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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

German word of the day: Gell

If you’re planning on heading to south Germany, Austria, or Switzerland, you’ll be certain to hear today’s word of the day in almost every conversation.

German word of the day: Gell
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

It can be frustrating when you are feeling confident with your German skills, only to travel to a certain part of Germany and be confronted with words you’ve never heard before. 

If you find yourself in South Germany, Austria and Switzerland, for instance, it will be impossible to avoid the word gell

It will almost always be heard at the end of a sentence and pronounced with rising intonation (ie. as a question).

READ ALSO: 15 Bavarian words you need to survive down south

The most obvious English equivalents would be ‘right?’ or ‘isn’t it?’. In German, some more widely spread equivalents include nicht wahr? or oder?

When a speaker uses this particle, they’re often looking to see if the person they are speaking to agrees with the statement they have just made, or to see if what they have said is correct.

It can also be used if you are seeking to invite someone into a conversation or encourage their input. 

Gell is just one of many regional variations used across Germany. In northeast Germany (including Berlin), you’re likely to hear wahr (often shortened to wa) instead, while the particle ne is more common in the northwest, but used all around Germany.

Example sentences:

Schönes Wetter heute, gell?

The weather’s nice today isn’t it?

Ich hab’ dich gestern im Supermarkt gesehen, gell? 

That was you I saw at the supermarket yesterday, right? 

Die Suppe war wahnsinnig lecker! Das hast du selber gekocht, gell?

The soup was super delicious! You made it yourself, right? 

 

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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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