German word of the day: Scheinheilig

Today’s word of the day is one of those that significantly changed its meaning over the last couple of decades.

Published: Thu 29 Dec 2022 15:00 CEST
German word of the day: Scheinheilig
Photo: depositphotos

Scheinheilig literally translates to “seemingly holy,” which doesn’t really sound like a good thing to start with. A possible figurative translation in its present use is hypocritical.Originally, scheinheilig was known as the word “bigot”, which exists in German as well (bigott.)

This notion comes from the old English bī god, which means "with god.“ It was used to describe people who are sanctimonious, but don’t accept or even tolerate any other form of religion or view.

The French language used the word bigot since the 15th century; the English language adapted it in the 17th century.
 
Nowadays, scheinheilig isn’t used in the same way anymore. Scheinheilig means that even though you appear to be innocent, your intentions aren’t the best ones.

Or that you know that you did something wrong, but act like you are completely innocent.

An example: Your children played a bit too rough and knocked over a plant, which is now dead.

You come home and ask your children who did it. They stand in front of you, probably with their arms behind their backs, looking completely innocent. This is a scheinheiliges Verhalten (pretentious behaviour.)


Political art: Mainz' carnival in February 2016 featured a statue called 'Scheinheilig' of Russian president Vladimir Putin dressed like an angle. Photo: DPA

Examples:

Jetzt tu mal nicht so scheinheilig, ich weiß was du getan hast!
Now, don’t act all that innocent, I know you did it!

Ihr scheinheiliges Getue geht mir auf den Geist.
Her hypocritical fuss is annoying the hell out of me.

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