Word of the Day – “kippeln”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: March 23, 2022

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day.
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Seriously though… every language has a core of words that are used very frequently. That core contains usually something between 1000 and 2000 words. And then there are all those other words (like 298.000) that are not so commonly used and of course every native speaker knows only a fraction of this. Many of those words are scientific words, others are dated words or only used in a specific region. But there are also those words that are everyday words which are just incredibly specific. And while those might not be the most useful for the student of a language they still ca… hey, uhm …are you getting bored too? Let’s just skip to the words, shall we?

Our first word today is:


I love kippeln. I do it ALL the time. Every day in my kitchen. Kippeln is just awesome. Here is a neat educational video, where some experts in kippeln, (some school kids) show you what it is and tell you what you shouldn’t do while you kippel.


Dict.cc translates it as “to rock one’s chair forward and backward” but I think the real point is the leaning backwards part. You can rock a bit if you want but you can also just sit still in that position and it would be called kippeln .
I think the only people who use kippeln on a regular basis are teachers and parents.

  • Hör auf zu kippeln!
  • Stop leaning back the chair!

My mom still tells me that when I visit her because she is scared that I’ll fall over. But I can’t help it. Normal chairs are MADE for this. Kippeln is their purpose. And to all those chairs out there that are designed so I can not kippel properly because they have wheels or they are balanced in a way that makes it almost impossible to recline with it… to those chairs I say: you suck! And don’t tell me that you can recline… it is NOT the same… you cannot emulate kippeln like that, period.
All right. There is one other situation when kippeln is used and that is if a table or some other piece of furniture is not standing completely stable… like if  one leg is a little too short or the ground is uneven. Then we would say

  • Der Tisch kippelt ein bisschen und der Herd auch.
  • The table is wobbling a bit and so is the stove (I don’t know if wobble is the right word so please correct me …)

Etymologically kippeln comes from kippen which is basically to tilt or to tip over. In a more abstract sense it can also mean to pour… because you have to tilt the bottle.

  • Mein Kaffee schmeckt zum kotzen. Ich kippe ihn weg.
  • My coffee is disgusting. I’ll pour it away.
  • Ich habe mein Glas umgekippt.
  • I tipped over my glass.

And here is one last example with kippeln

  • Ich liebe kippeln.

I think you can translate that yourself :)

The second word of today is even less useful in daily life and it is not even a word every German knows:


Menscheln obviously comes from the word der Mensch which is German for a human being. The word Mensch comes from a word mennisc which ca be thought of as “man-ish”. Now, man itself is a really really old word and the most likely origin is the Indo-European root men(ə)  which meant something like to think. The word mind has that background, and probably the word mean, too. Anyways, so man actually probably meant thinking being. This origin is not entirely certain though and it is also possible that man comes from a root men which meant something like to protrude, to tower or more colloquial to stand out. This would make man related to the word mountain.
In either case… Mensch is the German word for human being and as such it is part of all kinds of related words.

  • Die Würde des Menschen is unantastbar.
  • The dignity of a human is untouchable (lit.)
  • Human dignity shall be inviolable.
  • Man sollte Rücksicht auf seine Mitmenschen nehmen.
  • One should have respect for ones fellow men.
  • Irren ist menschlich.
  • To err is human / we all make mistakes.

Mensch is also used sometimes in expression… kind of like dude or god.

  • Mensch , jetzt beeil’ dich doch mal!
  • Oh come on man, hurry up already!
  • Menschenskinder, ist das ein Scheißwetter.
  • My god what an awful weather.

And now what is menscheln? Well… I know the word as an slightly ironic way for  “showing human qualities like compassion or empathy in an environment or  situation where it is not expected”… like, performance has gone down so the upper management of your company is coming to your branch office and everyone is really scared but then go to your office kitchen and bake some cookies for the team and they also totally support your being on Facebook all the time by admitting that they do just the same . Or a football coach known for screaming and bitching at his team all the time all of a sudden gives a big hug to his his players after they stupidly lost a game.
In those cases you could say:

  • Es menschelt.
  • Humanity is in the air (my attempt at translating)

Here are some examples from newspapers…

  •  China … some high Chinese politicians, not particularly known for having a strong connection to the common man, decide to show that they’re human too.
  • Merkel… our current chancellor answer random questions from celebrities about her private life.
  • Margaret Thatcher…   Meryl Streeps recent portrayal of the former British prime minister M. Thatcher, also known as the iron lady on account of her being … well stubborn, apparently shows the human being being the tough politician

I hope you get the idea :). Note that the word is really only ever used with es. You can’t really say

  • Ich menschele…. nope
  • Es menschelt… yap

I really like that word and I think it sounds funny too… like…. “It is “humaning” between Obama and the Tea Party”… I don’t know how that sounds to a native speaker though.
Anyway… this is all I wanted to say about this word and all I knew.. until today. Because when I looked it up at Duden, which is like THE German reference for word meaning and spelling, there it said that menscheln means to make human weaknesses become apparent… and I was like… oh… uhm… this is kind of different to what I thought the word meant. Should I really have been mistaken all that years? I did some more research and it is pretty much inconclusive but honestly… I think all the examples I gave, and there are more of those out there because newspapers love the word, do support my reading of the word. So I guess the reference for German has some homework to do while I will now cook something. Something with rice and peppers and other vegetables and spices. And then I will sit back in my chair, kippel a bit, and maybe watch a movie. Maaaan, I really enjoy watching movies. Especially good ones.
So… this was our German Word of the Day. If you have any questions, suggestions or you want to complain about the time you wasted for those useless words … just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time… and then it’ll be all grammar again :)

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