base themselves around names. Could this explain why some traditional names have gone out of fashion?

Why traditional German names are often used as insults
Taking an insult. Photo: Pixabay

If you’ve been in Germany long enough you will probably have noticed how some names are used pejoratively to mean a variety of things that have generally negative associations. In some instances, the name simply means ‘idiot,’ in others it is a suffix or prefix to a negative word.

The mildest form of these examples are the ones given to young children. Often these are used endearingly.

If a child squirms around too much he is a ‘Zappelphilipp’. Or if he doesn’t look where he is going he is a ‘Hanns Guck-in-die-Luft’. 

These two descriptions have their roots in a collection of poems by the writer Heinrich Hoffmann in the mid-19th century.

Hanns Guck-in-die-Luft spent his life staring into the sky, leading to a collision with a dog and an inadvertent trip into the river. Wenn der Hanns zur Schule ging/ Stets sein Blick am Himmel hing/ Nach den Dächern, Wolken, Schwalben/ Schaut er aufwärts, allenthalben.” (When Hanns went to school/ he always looked into the sky/ to the roofs, clouds and swallows/ he looks up on all sides).

Zappelphilipp meanwhile was a fidgety boy who angered his father by being incapable of sitting still at the dinner table. In the poem, he fidgets and squirms so much that he ends up falling backwards from his chair. In the same moment he grabs the tablecloth and pulls the entire contents of the meal over himself.

Another variation of the name-as-suffix insult is a ‘Mecker-Fritze’. Meckern means to complain and this insult is used about someone who constantly moans.

There are actually a whole host of variations on using Fritz as a suffix. A ‘Werbefritze’ is some bigshot in the advertising business. An ‘Ökofritze’ is someone who’s just a bit too into their organic food.

Fritz appears to be used because it is such a generic German name. It is essentially a proxy for an everyman. The same is often done with the name Heini (short for Heinrich). For example, calling someone a ‘Prozinzheini’ is a way of saying they are a hick from the backend of nowhere.

And then there is the name Horst, which exists in a category of olf fashioned names that are used as direct insults. “Du Vollhorst!” means “you total idiot.” It’s quite a cruel way of telling someone they’re stupid – especially if their name actually happens to be Horst. The names Otto and Hans are often used in a similar way.

“These names are associated with the countryside and less educated classes by the urban people who use them,” Gabriela Rodriguez, an expert on names at Leipzig University, told Deutschlandfunk radio.

It is probably not a coincidence that many of these same names, which once were some of the most popular in the country, have now fallen out of fashion.

According to Knud Bielefeld, Germany’s foremost name researcher, Hanns was the most popular baby name up until the middle of the 20th century but has since crashed down to place 563 on the list.

Fritz, Heinrich and Horst suffered a similar collapse in popularity in the second half of the century. Phillip’s popularity lasted into the 21st century but its downfall over the past two decades has also been spectacular.

The good news, according to Rodriguez, is that “the name bearers have fewer problems with it than the people who find it offensive.”

SEE ALSO: What’s behind the strange German name for musical chairs?

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GERMAN LANGUAGE

The German language you need for summer in Austria

Summer in Austria is when people go outdoors to enjoy public pools, swim in rivers and lakes and complain about the weather. Here are a key few words and expressions to have at hand.

The German language you need for summer in Austria

As we near summer and scorching temperatures, it is about time to brush up on our (Austrian) German in order to enjoy the season to its fullest.

There is no shortage of activities that Austrians enjoy during the hottest months of the year and it’s essential to know some basic vocabulary to enjoy them to the fullest.

READ ALSO: Five of the best things to do in Vienna this summer

If you are more advanced, we also bring a couple of phrases and idioms locals use so that you don’t get too confused when you hear that it’s emperor weather outside.

Basic summer vocabulary

Here are some basic words to get you through the season:

Der See, or the lake. Especially in Austria, with its numerous beautiful lakes (and best bathing waters in Europe!), going for a swim in the lake or a river (der Fluss) is a perfect summer activity.

READ ALSO: Austria home to the ‘best bathing waters’ in Europe, new ranking claims

If you are in Vienna, you’ll likely visit one of the great Freibäder, the outdoor public swimming pools. Another common pastime during the season is parties and barbecues, die Grillparty, but don’t forget to check the rules in your area to see if you are allowed to light up the grill and which type.

Some basic vocabulary for these popular summer activities include die Sonnenbrille (sunglasses), das Wasserrutsche (water slide), das Eis (icecream), der Hut (hat), die Sonnencreme (sunscreen), and die Radtour (bike tour).

If you go through a summer heatwave (a Hitzewelle), you might look for places to cool down. Austria offers spots with Trinkbrunnen (drinking fountains), Bodenfontäne (ground fountains), and Sommerspritzer, which are cooling water sprinklers.

Some common expressions to use in summer

A few words are a bit more advanced or just more informal and a perfect way to describe certain summer feelings.

For example, the “monkey heat”, or Affenhitze, is a word German speakers use to describe those extremely hot days. So if you want to comment on what a scorcher of a day it is, you should say, “Heute ist eine Affenhitze”.

A similar expression is Sauheiß, literally translated to “pig hot”, for those unbearable heat days.

On the other hand, if the day is simply beautiful, sunny, with no clouds in the sky, Austrians will call it “Emperor weather”, or das Kaiserwetter. The urban legend goes that the idiom stems from Austrian history. Kaiser Franz Josef’s birthday, the August 18th, was often bright and cloudless.

And if you ever get caught in one of Austria’s Sommergewitter, the summer thunderstorm, you might hear someone say, jokingly: “Du siehst aus wie ein begossener Pudel!” it literally means “you look like a wet poodle” and, really, they won’t be wrong.

Heading to a public pool? This is what you should know

Sometimes, not speaking the local language can prevent people from trying activities involving talking with someone in German. While swimming in lakes or rivers won’t require any particular German vocabulary, if you want to enter the public pools (and you should, they are fantastic), you might need to know a few words.

Some public pools are “natural” ones, located by river banks. (Photo: PID / Christian Fürthner)

First, the open-air pools are called (singular) Freibad, an area by the river that is closed off and used as public natural pools would be a Strandbad (something like “beach pool”), a Hallenbad is indoors, Kombibad will have both indoor and outdoor pools, and a Familienbad is for families (adults are not allowed in without children).

Öffnungszeiten: opening times. The websites and signs will also state the “Kassaschluss”, which are closing times for buying an entry (usually you will see they are “eine halbe Stunde vor Badeschuss”, or half an hour before the pool closes).

READ ALSO: The best lakes and swimming spots in Austria

Eintrittspreise. These are the entry prices. There might be many different options here, including Kleinkinder (small children), Kinder (children), Jugendliche (young people), and Erwachsene (adults). If you feel young at heart and are confused about how much you must pay, don’t worry: there are usually birth years next to the prices. So, for example, adults are those born in 2003 and earlier.

Other entry options may include Familienkarte (family card, they will specify how many adults and children) and time-based cards, such as “Nachmittagskarte”, for example, for people who want to spend half a day or less.

You can also find season passes, but in general, the whole process of buying and entry is relatively straightforward. In Vienna, it is even possible to buy day tickets online. However, not every pool will have online sales for many weeks in advance or on weekends when demand is high.

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