Word of the Day – “mäßig”

maessig-picture-germanHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day.  This time we’ll take a look at the meaning of



It seems only moderately interesting when you look it up in a dictionary but … it’s a colloquial powerhouse. … whatever that is :).
But before we get to that, let’s take a look at some boring things first. Sounds average?

Mäßig is a combination of the noun das Maß and the super common adjective ending -ig…. and an umlaut. Of course.
Das Maß (pronounced with a loooong a.. like in massaaaaaage) comes from the ancient Indo-European root *med. The original idea of this root is some sort of measuring,  and this idea is still visible in all the words that comes from it… sometimes, like for meditate or medium it’s a bit abstract; for other like it’s pretty obvious like for meter, metricsmeasure, yard or foot… oh wait, I think the last two actually have nothing to do with measuring 
etymology-wise of course  ;)
There is also a verb in that family: messen, which means to measure.

Of course there are prefix versions like abmessen, ausmessen or  vermessen  but the differences are marginal. And there are a few word based on messen like Blutdruckmesser (sphygmmanao… uhm… blood pressure gauge) , Durchmesser (diameter) or Brotmesser (bread knife)… wait… I’m not sure the last one fits in here… someone should look probably that up.
But anyways,  das Maß or in plural Maße is basically what we obtain when we messenDimensions, size, measurements… the exact translation really depends on context.

Besides being the actual numbers, ein Maß can also be the thing you do the measuring with. This meaning is somewhat rare nowadays, but there are a few common idioms with it.

Oh that doesn’t sound good.

This sounds much better…. because die Maß is a liter mug for beer, … or just a liter of beer. It’s especially common in Bavaria and at Oktoberfest (don’t forget to bring millions of Euro if you go there… a Maß is REALLY expansive there). Actually, all Maß used to be female a few centuries ago, but it changed to das Maß for some reason and just the very specific beer measure remained die…  because of the Reinheitsgebot, I suppose.
All right.
Now, before we get to the third idea of Maß let’s quickly look at a few very common compounds.
The first one is die Maßnahme which translates to the measure in sense of taking steps, course of action.

Then, there is das Augenmaß and if you translate it literally it doesn’t sound too precise.  I mean… I wouldn’t want an architect to go like “Screw your ruler… I got my eyes.” But although it is objectively rather imprecise, for some reason Augenmaß is something very positive.

Finally, there is Maßstab. Literally, this is a measuring stick but the noun is used also in a more general sense of comparisons.

Now for the third idea of  Maß…and that is the idea of not extreme or  moderation. A very common phrasing is in Maßen.

So…now  we have a pretty good overview over Maß, Now it’s time to get to mäßig.
The main meaning of mäßig itself as well as for related words like gemäßigt or Mäßigung is the idea of moderation, not extreme.

For some reason,  mäßig is usually used in combination with something positive. I don’t think I’ve ever heard mäßig schlecht. Maybe that’s because as a stand alone word, mäßig is already slightly on the negative side.

There is also a verb mäßigen that has this moderation idea and there are a few words here and there, notably Ermäßigung, which translates to discount...but overall, this mäßig is only “mäßig often” used in daily life. But it can also be added to nouns… and maaaaan… our colloquial-meter is off the charts.


So what does it mean?
Well… like the average German word, it has two meanings. Of course.
But they’re based on the same idea.
The stand alone mäßig was based in the idea of moderation, the ending-mäßig however has at its core just plain measure... as in metrics or size or dimensions.
So… based on that dinosauriermäßig would be having the metrics/scale of a dinosaur. And all we have to do now is to broaden the word “dimensions”  and say it includes all kinds of features then have the first meaning:

  • -like

Dinosauriermäßig or “dinosaurmeasury” simply means  like a dinosaur or dinosaur-like. and that can refer all kinds of things…. the skin, the way of walking, the diet… whatever.
Now, the other meaning of -mäßig is:

  • -wise

Hmm… -wise and -like don’t seem to have much in common. But the -wise-meaning actually does tie in with the whole measuring thing.

In a way, the person is talking about different dimensions or measures of life here and gives a measure of how good this dimension or measure is.
So, it always has something to do with dimensions. Mäßig can compares them, then it is -like, or it can just refers to a one, like -wise.
And people use it with everything…. literally… I actually think, there is NO NOUN or NAME  -mäßig hasn’t been attached to. Let’s just look at examples…

There are many more where those come from… many many more.

I didn’t make these up… well I did, but people really do say (and write online) stuff like that. I googled every single word in these examples. In fact, I challenge you to find a noun that has no -mäßig version on Google.
And actually … nouns shmouns… who cares. People even use it with adjectives sometimes.

And even this:

Google has 145 results for happymäßig … you can check them out hereThat’s how much people love their –mäßig. Is that correct German? Well, for sure not in writing. And even for spoken German it’s a stretch. But hey … it doesn’t matter! After all, it is spoken language, the smithy where the written language of tomorrow is forged.
You should definitely give this -mäßig a shot. Just because it’s colloquial, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It really has the potential to make you sound much more native-mäßig. I’m usually really surprised if someone who is learning German slips in one of these colloquial bits… it is always this moment of bonding …like… “Hey… you totally talk like I talk.”.
So… try to get a feel for –mäßig, and if you have a good situation, casually let one go. I certainly did. This morning in the break room, when all the idiots from accountin… wait… I … I sti…I think I just got really confused. Time to stop.
But I think mäßig-mäßig we’re done anyway. This was our look at the German word mäßig. It comes from das Maß and has the idea of measure in it. As a stand alone it means something along the lines of in moderation and when attached to a noun, any noun really, it can either compare “measurements”  or refer to a dimension or “measurement”. Or in other words, we can use it like-mäßig and wise-mäßig.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment. And of course I would love to read all your inventions and examples for mäßig-words, the more absurd the better :)
Hope you liked it and bis nächstes mal.

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