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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

10 famous Germans with surnames that have ridiculous literal meanings

German last names can be quite hilarious when you look at them literally.

10 famous Germans with surnames that have ridiculous literal meanings
Sahra Wagenknecht's surname has an amusing literal meaning when translated to English. Photo: DPA

1. Albert Einstein: Albert One-Stone

Photo: DPA

The great physicist didn’t remain German for long – he took on Swiss citizenship as a young man to avoid military service. But he was born in Ulm and went to school in Munich.

We would like to think that the Nobel Prize winner was descended from ancestors who only had a single rock to their name (and who were constantly looked down upon by neighbours the Zweisteins).

The actual meaning of the name is rather different. It comes from einsteinen, meaning to surround with stone, and refers to defences built around settlements in the Middle Ages.

2. Franz Beckenbauer: Franz Bowl-Builder

Photo: DPA

It is probably just as well that der Kaiser became the most famous footballer of his generation. How else would he have shrugged off his rather odd surname? Apparently some far-flung forefather was a master of sculpting the curvature of bowls. Are we stretching the matter by suggesting that the great Bayern Munich footballer still lived up to the name by curving elegant passes around the pitch?

3. Helmut Kohl: Helmut Cabbage

Photo: DPA

The deceased former Chancellor was often mocked during his time in office for his lack of refinement. And the fact that his last name meant cabbage didn’t exactly help. Satirical magazine Der Postillon joked after his death in June that he was being given a very special honour for his service to Germany – having a type of vegetable named after him.

4. Dirk Schimmelpfennig: Dirk Moldy-Penny

Photos: DPA/EPA

Why on earth someone ever decided that “Moldy Penny” was a suitable surname, we'll never know. Ancestry.com and Focus magazine say that it was a nickname for misers who let their pennies become moldy because they never spent them.

Whether the family of Germany's Olympic Sports Confederation head still carries on that personality trait is yet another question.

5. Bastian Schweinsteiger: Bastian Pig-Climber

Photos: DPA

German football star Schweinsteiger's last name could literally translate to pig-climber, but more likely it means pig-overseer, like on a farm.

As if his full last name didn't sound silly enough, it has also given the ex-Man United midfielder a regrettable nickname: Schweini (piggy).

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He's not the only one with a lamentable last name: Former national team captain Phillip Lahm is one of the best players Germany has produced in recent years, leading his team to the 2014 World Cup victory. But his surname in German means lame, feeble or slow.

6. Left Party leader Sahra Wagenknecht: Sahra Wagon Servant

Wagenknecht on television programme Anne Will. Photo: DPA/NDR

The word Knecht means servant or farm labourer, so it seems the Die Linke (Left Party) leader has come a long way since her family's presumed more humble beginnings.

7. Author and journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer: Jürgen Death-Yards

Photos: DPA

Ok so this one doesn't exactly translate. But Tod does mean death, and Höfe are courtyards, so naturally our thoughts jump to the morbid when hearing the name of this journalist, who was also once a member of the German parliament (Bundestag) and later became the first Western reporter to get embedded with Isis.

8. Actress Hannah Herzsprung: Hannah Heart-Leap

Photos: DPA

Watching this 34-year-old Hamburg native on screen might just make your Herz leap if you have a crush on the actress, who has appeared in the 2008 German-American drama The Reader.

And it seems she comes from a line of people with feel-good family names: Her mother is designer Barbara Engel (Angel).

9. Carl Bratfisch: Carl Fried-Fish

Fish and chips. Photo: DPA

This Prussian musician composed works such as the Steinmetz March.

How often everyone just assumed he wanted the fish 'n' chips due to his name, Wikipedia does not reveal.

10. Author and pastor Hartmut Hühnerbein: Hartmut Chicken-Leg

Photos: Tohma/Wikimedia Commons, and DPA.

This Lower Saxon-born religious figure was the former president of Christian nonprofit CJD, which does social work and educational training for young people. Pastor Chicken Leg has also written a number of books, including “Just Believe” and “Window of Hope”.

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Inchiodare’

You'll nail this word in no time.

Italian word of the day: 'Inchiodare'

What do a carpenter, a detective, and a bank robber screeching to a halt in their getaway car all have in common?

In English, not much – but in Italian, they could all be said to inchiodare (eenk-ee-ohd-AHR-eh) in the course of their professional activities.

In its simplest form, inchiodare simply means ‘to nail’ (chiodo, ‘kee-OH-do’, is a nail) – a picture to a wall, or a leg to a table.

Ha trovato questo cartello inchiodato alla sua porta.
She found this notice nailed to her door.

Inchioderò la mensola al muro più tardi.
I’ll nail the shelf to the wall later.

But like ‘to nail’, inchiodare has more than one definition.

You can use it to describe someone or something being ‘pinned’ in place, without actually having been literally nailed there.

Mi ha inchiodato al muro.
He pinned me to the wall.

La mia gamba è inchiodata al terreno.
My leg is pinned to the ground.

You can be metaphorically inchiodato to a place in the sense of being stuck there, tied down, or trapped.

Dovrei essere in vacanza e invece sono inchiodata alla mia scrivenia.
I should be on holiday and instead I’m stuck at my desk.

Don'T Forger You'Re Here Forever GIF - The Simpsons Mr Burns Youre Here GIFs

Siamo inchiodati a questa scuola per altri tre anni.
We’re stuck at this school for another three years.

Sono stati inchiodati dal fuoco di armi.
They were trapped by gunfire.

Just like in English, you can inchiodare (‘nail’) someone in the sense of proving their guilt.

Chiunque sia stato, ha lasciato tracce di DNA che lo inchioderanno.
Whoever it was, they left traces of DNA that will take them down.

Ti inchioderò per questo omicidio.
I’m going to nail you for this murder.

Thomas Sadoski Tommy GIF by CBS

Senza la pistola non lo inchioderemo, perché non abbiamo altre prove.
Without the gun we’re not going to get him, because we have no other proof.

For reasons that are less clear, the word can also mean to slam on the brakes in a car.

Ha inchiodato e ha afferrato la pistola quando ha visto la volante bloccando la strada.
He slammed on the brakes and grabbed the gun when he saw the police car blocking the road.

Hanno inchiodato la macchina a pochi passi da noi.
They screeched to a halt in the car just a few feet away from us.

Those last two definitions mean that you’re very likely to encounter the word when watching mystery shows or listening to true crime podcasts. Look out for it the next time you watch a detective drama.

In the meantime, have a think about what (or who) you can inchiodare this week.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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