German word of the day: Totsparen

Fed up with politicians making silly financial decisions? Then this German word could soon be your best friend.

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

Why do I need to know Totsparen?

Because it’s a helpful word to know both in the corporate world and the world of politics, and you’ll definitely impress your German friends if you use it in a debate or a discussion about current affairs. 

What does it mean?

If you know the words Tot (dead or death) and sparen (to save money), it shouldn’t be too tricky to guess what Totsparen means. Used mostly in the context of government spending, it refers to the phenomenon of cutting budgets so much that things start to fall apart – in other words, saving to death. 

It’s a criticism that’s often levelled at previous German governments who slashed funding for the Bundeswehr (army) to such an extent that many believe it’s currently unfit for purpose.

Totsparen also cropped up frequently when countries were putting austerity policies in place after the financial crisis. One Deutschlandfunk headline in 2015 read: “Griechenland: Gesundschrumpfen oder Totsparen?” (Greece: Shrinking healthily or saving to death?), referring to the strict spending rules that the country was placed under following a bailout from the European Central Back and the International Monetary Fund. 

Less often, the word is also used to describe over-zealous budget cuts in other contexts, such as a business laying off so many staff that they can no longer operate properly. 

In true German style, the word is basically a snappy neologism based on the phrase: “etwas zu Tode sparen” (to save/economise something to death). It’s not clear when the idiom first started being used as a verb, but it’s a classic example of how simple it can be to create new words in the German language.

Use it like this:

Ich befürchte, dass die Bund die Digitalisierung totsparen wird.

I’m concerned that the federal government is going to economise digitalisation to death.

Der Chef hat unser Projekt noch wieder zu Tode gespart.  

The boss has economised our project into the ground yet again. 

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German word of the day: Kneipe

This is a spot you might visit at the end of the working day - or Feierabend.

German word of the day: Kneipe

Why do I need to know Kneipe?

Because you may be invited to one or need to find one on the map. 

What does it mean?

Die Kniepe, which sounds like this, is the name for a pub in German where people gather to drink beverages. This isn’t a fancy cocktail bar – it’s a neighbourhood watering hole, and forms part of the make-up of towns and cities across Germany. It’s usually unpretentious, often small and in some places – like Berlin – it can be smoky. In that case, you might see a a Raucherkneipe (smoking pub) sign on the door or window. 

The word has been around since the 18th century and is an abbreviation of Kneipschenke. A Kneipschenke was a super-cramped premise where guests had to pack in and sit squeezed together.

The noun Schenke is a tavern, while Kneipe is said to come from the verb kneipen meaning “to press together” or “be close together”, which has been documented in Middle German and is a loanword from the Middle Low German word knīpen. That word is related to High German’s kneifen, which means “to pinch”. 

Kneipen don’t always have the best reputation. You might also get some suspicious looks if you crash a very local Kneipe that is used to only serving regulars or Stammgäste. But they are usually friendly and charming, and give an insight into life in Germany. So perhaps ask your German friends for a tip on a cool Kneipe to visit. Just don’t expect the staff to speak English like you usually find in hipster bars! 

If you’re hungry, keep in mind that Kneipen usually don’t serve food. Pubs that do serve hot food are more likely to be called a Wirtschaft or Lokal.

You can also do a pub crawl (eine Kneipentour machen) if you can handle the amount of booze (or switch to non-alcoholic drinks). 

How to use it:

Treffen wir uns am Freitag nach Feierabend in der Kneipe.

Let’s meet in the pub on Friday after work finishes.

Ich gehe mit den Jungs in die Kneipe.

I’m going to the pub with the lads.