German word of the day: Der Besserwisser

AFP/The Local
AFP/The Local - [email protected] • 29 Dec, 2022 Updated Thu 29 Dec 2022 15:28 CEST
image alt text

A classroom is sure to have one. An office, too. Perhaps you dated one.

Germans are likely to call him or her our word of the day: “der Besserwisser” or “die Besserwisserin.”

In English, we’d say he or she is a “know-it-all". It can also be translated to "smartypants", "wise guy" or in the U.K. a "smart arse".

Those who exhibit Besserwisser traits share unwanted advice or trivia to show off how much they know.

Sometimes, though, the unintended consequence is that they magnify how little they do actually know.

The diner who debates with the sommelier over the best late-harvest Riesling for the dessert course pairing is a Besserwisser/-in.

Another Besserwisser/-in is the office colleague who, with white coat-wearing authority but no medical degree, provides a list of remedies when you sneeze or cough when a simple “Gesundheit!” would suffice.

The tourist who visited Berlin one weekend fifteen years earlier but shares with a tour guide what s/he believes the best currywurst stand in the city is is also an example of a Besserwisser/-in.

Examples of Besserwisser are both varied and unending and conversations with a Besserwisser/-in can feel equally varied and unending.

I was first introduced to this slang term as a student in America learning German. My instructor played a song titled “Besserwisser” by Wise Guys. The comical acappella group sang about what they know (“weiß”) and what they’d like to know better (“besser”).



Solche Besserwisser brauchen wir nicht.

We don't need know-it-alls like that.

Er ist ein solcher Besserwisser, dass nicht einmal die Lehrer mit ihm diskutieren mögen.

He is such a know-it-all that even the teachers don't want to argue with him.


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




AFP/The Local 2022/12/29 15:28

Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also