Word of the Day – Wundertütenspecial

wundertute-1Hallo ihr alle,

and welcome to our first (well, actually second) Word of the Day  Wundertüten-Special. Now you’re of course all like “What’s a Wundertüte”. Well, ein Wunder is a wonder or a miracle and eine Tüte is a bag. So a Wundertüte is literally a miracle bag and it’s no surprise that it’s a euphemism for a joint. But the main meaning is a different one. I don’t know if they’re still selling this but when I was a kid a Wundertüte was sold at a lot of kiosks and it was a sealed bag with a bunch of  surprises in it, like chocolate, chewing, a yo-yo, a sticker or a Sony Play Station. At least that one guy in the other class claimed he got one. Although… now that I think about it that makes me a bit suspicious because…  I doubt they  actually sold Play Station in East Germany. God, I was so naive as a kid. Anyway, so a Wundertüte is the same idea as an Überraschungsei.
And that’s pretty much what a Wundertüten-Special is. Instead of looking at one of the main stream words, we’ll leave the beaten tracks of learners and venture out into the wild a bit. And trust me, there are a lot of really really cool and super useful gems out there. So, are you ready to dive in and learn some words that will really make you sound like a native without being slang? Awesome.

lästern

Lästern is not something good. But man, it can be so much fun. What is it? Well, let’s just look at an example. Michelle and Alicia are working together. Here’s a recording of their smoking break

“God, Maria gets on my nerves so bad today.”
“Doesn’t she always?”
“Haha… yeah, but she’s so stupid. Like… in the meeting when she asked that question about that one thing I was just like duh. Like DUHHH.”
“Yeah she always asks dumb questions.”
“Oh and OH MY GOD, have you seen how she’s hitting on the new IT guy?”
“You gotta be kidding me… really?”
“Yeah,no shit. She’s all like asking about servers and stuff as if she would understand any of that and then, oh my god you’re not gonna believe this, then I caught her on the toilet stuffing her bra with toilet paper.”
“WHAAAAT?”
“No kidding, and I was just like thinking like ‘Girl, you need to do something about your hair first.”
“So true, she has absolutely no style.

That is lästern. Talking shit/badly about someone behind their back just for the sake of bonding and for fun. Unlike talking shit, lästern is usually with things that are true and it’s not so much about the whining and complaining. It’s a mix between to slander and to gossip. Gossip is just much more about the latest news and the perfect translation for that would be tratschen (or klatschen). Tratschen is really like “Hey, have you heard the latest news about so and so??” Some magazines even have a section called “Klatsch und Tratsch” which is essentially the same as the “Gossip” section. Like… this celeb has new hair. This celeb is with this other celeb on the yacht and so on and so on. Lästern is not news related. You can always lästern about someone’s clothes for example.
Slander on the other hand is much stronger, much more negative than lästern and the better translations for that would be verleumden or üble Nachrede (the slander). Of course  lästern is not nice but for the it’s usually really enjoyable and everyone does it. It’s really everywhere… at school, at work, in the sports team, in the million dollar golf club, in the homeless shelter. It’s just something people do and everyone knows it. You can lästern about someone and still like them and you can admit to lästern.

  • Ich lass euch mal allein. Dann könnt ihr ein bisschen über mich lästern (zwinker).
  • I’ll leave you alone. Then you can talk bad/gossip about me a bit (wink).
    (what would be an idiomatic way to say this… I feel like “running your mouth” sounds a bit slangy)
  • “Na, was macht ihr grad?”
    “Wir lästern über dich.”
    “Oh. Kann ich mitmachen?”
  • “Hey, what are you up to?”
    “We’re talking shit about you.”
    “Oh, can I join in.”

Now, the verb lästern is actually quite old already and back in the day it was much  more serious. One example that made it to the present day is Gotteslästerung, which is not just bitching about God during lunch break but downright blasphemy.  The origin is the word das Laster, which once meant defamation,rebuke but over the years it has shifted toward the cause for a rebuke and  today  das Laster  is a bad habit like smoking, drinking or gambling.

  • Endlich Nichtraucher: so werden Sie das Laster los.
  • Finally smoke free: here’s how you kick the bad habit.
  • Müßiggang ist aller Laster Anfang.(Sprichtwort)
  • The devil finds work for idle hands./Idleness is the beginning of all vice. (proverb)

In a way lästern could be called a Laster, too. You know it’s not particularly good but it’s fun. And when there’s nothing else to talk about… lästern always gets a conversation going :).
Anyway, here are some examples

  • Thomas und Maria lästern über ihre Freunde.
  • Thomas and Maria gossip/talk shit about their friends.
  • Nach dem Seminar treffen sich Anja und Johannes immer im Café um erstmal so richtig über ihre Kommilitonen abzulästern.
  • After the seminar, Anja and Jonathan always meet at the café for an intense session of bitching and complaining about their fellow students

