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LEARNING GERMAN

German word of the day: Naja

Naja, we look at one of the most widely used German particles.

German word of the day: Naja
Photo: depositphotos

Germans have a habit of using a lot of particles – which again and again confuse non-native speakers. After talking about doch last week, let’s have a look at one of the other tricky ones.

SEE ALSO: German word of the day: Doch

Picture this: You are talking to someone in German. The conversation goes like this: Your conversation partner tells you a rather long story and ends it with “Naja, und dann habe ich ihr gesagt, dass sie nicht zurück zu kommen braucht.” (“Well, and then I told her that she doesn’t have to bother coming back.”) In this case, your conversation partner used one of the most infamous German particles.

Naja, or na ja can be translated to “well” and is an interjection, which means it’s used to express a feeling. In the case of na ja, it’s used to express either agreement or doubt.

Two examples for its use are the following:

To tell the person you’re talking to that you agree with their statement, but have something more to say: “Na ja, ich stimme dir zu, aber…” (“Well, I agree with you, but…”)

To wrap up a long story with a final statement: “Na ja, das war jetzt eine lange Geschichte, aber alles in allem finde ich es blöd.” (“Well, this was a long story, but all in all it really upsets me.”)

SEE ALSO: Das ist ja mal wichtig: The complete guide to German particles

Na ja consists of the words na and ja, ja meaning “yes” and na being a totally different case. So let me explain.

Na is a short particle that you will probably stumble across many, many times while in Germany. If you look it up, the dictionary Duden explains na like this:

“A particle preceding a [shortened] sentence and creating the emotional transition of something, which preceded the sentence as something spoken, occurred or thought, to a concluding statement, which may contain personal feelings, but especially the impatience, dissatisfaction, resignation, rejection, but also surprise, a request, encouragement or joy.”

What a mouthful. A shorter explanation is probably: Na is a particle that can be used in basically any context.

Here are some examples to showcase this:

Na, wie geht es dir? – “Hi, how are you?”

Na, das ist ja super gelaufen. – “Well that went great.” (ironically)

Na so was! – “How strange!”

Na schön. – “Very well.”

Na, dann mal los! – “Well then, let’s go!”

Na endlich! – “Finally!”

Na, jetzt mach mal nicht so ein Theater. – “Now, stop making such a fuss about it.”

So, if you want to sound like you’ve been speaking German all your life, casually start using na or na ja in your sentences. People will be impressed.

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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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