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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German word of the day: Das Luftkissenfahrzeug

Today’s word of the day is quite a mouthful. Even some German speakers know it better by its English name.

German word of the day: Das Luftkissenfahrzeug

Good compound nouns – or words pieced together with a string of nouns to take on a literal yet poetic meaning – and this one just happens to be one of our favourites.  

You can’t get much more literal (or weirdly poetic) than Luftkissenfahrzeug, the German word for hovercraft – which translates to a combination of ‘air-pillow-drive-thing’. 

Although hovercraft – das Hovercraft – is also used widely, as with a lot of English nouns (think Der Hubschrauber or Der Helikopter for helicopter, Das Luftkissenfahrzeug was the original translation and is still used since the prototype (Luftkissengleitboot = air pillow boat) was first developed in Austria in the early 1900s. 

Austrian Dagobert Müller von Thomamühl worked on a prototype for military use, even developing a model which was armed with torpedoes, but shelved it due to difficulties and complications with the design. 

It was not until British inventor Christopher Cockerell worked on a continued research project in the 1950s that the current design was developed. 

In the present day, hovercrafts are used for commercial purposes and by fire and rescue departments across Germany. 

A ‘Luftkissenfahrzeug’ in action in Berlin in 2004. Photo: DPA

Examples:

Kommst du heute mit der Bahn? Oder mit dem Luftkissenfahrzeug?

Are you taking the train today? Or hovercraft? 

Mein Luftkissenfahrzeug ist voll mit Aalen.

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My hovercraft is full of eels.

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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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