German word of the day: Der Pechvogel

Eve Bennett
Eve Bennett - [email protected]
German word of the day: Der Pechvogel
Photo credit: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

If you're feeling especially unlucky ahead of Friday the 13th, this word can help you describe you put a name on your misfortune.


Whether it’s missing the bus, spilling red wine over a brand new carpet or losing your phone: the German word “Pechvogel” is used to describe someone who is always plagued by bad luck. 

The word’s literal translation into English, “tar/pitch bird”, may initially appear to have little to do with unfortunate twists of fate.

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“Pech” on its own, however, means bad luck or misfortune in German. But where did this new meaning come from, and how do birds fit into the equation? 

In the 15th century, hunters used to cover surfaces with tar (or pitch) to trap unsuspecting birds. People soon began to use this popular hunting method as a metaphor for people prone to strokes of misfortune.  

Before long, the word “Pech” had also taken on the meaning of “bad luck”, and the term “Pechvogel” was born.

Although this hunting practise has long since been banned, the word still remains in everyday use across Germany. 

READ ALSO: 12 German words you won't find in English

The idea is also ingrained in popular culture - famous “Pechvögel” include Donald Duck, Wil E. Coyote, and Scrat the squirrel. 

Next time you feel as though you’re a human jinx, be sure to make use of this strange but fitting term!


“Du bist ein richtiger Pechvogel!”

You’re a walking disaster!

“Alles ist heute schief gelaufen. Ich bin so ein Pechvogel!”

Everything has gone wrong today. Bad luck follows me everywhere!

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