German word of the day: Das Hirngespinst

Nele Schröder
Nele Schröder - [email protected] • 25 Apr, 2019 Updated Thu 25 Apr 2019 09:23 CEST
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Today’s word of the day, which was recommended by a Local reader, is a good one to know for crossword puzzles and for when you come across weird ideas.

Picture an inventor who is known for thinking outside the box. One day he comes up to you and presents his latest invention: A teleport that can beam anyone to the moon and back in mere seconds.

You listen to what he has to say, look him straight in the eye and tell him: “Das ist wieder nur eins deiner Hirngespinste, oder?” (“This is just another one of your stupid ideas, isn’t it?”)

As you can see in the example, Hirngespinst sort of stands for “stupid idea,” but has many more meanings as well.

It has so many meanings in German, actually, that it is frequently used as a solution in crossword puzzles. The questions could be related to: Utopie (utopia), Illusion (illusion), Fantasie (fantasy), Trug (deception) or Einbildung (imagination), to name a few. All of these words have one common: they share the synonym Hirngespinst.

Photo: DPA

What's the origin?

So where does this diverse word come from? It consists of two parts: Hirn and Gespinst. Hirn is easily translated: It is the German word for “brain.”

Gespinst is a trickier business. Against the obvious similarity to the word Gespenst (meaning “ghost”), it doesn’t have anything to do with a spirit.

Gespinst is the noun to the German verb spinnen or gesponnen (past tense), which means “to spin,” for example wool.

This word can have a second meaning, though: If you tell someone “Du spinnst!,” you tell them that they’re out of their mind, mad or bonkers. This might be linked to the spinning of wool because if someone’s out of their mind, it is plausible that they create a so-called “net of lies”  by spinning different stories together.

Connecting all these loose ends, a Hirngespinst is a net of crazy ideas in someone’s brain.


Er sucht schon seit Jahren nach einem Yeti, ohne zu wissen, dass er damit einem Hirngespinst nachjagt.

He has been looking for a yeti for ages, without knowing he’s just chasing a fantasy.

Ich halte Gott für ein Hirngespinst.

I think God is an illusion.

Ich dachte, sie liebt mich, doch es war nur ein Hirngespinst.

I thought she loved me, but it turned out to be a dream.

Thanks to our reader for recommending this word. Do you have a German word or phrase you'd like us to write about? Let us know.



Nele Schröder 2019/04/25 09:23

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