German word of the day: Büffeln

If you or your children are gearing up for an exam, this colloquial verb might come in handy.

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

Most people will know the feeling: you have an exam coming up and have to work and study extra hard in preparation – often cramming in revision the night before.

Not to be confused with the German word for Buffalo: “der Büffel”, büffeln as a verb that roughly translates to “cramming”.

However there may be some connection to the wild animal – revising to the point of feeling like an overworked buffalo or ox before the plough. Similarly, even the verb “ochsen” is used to signify working diligently at something, with the root of the word stemming from the German word for ox “Ochse”.

Büffeln is a colloquial term (or umgangssprachlich), which can have similar connotations to the British informal term “swot” – a student, perhaps a teacher’s pet, working extremely hard. The noun form of the word, “der Büffler”, can therefore be used in this context. 

Other study terms that are used synonymously to büffeln are pauken, bimsen or stucken.

READ ALSO: What it’s like to study abroad in Germany during a pandemic

Young people sitting an exam at a school in Dresden.

Young people sitting an exam at a school in Dresden in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

The first university semester is coming to an end for many students in Germany, meaning exam season is coming up and a lot are surely planning on some “büffeln” (me included!).


Ich kann heute Abend nicht feiern gehen, ich muss für meine Prüfung morgen büffeln.

I can’t go out tonight, I have to cram for my exam tomorrow.

Obwohl ich versuche, im Voraus zu lernen, scheine ich immer in letzter Minute zu büffeln.

Although I try to study in advance, I always seem to cram at the last minute.

READ ALSO: Studying in Germany: These are the words you need to know

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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.


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.