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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

10 famous Germans with surnames that have ridiculous literal meanings

German last names can be quite hilarious when you look at them literally.

10 famous Germans with surnames that have ridiculous literal meanings
Sahra Wagenknecht's surname has an amusing literal meaning when translated to English. Photo: DPA

1. Albert Einstein: Albert One-Stone

Photo: DPA

The great physicist didn’t remain German for long – he took on Swiss citizenship as a young man to avoid military service. But he was born in Ulm and went to school in Munich.

We would like to think that the Nobel Prize winner was descended from ancestors who only had a single rock to their name (and who were constantly looked down upon by neighbours the Zweisteins).

The actual meaning of the name is rather different. It comes from einsteinen, meaning to surround with stone, and refers to defences built around settlements in the Middle Ages.

2. Franz Beckenbauer: Franz Bowl-Builder

Photo: DPA

It is probably just as well that der Kaiser became the most famous footballer of his generation. How else would he have shrugged off his rather odd surname? Apparently some far-flung forefather was a master of sculpting the curvature of bowls. Are we stretching the matter by suggesting that the great Bayern Munich footballer still lived up to the name by curving elegant passes around the pitch?

3. Helmut Kohl: Helmut Cabbage

Photo: DPA

The deceased former Chancellor was often mocked during his time in office for his lack of refinement. And the fact that his last name meant cabbage didn’t exactly help. Satirical magazine Der Postillon joked after his death in June that he was being given a very special honour for his service to Germany – having a type of vegetable named after him.

4. Dirk Schimmelpfennig: Dirk Moldy-Penny

Photos: DPA/EPA

Why on earth someone ever decided that “Moldy Penny” was a suitable surname, we'll never know. Ancestry.com and Focus magazine say that it was a nickname for misers who let their pennies become moldy because they never spent them.

Whether the family of Germany's Olympic Sports Confederation head still carries on that personality trait is yet another question.

5. Bastian Schweinsteiger: Bastian Pig-Climber

Photos: DPA

German football star Schweinsteiger's last name could literally translate to pig-climber, but more likely it means pig-overseer, like on a farm.

As if his full last name didn't sound silly enough, it has also given the ex-Man United midfielder a regrettable nickname: Schweini (piggy).

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He's not the only one with a lamentable last name: Former national team captain Phillip Lahm is one of the best players Germany has produced in recent years, leading his team to the 2014 World Cup victory. But his surname in German means lame, feeble or slow.

6. Left Party leader Sahra Wagenknecht: Sahra Wagon Servant

Wagenknecht on television programme Anne Will. Photo: DPA/NDR

The word Knecht means servant or farm labourer, so it seems the Die Linke (Left Party) leader has come a long way since her family's presumed more humble beginnings.

7. Author and journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer: Jürgen Death-Yards

Photos: DPA

Ok so this one doesn't exactly translate. But Tod does mean death, and Höfe are courtyards, so naturally our thoughts jump to the morbid when hearing the name of this journalist, who was also once a member of the German parliament (Bundestag) and later became the first Western reporter to get embedded with Isis.

8. Actress Hannah Herzsprung: Hannah Heart-Leap

Photos: DPA

Watching this 34-year-old Hamburg native on screen might just make your Herz leap if you have a crush on the actress, who has appeared in the 2008 German-American drama The Reader.

And it seems she comes from a line of people with feel-good family names: Her mother is designer Barbara Engel (Angel).

9. Carl Bratfisch: Carl Fried-Fish

Fish and chips. Photo: DPA

This Prussian musician composed works such as the Steinmetz March.

How often everyone just assumed he wanted the fish 'n' chips due to his name, Wikipedia does not reveal.

10. Author and pastor Hartmut Hühnerbein: Hartmut Chicken-Leg

Photos: Tohma/Wikimedia Commons, and DPA.

