German word of the day: Der Sündenbock

If you’re looking to shift blame onto someone or feel like you’re always being set up to take the fall, this colloquial term could come in handy.

German word of the day: Der Sündenbock
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Der Sündenbock has a similar meaning to the English “scapegoat” or “fall guy” and is used to call someone who is always (and usually unjustifiably) blamed for all mistakes and problems – or a person who voluntarily takes the blame. 

Similar to the English phrase, der Bock often translates to a billy goat, although it can also be used to refer to the male of various mammals. Die Sünde translates to sin.

Sündenbock has a biblical origin, having been coined by Martin Luther in his translation of the bible. 

On the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the day of the forgiveness of sins, the high priest proclaimed the sins of the people and passed them on to a goat by laying his hand on him. The goat was then driven into the wilderness to take away the sins of the people and redeem them. 

Nowadays the scapegoat is used in a figurative sense. Whoever is made the scapegoat must therefore metaphorically carry away the sins of others.

Another German phrase originated from this story, jemanden in die Wüste schicken (to send someone into the desert), although it tends to mean being kicked out of a company or someone leaving their significant other.

Der Sündenbock does not necessarily signify a single person, instead, entire groups of people can be attributed to the role. 

Religious groups have often been the victims of scapegoating, such as Jewish people throughout Nazi Germany. Refugees and immigrants have also been used as scapegoats for a country’s economic problems.

A word used similarly in German is der Prügelknabe (whipping boy), describing someone who receives blame or punishment for another’s wrongdoing. 


Jemanden zum Sündenbock machen.

To make someone the scapegoat.

Ich lasse mich nicht zum Sündenbock machen.

I will not be made a scapegoat.

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German word of the day: Lüften

One of the first lessons you learn when living in Germany is that airing out rooms is extremely important.

German word of the day: Lüften

Whether you sublet, rent a flat or own your home in Germany, it’s likely you’ve been told how important it is to lüften, or open your windows and let air in and out regularly. 

Lüften can be a verb or noun in Germany. As a noun it uses the ‘das’ article and stands for ventilation. The verb lüften means to air out something. It comes from the German word die Luft which means air.

The proper airing out of rooms is a very German thing. Hell, it’s a way of life. 

Just check your rent contract. Foreigners in Germany are often surprised to find that ventilating their homes is usually written into their contract and accompanied by instructions. That means it’s literally legally binding! 

There are very important rules to remember, and German even has a set of vocabulary dedicated to getting fresh air safely in and out the room. 

Words like Stoßlüften – which translates to shock or impact ventilation. This is needed at least twice a day (and more in summer) and involves opening the windows or balcony doors wide to let a ‘shock’ of cold air in. According to experts, you should do this for about five minutes a time in winter, 10-15 minutes each time in autumn and spring, and up to half an hour in summer.

Meanwhile, Querlüften or cross ventilation involves opening all the windows of a house or building and letting the fresh air flow through.

The aim of all this lüften is to stop mould from forming, get rid of smells and to stop rooms from getting too humid. The more people that live in your home, the more airing out you’ll have to do. 

Germans recommend that you turn off your heating while airing out your room (to save on money and to protect the climate) – so be sure to have a big jumper on if you’re airing out in winter. 

READ ALSO: Why Germans are obsessed with the art of airing out a room

Lüften took on a whole new meaning in the pandemic as other countries – or at least those that didn’t have the same culture for airing out – began recommending it to people as a way of helping protect against Covid-19 transmission.  

A good German habit

Lüften can quickly become a habit. Whereas before Germany, I was happy to leave a window tilted open for a while to get some fresh air, I’m now obsessed with the proper way to do it. 

I throw open the windows of my flat wide at regular intervals to get that fresh air circulating, even in the dead of winter. When I’m at home in Scotland or on holiday somewhere else, I do the same thing, which can be alarming to people who think you are trying to freeze them.

I find myself feeling pleased when the neighbours across the road from my Berlin flat open their windows or balcony doors wide. It’s like we’re all part of the secret society of fresh air.

There is nothing now that stands between me and Lüften. When I tweeted about this habit, lots of people said they felt a similar way. 

One Twitter user said: “Been telling my family this for years – as they shiver and complain about how cold it is, and my partner and I passive-aggressively follow each other around shutting and reopening windows. Makes for fun times.”

Another said: “My little sister spent an exchange year in Germany before me and when I visited was thoroughly disturbed by her obsessive window opening. A couple years later I was living in Germany and had become a convert, too.”


Hey Karl, Kannst du bitte dein Zimmer lüften?

Hey Karl, can you please air out your room?

In Deutschland muss man die Zimmer richtig lüften.

You really have to air out rooms the right way in Germany.