German words you need to know: Der Zappelphilipp

Know someone who just can’t sit still? Feeling restless in a Zoom meeting after one too many coffees? If so, here’s a handy German word with an interesting background that you could probably put to use!

a boy swings on his chair
A young Zappelphilipp swings on his chair while on his computer. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

A Zappelphilipp is a noun used to describe a fidgeter, someone restless who just can’t sit still, and is used particularly with reference to children. 

The noun derives from the verb zappeln meaning ‘to fidget’, and the name Philipp. Confused about why Philipp of all names was chosen as the latter part of the word? This actually comes from a staple of 19th Century German literature. 

Heinrich Hoffmann’s children’s book ‘Struwwelpeter(‘Shockheaded Peter’) of 1845 contains ten stories, each of which holds a moral lesson for children who misbehave. One such story is the ‘Die Geschichte vom Zappel-Philipp’ (‘The Story of Fidgety Philipp’).

In this tale, Philipp is a child who is constantly fidgeting at the dinner table. Eventually, he accidentally falls out of his chair, with the items on the table falling on top of him. This is his moral lesson, but it is probably one of the tamer punishments that appear in ‘Struwwelpeter’! 

READ ALSO: German words you need to know: Der Schabernack

Here’s the story with English subtitles.

Also, although Philipp is typically given as a boy’s name, any child – regardless of gender – can be branded a Zappelphilipp. We’re sure any parents who’ve had young children at home during lockdown will agree 

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German word of the day: Isso

Perhaps you've seen this word on social media and you're not sure what it means. Let us explain...

German word of the day: Isso

Why do I need to know isso?

Because it’s a nice colloquial expression to use if you’re feeling a little lazy since it combines a few words. It was also one of Germany’s favourite youth words back in 2016, although it’s definitely not particularly cool anymore and is used by all ages

What does it mean?

Isso is derived from the statement: ist so (short for es ist so) meaning ‘it’s like this’ or ‘it is so’ in English. When used as a response to someone’s statement, it usually means you completely agree. A good translation is: ‘right on!’, yes, that’s exactly right!’ or ‘it’s true!’.

You can also use the expression yourself to emphasise your thought. In this case you’d add it on at the end of your sentence. You often find isso used on Twitter, when someone is quoting a Tweet.

It can also be used in a more downbeat form accompanied by the shrugging of your shoulders. In this case you’re saying isso, because it can’t be helped, it’s the way it is. 

Use it like this: 

– Wir müssen gegen steigende Mietpreise in Berlin demonstrieren.

– Isso! 

– We have to protest against rising rents in Berlin. 

– That’s exactly right!

Frauen sind die besten Autofahrer, isso!

Women are the best drivers, it’s true.