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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German Word of the Day: Das Backpfeifengesicht

Let's admit it: Everybody knows somebody with a Backpfeifengesicht.

German Word of the Day: Das Backpfeifengesicht
Photo: Depositphotos

Whether it’s your inconsiderate neighbour, your friend’s rude boyfriend, or your patronising aunt, everybody knows somebody they’d really like to just slap in the face.

Constructed from Backe (cheek), Pfeife (whistle) and Gesicht (face), the literal translation of ‘cheek whistle face’ seems a little hard to decode. But a Backpfeife is actually a slap in the face, so a Backpfeifengesicht is a face that really deserves to be slapped.

It’s not generally used for people who are unfortunate to be so ugly that their face can be slapped. Instead, it’s applied to people who are annoying and irksome.

Examples:

Er hat ein richtiges Backpfeifengesicht; er ist total lästig.

He has a really slappable face; he’s so annoying

Das freche Fräulein hat ein Backpfeifengesicht.

The cheeky young lady has a slappable face.

Do you have a favourite word you'd like to see us cover? If so, please email our editor Rachel Stern with your suggestion.

 

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German word of the day: Witzfigur

You may like to think your jokes are "witzig" - but beware of getting labelled with this German word. It's not nearly as funny as it sounds.

German word of the day: Witzfigur

Witz, the German word for “joke”, is one of the first words a lot of foreigners come to learn when they start learning German. But it may be a little longer until you encounter what’s known as a Witzfigur.

Combine the word der Witz (joke) with the word die Figur (figure or character) and you get die Witzfigur (wits·fii·guur) – someone who may well be (unintentionally) funny, but is more likely to be the butt of somebody else’s joke. 

Think of it a little bit like the English expression “figure of fun”, or – more commonly used – a laughing stock. 

A Witzfigur may pop up in jokes, stories and songs as a clownish sidekick who offers some light relief.

In some cases, these Witzfiguren are there to act as the wise fool and reveal some deeper insight into what’s going on. In many cases, though, they’re just there to get a cream pie chucked in their face. 

It’s worth remembering that not every character in a joke is the butt of it – that is to say, not every Witzfigur is a Witzfigur.

In German, there’s a tradition of jokes involving Klein Fritzchen (little Fritz) – a fictional boy who pops up time and time again in various comedic scenarios, usually in order to say something insulting to someone. 

READ ALSO: German words you need to know: Der Zappelphilipp

Little Fritz is not so much a figure of fun as a literal Witzfigur: a character in a joke. And in fact, his role in the jokes often involve delivering the punchline that makes someone else the laughing stock. 

That said, if you hear someone described as a Witzfigur in real life, it usually doesn’t mean anything good.

In fact, it often means they’ve done something pretty peinlich (embarrassing) or deserving of public mockery. And yes, it can often be applied to politicians.

By way of example, the term was recently used by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) to describe Gerhard Schröder, the former chancellor of Germany who has recently been stripped of many of his perks for insisting on taking Kremlin-linked jobs.

When asked about Schröder, Lauterbach said: “He has succeeded in being a former chancellor (who is) now on the verge of being a laughing stock.”

So, by all means, make a “Witz” or two, and definitely don’t be afraid of doing anything “witzig” (witty or funny), but if you ever find yourself on the verge of become a Witzfigur, it could be time for a change of course.

Examples 

Er ist nur eine Witzfigur. Vergiss ihn. 

He’s just a joke. Forget about him. 

Ich habe angst davor, eine Witzfigur zu werden.

I’m afraid of becoming a laughing stock. 

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