German phrase of the day: Innerer Schweinehund

Do all your best-laid plans go out the window when you hear that little internal voice telling you you're too tired/lazy/bored to do them? If so, our German phrase of the day is just what you need.

German phrase of the day
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

There’s a famous Cherokee fable called the Two Wolves that describes a conversation between an elderly man and his grandson.

The grandfather tells the young boy that he has two wolves fighting inside of him. One encapsulates all the negative traits that plague people, from arrogance to self-pity, and the other encapsulates all the good, from empathy and kindness to generosity and faith.

This internal battle is raging inside everyone, he says. “Which wolf will win?”, the boy asks. The man replies: “The one you feed.” 

In German, you might well hear this evil wolf described as “der innere Schweinehund” – literally your inner pig-dog, but more accurately your “inner temptation”, “inner bastard” or “inner swine”. 

READ ALSO: 12 colourful German expressions that’ll add swagger to your language skills

More specifically, the German phrase describes the weak-willed part of ourselves that we sometimes have to fight with on a daily basis in order to get things done or steer clear of our worst vices and habits.

The word “Schweinehund” can be traced back to hunting practices in the Middle Ages, when specially trained dogs were used to charge at, stalk and subsequently trap wild boar.

By the 19th century, the word had moved into colloquial use to describe nasty, unpleasant people, and by the time of the Second World War, athletes were talking about “der innere Schweinehund” as a personification of the lazy part of themselves that wanted to do anything but train. 

Most famously, the incisive use of the phrase by a German Social Democrat in 1932 prompted a call to order in the Reichstag. 

Kurt Schumacher (SPD) had claimed that National Socialism had succeeded “for the first time in German politics in the complete mobilisation of human stupidity.” He said the Nazis were specifically appealing to the worst of human nature – the population’s “inner swine”. 

These days, you might hear Germans bandy around the phrase in much more of an everyday context.

It’s your inner swine that might have encouraged you to stay in the Kneipe (pub) just a little too long on a weeknight, or scroll on social media for another hour when you were meant to be working on an urgent report. 

READ ALSO: German phrase of the day: Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund

The good news is that, as with the two wolves, psychologists think it’s actually quite useful to envision an evil alter-ago trying to talk us into doing these silly things. So next time that inner bastard is trying to convince you to waste time or indulge a bad habit, you can tell it in German: “Not today, pig-dog!” (“Heute nicht, Schweinehund!”)

Alternatively, you can work together with your inner swine to achieve some amazing things. Just check out the picture below in which a massive “inner swine-dog” takes part in a race in Frankfurt.

Inner pig-dog

An “inner pig-dog” runs alongside thousands of participants in a 6km running challenge in Frankfurt-am-Main. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

As the Germans and Cherokees know, there’s no getting rid of the inner swine, but it can be counterbalanced against its opposites: compassion, determination and willpower. 

Will the Schweinehund win out in the end? That all depends on how much you feed it. 


Warum ist es so schwer den inneren Schweinehund zu überwinden?

Why is it so difficult to overcome your inner temptations? 

Heute kämpfe ich gegen meinen inneren Schweinehund. 

I’m fighting against my inner bastard today. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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.