German word of the day: Der Scheinriese

Eoin McGinley
Eoin McGinley - [email protected] • 24 Jun, 2019 Updated Mon 24 Jun 2019 08:57 CEST
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How did a famous children's book character come into popular play in German politics?

With German politics heating up - along with the weather - you might want to familiarize yourself with this mostly political term based on a character from a beloved German children’s book.

What does it mean?

Scheinriese is a metaphorical term used to characterize a person, group of people or even a whole state that unjustly and falsely wants to be seen as something big, strong and powerful.

Or at least be seen as something more impressive than he, she or it is.

What is the origin of the word?

The word consists of the words “Schein” (based on the verb “zu scheinen”, meaning “to seem”) and “Riese” (meaning giant).

So it more or less translates to a “seemingly giant person” or a “mock giant”.

This perfectly describes the character Tur Tur from Michael Ende’s famous and children’s book Jim Knopf und Lukas und der Lokomotivführer (1960).

The story focuses on two friends traveling through a fantasy-version of the world. On their journey they encounter a man named Tur Tur who seems physically gigantic from far away, yet up close he is the height of a regular human.

The character says this is what makes him a Scheinriese. Tur Tur is portrayed as a kind and pitiable person, as he does not want to be seen as a giant, which can make the use of the word quite ironic.

The word's career as a politics-related slogan and metaphor began towards the end of the 60s, most likely due to the popularity of Michael Ende’s book and the marionette film adaptation which would have brought “Scheinriese” to the journalist’s attention.

How is it used?

Scheinriese is usually only used in journalism, and mostly to describe politics, but it can theoretically be applied to a variety of other fields.

It has been applied by various branches of the German media to current political figures such as Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

Uses of Scheinriese:

Manche sagen das Donald Trump ein Scheinriese ist.

Some say that Donald Trump wants to be seen as more than he is.

Auf Twitter tobt ein böswilliger Mob von Scheinriesen.

A malicious mob of mock giants is raging on Twitter.

Leute mit über ehrgeizigen Plänen sind manchmal als Scheinriesen gesehen.

People with over ambitious plans are occasionally seen as mock giants.



Eoin McGinley 2019/06/24 08:57

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