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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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LIVING IN AUSTRIA

Nine German expressions that perfectly sum up spring in Austria

As spring arrives and temperatures slowly rise again across Austria, there are a few German words and expressions that could come in handy soon.

Nine German expressions that perfectly sum up spring in Austria

German is not an easy language; most people agree about that. However, what many people don’t know (or will only learn once they start learning German) is how amazingly specific it can be.

German speakers have words for all sorts of things, and the way they form their vocabulary is also quite interesting.

As we head into spring (finally!) and temperatures rise all over Europe, there are certainly a few words and expressions that will be very useful during the coming months.

Like in every language, some idioms shouldn’t be literally translated – but we will do it just for the fun of it. After all, it’s fun sometimes to understand only train station.*

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

Here are a few expressions and words that you will probably hear, or might even incorporate, in the following months:

Sauheiß or Affenhitze

Sauheiß is literally “pig hot”, and Affenhitze would be “monkey heat”.

Both can be used for that extreme heat that is becoming ever more common during European summers.

Das Kaiserwetter

Literally, the “Emperor weather”, or something like a weather fit for an Emperor. Usually, they use that for those days when the sun is shining bright, and the skies are cloudless blue.

READ ALSO: Frosty German sayings that’ll make you a winter wordsmith

Some say the idiom comes from Austria. Emperor Franz Josef had an August summer birthday and enjoyed sunny birthdays.

Etwas Sonne tanken

To fuel up with the sun. It is a very typical sentence, especially by the end of summer days, as winter looms closer and Austrians, Germans, and Swiss know that they need to “stock up” in that summer feeling to face the cold and dark days (weeks and months) ahead.

Es gibt kein schlechtes Wetter, es gibt nur falsche Kleidung

This is a very typical expression and a life lesson, really. It means “there is no bad weather, only wrong clothes” and it’s usually said during winter and cold days.

The life lesson could also be employed during summer – at least to a certain degree, unless you go for the FKK (frei korper kultur), of course.

READ ALSO: Austria: Eight of the funniest mistakes people learning German make

Die Sonne lacht

Literally means the sun is smiling or laughing, and it’s used for when the sun is shining. A less sweet version would be “Die Sonne scheint” (the sun is shining). 

Badewetter

Austrians love swimming. Austria is known for skiing and winter sports, but there is a lot to do when the weather is nice and warm as well.

The beautiful lakes are perfect for swimming, complete with options of fun waterslides for kids and artificial beaches. The many public pools and parks options also allow for fantastic swimming opportunities for the city dwellers, so don’t miss out when it’s Badewetter (swimming/beach weather).

READ MORE: The best lakes and swimming spots in Austria

April April, der macht was er will

Watch out for those days when sun and rain take turns for hours on end, or when it’s the middle of April, and it just starts snowing. This is when Austrians will typically shrug and say: April, April, it does what it wants to.

Auf der Sonnenseite des Lebens stehen

This literally means “to be on the sunny side of life” and is used to say that someone has a nice life – who wouldn’t when standing in a sunny place?

Geh mir aus der Sonne!

Finally, a good expression for those tired of being bothered by someone else. After all, nobody wants to share the sun with an annoyance. It means something like “get out of my sun” and is used in the same way as “get out of my face”.

READ ALSO: Why traditional German names are often used as insults

*Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof is a very famous German idiom that is literally translated as “I understand only train station”. It means “I don’t understand a single thing”.

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