This Lower Saxon-born religious figure was the former president of Christian nonprofit CJD, which does social work and educational training for young people. Pastor Chicken Leg has also written a number of books, including “Just Believe” and “Window of Hope”.

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

How (and when) to swear like a German

We are certainly not advocating the use of these words, but they are important to know (in case anyone uses them against you). Here are some of the German words you certainly shouldn’t use with elderly in-laws.

How (and when) to swear like a German
"Are you talking to me?" Photo: DPA

Geil

We’ll start with a word so common you’ve probably even heard some embarrassing politicians use it as they try to get down wid da kids

Geil is used to mean “cool” or “wow”. To show extreme approval, you can draw it out and say guy-el. The word literally means “horny”. It is often used in the following phrase “ej, du geile Sau”, which is a pretty crude way of telling someone you find them attractive (hey, you horny pig).

Our advice: be careful with this word! As common as “geil” is in everyday slang, it could still cause your conservative father-in-law to choke on his Lebkuchen during Christmas dinner.

READ ALSO: Nerdy flowers to alcoholic birds: the 12 most colourful German insults

Kruzifix!

This one is a shout out to all the old Bavarian men out there. “Kruzifix!” or “Sakrament!” is something you shout out in pain in the southern state if you’ve stubbed a toe or accidentally hit your finger with a hammer.

Our rule: don’t scream this word out in the presence of a priest. Avoid using on Sundays.

Mist

Here is a classic German joke for you: An American tourist driving through the German countryside is lost. He pulls up at a farm and shouts to the nearest farm hand “Hey Mister, I need some help.” The puzzled farmhand replies “Ich bin nicht der Mister, ich bin der Melker.”

The joke being – a Mekler is someone who milks the cows. A Mister would theoretically be someone he cleans out the Mist, the manure.

The word Mist, which you mutter when something has gone wrong, literally dung, is even an acceptable word for children to use and is equivalent to “flip or “darn it” in English.

Our advice: one to avoid if you’re trying to impress teenagers, otherwise safe.

Leck mich!

This is an abbreviated version of a sentence that is just a bit too rude to appear in a news publication of our standing.

It means “lick me.” Let’s put it this way, it’s not a sexy invitation to someone to lick chocolate from your chest. It refers instead to a less appetising brown substance and essentially means “f*** off!”

We don’t know what Baden-Württemberg’s former culture minister, Gabriele Warminski-Leitheußer, was saying here… but we’re pretty sure we know what she means. Photo: DPA

Schattenparker!

This word belongs to the fantastic German tradition of making up insults to throw at people based on perceived cowardly behaviour.

A Schattenparker is literally someone who parks in a shadow. Sensible behaviour, one might think. Not to the hardy German though – parking in shadow proves you can’t take the heat.

Famed members of this very manly collection are Warmduscher (warm showerer) and Frauenversteher (woman understander) – even if these should not exactly be insults. You can make up just about anything to add to the list, as this website proves.

Our advice: throw in a few original ones at Christmas dinner and German relatives will be cooing at the progress you’re making in German.

Vollpfosten

This word is the equivalent to the English expression “as thick as two planks.” You use it to insult someone’s intelligence “Ej, du Vollpfosten”, which means “hey, thicko”, or literally “you big pole”.

Our advice: One to keep in your arsenal if a driver cuts you off on your cycle to work and then fails to apologise.

“Ey, du Vollpfosten!” Photo: DPA

Scheiße

We all know the German word for shit, but one of its most appealing qualities is the fact that you can stick it to the front of just about any noun to indicate disapproval. “Der Scheißkerl” means “that arsehole”, but you can add it to anything, really. Scheißwetter, Scheißaufgabe, Scheißauto… the possibilities are endless.

Our advice: have fun with this one.

Arschkalt

A seasonally relevant one to end things. Literally “arse cold” – we’re not really sure why – but it’s a good way to hate on the long, grey German winter.

Our advice: will go down well with a Berliner if you want to show you’ve got a bit of Schnauze.

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