All right. So this is lästern. There isn’t really the one perfect translation. Everything English has to offer is just slightly off (check out this comment for a good comparison between German and English). But I hope you got the idea. It’s talking badly about someone behind their back for fun. And unless you’re an absolute saint or super serious, you’ll enjoy some good “lästering” from time to time. And if you don’t… be sure that people will lästern about that ;).

schummeln

Schummeln is a great word and for some reason I feel like the sound perfectly matches what it stands for. Schummeln  is basically cheating – small scale, cute cheating. Like… if you have a little cheat sheet for the adjective declension, that is schummeln. Or if  eat nothing all day and the you do a heavy work out before taking that (super casual) selfie with ‘dem abs all buff for your tinder profile . Or if you have to weigh your veggies in the supermarket and you casually lift the scale a bit with your finger. Or if you’re playing in a pub quiz and you’re secretly using your phone. All these small little cute cheats and lies are called schummeln.

  • I stretched the truth a bit in my CV about my work experience.
  • Ich habe in meinem Lebenslauf in punkto Berufserfahrung ein bisschen geschummelt.
  • “7,8,9… ha!! Kicked you out again!”
    “Nu-uh, you cheated. You went one space too far”
    “7,8,9.. ha!! Wieder rausgeschmissen!” (playing parcheesi/Ludo)
  • “Nein, du hast geschummelt. Du bist ein Feld zuviel gegangen.”
  • Da sich die Schauspieler nicht leiden konnten, musste bei der Kussszene geschummelt werden. Und so sind es garnicht ihre Lippen in der Großaufnahme.
  • Because the actors couldn’t stand each other, a bit of cheating was in order for the kissing scene. And so it’s  not actually their lips in the close up.
  • Der Manager gibt zu, bei seiner Steuererklärung geschummelt zu haben.
  • The manager admits to having cheated in his tax filing.
  • Ryanair soll beim Gewicht geschummelt haben.
  • Ryanair is said to have cheated with the weight.

The last example was a headline to a newspaper article that explained how Ryanair supposedly declared total weight of their planes too low, which apparently makes a difference in airport fees. Now, of course this is somewhat of a bigger cheat than using a dictionary in German class. But the use of schummeln makes it sound “cute”… or at least not as heavy as the alternative. Betrügen (to cheat) and the noun der Betrug is the German word for fraud sound really serious and negative and using them in a head line might cause Ryanair to sue the newspaper for defamation. After all, Ryainair didn’t do it on purpose.  So, this is schummeln. It’s not nice but we’re all no saints and we’ve all done it.
All right.
Now let’s move on to the next one and this is also one that gets you ahead. But it’s much more “rule compliant”…

schleimen

Schleimen is based on der Schleim (the slime) and the literal meaning is about leaving slime somewhere. In daily life the word is used for behavior like this…

laughing about all of the bad jokes of your boss,
being all like “Yeah, brilliant idea boss”
going like “I can do the presentation on the weekend, no problem”
always raising your finger in class
asking for additional reading
saying that museum is a good idea for field day
….

All that is schleimen. You’re trying to get in favor of someone but … sucking up, crawling up one’s ass. The word is really wide spread in German and there are a few variations with it like rumschleimen or sich einschleimen.

  • Der neue ist voll der Schleimer.
  • The new guy is a total suck-up.
  • Ich will mich vor der Klausur bei dem Professor ein bisschen einschleimen. Irgendwelche Tips?
  • I’d like to kiss up to my professor a bit before the exam. Any recommendations?
  • “Hmm, deine Suppe ist heute aussergewöhnlich lecker.”
    “Du brauchst garnicht rumzuschleimen.”
    “Wir gehen heute in Shades of Grey und Schluß.”
  • “Hmm, your soup is exceptionally good today.”
    “No need for brown nosing, we’ll go see Shades of Grey, period.”

What’s good about schleimen is it is kind of very visual while not being as vulgar as many of the English counterparts and so it’s also used in newspapers and even book titles.

  • Runter von der Schleimspur. (newspaper article in “Die Zeit ” about how NOT sucking up can help your career)
  • Leave the slime lane.(lit.)
  • No more brown nose.
    (as readers have pointed out in the comments, this would actually work as a head line in English)

So that’s schleimen and that’s also it for today. The Wundertüte is empty. But we got three cool words that are all quite common and still they’re somewhat off the radar . We learned lästern, which is talking bad about someone for the purpose of bonding, schummeln, which small scale, slightly cute cheating and schleimen which is to kiss up to someone. There are definitely many more such words so if you found this interesting let me know and we can have word-Wundertüte every now and then in between the heavy grammar stuff. And of course if you have any questions or suggestions or some ideas how to translate the words, then just leave me a comment too.
I hope you liked it. Schöne Woche und bis nächstes Mal.

By the way… if you’re wondering what the differences are between the various German words for bag… by far the easiest way to find out stuff like that is to use Google image search. Here’s are the links if you’re too lazy to type :)
die Tüte, die Tasche, der Beutel, der Sack.

Oh and by the wayer… I updated my link page, in particular I added links to a great podcast, a great video series and a sample test of the DSH