German word of the day: Die Schnulze

If your Valentine’s Day didn’t go as planned and you end up alone in your apartment, you might want to put on today’s word of the day and have a big jar of ice cream.

German word of the day: Die Schnulze
Photo: depositphotos

Die Schnulze is best translated as “tearjerker” or “schmaltzy song/movie” and covers all the guilty pleasures and break up media you can think about. That can be a very kitschy song, a movie or even a book.

Long story short: The media that’s just perfect for a post break-up day in bed, with loads of chocolate.

Schnulze is usually used in a derogatory way. The Duden German dictionary defines Schnulze as an “artistically worthless, sentimental, maudlin, corny song, play or movie. Still, they are hugely popular, especially around Valentine’s Day.

There are lists on the Internet titled “Schnulzen, die ich trotzdem mag” (tearjerkers that I still like) and the worst thing that could happen to an artist is when their new, heartfelt single is described as a Schnulze.

Some examples for Schnulzen are “My heart will go on” by Céline Dion, “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen or “Love actually.”

For many people, 'My Heart will go on' by Celine Dion is the ultimate 'Schnulze'

That shows that even though Schnulzen have a bad reputation, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be enjoyable or even considered artistically important. The German word for such media is Edelschnulze (“fine-art tearjerker”), although that word is usually used in a very ironic way.

But where does a word like Schnulze has its origin? The notion of Schnulze first appeared in newspapers of the 1950s and quickly found its way into the German everyday language. The exact origin isn’t clear, but there are theories.

According to the German linguist Wolfgang Pfeifer, Schnulze could be connected to the word Schmalz (grease) in the sense of a sentimental emotional product. The Dictionary of German Colloquialisms connects the word Schnulze to the low German snulten, which means “to talk exuberantly” or “to act emotionally.”


Wollen wir Titanic gucken? – Oh nein, das ist schon wieder so eine Schnulze.

Do we want to watch Titanic? – Oh no, that’s just another tearjerker.

Ich wusste gar nicht, dass du Schnulzen magst.

I didn’t know you were into schmaltzy songs.

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

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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.


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.