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.

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.

Time's running out to join the Lingoda Language Marathon. Click here to learn German for free! Limited places, offer ends soon.

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.)

Living in Germany? Never learned German? Join the Lingoda Language Marathon and learn for free.

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


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.

Learn German in three months, for free. Join the Lingoda Language Marathon today.

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.


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


German word of the day: Umgangssprache

This is a good word to be aware of when you're looking out for phrases to add to your everyday vocabulary in Germany.

German word of the day: Umgangssprache

Why do I need to know Umgangssprache?

We may be getting a little meta here, but we think it’s worth knowing this word so you can listen out for the words around it (or know when not to use this type of language).

What does it mean?

Umgangssprache, which sounds like this, means ‘colloquial language’ or ‘slang’. These are the kinds of words and phrases you might not find in a textbook, but they are heard in everyday life.

By using slang vocabulary, you’ll be able to bring your sentences to life and sound like a true local.

The term is said to have been introduced into the German language by the writer and linguist Joachim Heinrich Campe at the beginning of the 19th century.

Umgangssprache is shaped by the world around it, whether its regional factors or social circumstances of the time. 

Here are a few examples of colloquial phrases and words:

Geil means horny in German, but it is also used colloquially to describe anything you think is cool. In English, you might use the word ‘sick’ or ‘awesome’ in the same context.

Krass is another colloquial word that can mean lots of things. It is usually used to intensify the meaning of something very bad or something very good depending on the tone and context. So something disgusting is krass, and something amazing can also be krass

Das ist mir Wurst translates to ‘that’s sausage to me’, and means you don’t give a toss. 

Das ist doch Käse translates to ‘that’s cheese’ and expresses that you mean something is absolute nonsense. 

And a ruder one is: Das ist am Arsch der Welt. It means ‘that’s the arse of the world’ and refers to a place that is far away or very difficult to reach. In English you might say ‘back of beyond’. 

You would hear these kinds of phrases in relaxed conversations in cafes and bars, but they aren’t so common in formal situations. 

Use it like this:

Ist das Umgangssprache oder kann ich das bei meinem Chef benutzen?

Is that colloquial language or can I use it with my boss?

Mir gefällt die umgangssprachliche Floskel: auf dein Nacken!

I really like the colloquial phrase ‘this is on you!’