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LEARNING GERMAN

German word of the day: Sau

Though you might associate this word with a visit to the farmyard, this useful prefix is a great addition to your German vocab.

German word of the day: Sau
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

If you are wanting to sound like a local, adding Sau to your dictionary is a great first step. This short word literally means Sow, or a female pig, and can be used as a slightly vulgar insult towards someone, so be careful when first trying it out. 

When used as a prefix, however, sau can strengthen a description in place of an adverb. For example, you could say something is saublöd (really stupid) or saukalt (really cold). In these cases, sau adds emphasis and acts in the same way as sehr (very) or echt (really). 

The prefix, despite its unpleasant literal use, doesn’t always denote something negative. You could also say a particularly hot day was sauwarm (very warm) or, if you really want to fit in with the locals, you could describe something as saugeil (really cool). 

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Geil

Pigs and pork feature a lot in German colloquialisms and the list of German idioms is full of sausages and Schweine. It is not surprising, therefore, that the prefix sau can be used so universally within the language. 

It is thought that the sau came into use because of pigs’ association with dirtiness, and not caring about how muddy they become when enjoying the pleasure of bathing in a mud bath. 

The use of the word dates back to the early nineteenth century; you can find countless recordings of the word sauwohl, or ‘bloody good’, relating to the boundless pleasure a pig experiences when wallowing in the dirt. 

Although this is a very common word, be careful when using it in formal situations. It is the equivalent of the English ‘damn’ or ‘bloody’ so can sound slightly crass in the wrong circumstances. 

Examples

Bei meiner Arbeitssuche hab ich Sauglück gehabt.

I had amazing luck with my job search. 

Red doch nicht so saudumm daher!

Don’t be so silly!

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German word of the day: Witzfigur

You may like to think your jokes are "witzig" - but beware of getting labelled with this German word. It's not nearly as funny as it sounds.

German word of the day: Witzfigur

Witz, the German word for “joke”, is one of the first words a lot of foreigners come to learn when they start learning German. But it may be a little longer until you encounter what’s known as a Witzfigur.

Combine the word der Witz (joke) with the word die Figur (figure or character) and you get die Witzfigur (wits·fii·guur) – someone who may well be (unintentionally) funny, but is more likely to be the butt of somebody else’s joke. 

Think of it a little bit like the English expression “figure of fun”, or – more commonly used – a laughing stock. 

A Witzfigur may pop up in jokes, stories and songs as a clownish sidekick who offers some light relief.

In some cases, these Witzfiguren are there to act as the wise fool and reveal some deeper insight into what’s going on. In many cases, though, they’re just there to get a cream pie chucked in their face. 

It’s worth remembering that not every character in a joke is the butt of it – that is to say, not every Witzfigur is a Witzfigur.

In German, there’s a tradition of jokes involving Klein Fritzchen (little Fritz) – a fictional boy who pops up time and time again in various comedic scenarios, usually in order to say something insulting to someone. 

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

Little Fritz is not so much a figure of fun as a literal Witzfigur: a character in a joke. And in fact, his role in the jokes often involve delivering the punchline that makes someone else the laughing stock. 

That said, if you hear someone described as a Witzfigur in real life, it usually doesn’t mean anything good.

In fact, it often means they’ve done something pretty peinlich (embarrassing) or deserving of public mockery. And yes, it can often be applied to politicians.

By way of example, the term was recently used by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) to describe Gerhard Schröder, the former chancellor of Germany who has recently been stripped of many of his perks for insisting on taking Kremlin-linked jobs.

When asked about Schröder, Lauterbach said: “He has succeeded in being a former chancellor (who is) now on the verge of being a laughing stock.”

So, by all means, make a “Witz” or two, and definitely don’t be afraid of doing anything “witzig” (witty or funny), but if you ever find yourself on the verge of become a Witzfigur, it could be time for a change of course.

Examples 

Er ist nur eine Witzfigur. Vergiss ihn. 

He’s just a joke. Forget about him. 

Ich habe angst davor, eine Witzfigur zu werden.

I’m afraid of becoming a laughing stock. 

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