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.

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

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. 

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German phrase of the day: Jetzt haben wir den Salat

Learn this phrase to vent your anger next time you and your friends get into trouble.

German phrase of the day: Jetzt haben wir den Salat

Why do I need to know Jetzt haben wir den Salat?

Because there’s nothing better than having the right words to express a messy situation, especially when you’re annoyed. With this colloquial expression, you can do just that while sounding like a native speaker.

What does it mean?

Jetzt haben wir den Salat (pronounced like this) literally translates to ‘now we have the salad’. But here ‘salad’ is chaos or mess. It means something like: ‘Now we’re in a right mess!’ or similar to another English food-related idiom: ‘Now we’re in a pickle!’ or ‘now we’ve had it’.

You can use this expression when something goes wrong and things become chaotic. Perhaps you forgot to set the alarm clock and caused your family to miss an important appointment.

It’s also used when a tricky situation is caused by someone else, and you want to get across that it could have been easily prevented.

It’s not clear when this phrase first surfaced in German language. But here is what we know: the origin of salad dates back to the Ancient Roman period when the first salad consisted of raw vegetables dressed with oil and salt.

A delicious (and messy looking) asparagus salad in Germany.

A delicious (and messy looking) asparagus salad in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Martin Schutt

The root word of salad, ‘sal’ means “salt” in ancient Latin. In the Middle Ages, Europeans began experimenting with salads with whatever ingredients they had available, creating many early versions of the salads we love today.

The German phrase isn’t literally to do with salad, although it is about the the philosophy of the dish. The mixture of ingredients, toppings, and dressings makes ‘salad’ the perfect substitute for a big old ‘mess’. 

Beware that this expression is quite informal, so you might want to think twice before saying this to your German boss. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day – Kabelsalat

Use it like this:

Ich habe euch mehrmals gesagt, dass ihr das nicht tun sollt. Aber ihr wolltet ja nicht auf mich hören. Und jetzt haben wir den Salat!

I told you guys several times not to do this. But you didn’t want to listen to me. And now we’ve had it!

Warum konntest du nicht aufpassen, jetzt haben wie den Salat

Why couldn’t you be careful? Now we’re in a right mess. 

You can also use the phrase like this: Da haben wir den Salat.