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LEARNING GERMAN

German word of the day: Das Fernweh

Today’s word of the day is one that is quite common throughout the winter months.

German word of the day: Das Fernweh

Outside it’s cold and grey, probably rainy and snowy – and you find yourself longing for some sun.

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You start thinking about your last summer holiday in Spain, about the golden beaches and the warm winds. The German language has a word for that feeling: Fernweh.

Literally translated it means “far-woe,” more figuratively: A longing for distant places. There are other, more poetic definitions of the word as well, one being “homesick for a place you’ve never been.” Homesick is a word we all know (in German: Das Heimweh), and Fernweh is the exact opposite.

Another German word that is a bit more common in the English language, but describes roughly the same feeling, is wanderlust.

The use of the word dates back to the early 19th century. The Count of Pückler-Muskau (an author and world traveller) is said to have used it in his famous travel reports from 1835.

Some years later, in the 20th century, the word started to be used by travel agencies. Up to the present day, creating an artificial Fernweh by using beautiful pictures of far-away places is an important marketing strategy by tourist agencies.

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German tourists in Mallorca, a popular destination that many have 'Fernweh' for in the winter. Photo: DPA

Examples:

Dieses Fernweh zerstört meinen Verstand.

This longing for far-off places is destroying my mind

Eine Reise tritt nur an, dessen Fernweh gegenüber der Angst vor Veränderung überwiegt.

A journey only occurs when the desire for distant destinations is stronger than the fear of change.

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

This article was produced independently with support from Lingoda.

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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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