Word of the Day – “der Schirm”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: August 11, 2023

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. And today, in a new part of the series “Scraping the bottom of the barrel”, we’ll take a quick look at the meaning of

der Schirm


Or Schüam as we say it in Berlin :). We tend to say the short i like ü in dialect.
“Emanuel, can you do something on dialects, please?”
Well, I just did.
“Uhm… thanks, but we mean more.”
Honestly, I can’t really talk about dialects because I don’t know much about them aside from Berlin dialect. And also, I think there are lots of good Youtube videos out there. Including mine with Easy German about Berlin dialect ;).
I am, however, thinking about doing something about pronunciation. Like… some general thoughts and tips that I have. So stay tuned for that.
But today, we’ll take a quick look at Schirm and if we make a list of items that are a Schirm in German, we’d get quite a weird selection of things. Like… a screen, an umbrella and a lamp shade. And the brim of a baseball cap. And a parachute.
Oh and bailout fund for banks during a financial crisis and a missile defense system – though those are more metaphorical uses.
Quite a wild mix, but the they all have one thing in common… the shape and the purpose. They’re all more or less curved planes that “catch” something.
And that’s precisely the core of Schirm.

The origin of Schirm is the disappointingly ancient Indo-European root *(s)ker-. This root expressed an idea of cutting and it has grown into a HUGE family tree. Some words are quite obvious, like the English shear or scar or scarf or shirt.
Or the German die Schere (scissors). But there are also some real surprises, like short and its German translation kurz, for example. Or family of cortex, which in Latin meant the bark of a tree, the outer layer that you’d cut off. So there you have it… next time conversation is slowing down on a date, remember this line:  “Hey, did you know that Cortisone is related to T-Shirt?”
And then make sure you don’t say it. It’s… it’s not gonna help at all.
Anyway, a Schirm originally was a piece of leather that was fitted onto the shields of warriors to protect the wood. And this notion of a spanned piece of cloth is still the essence today – it just has different purposes now.
A Regenschirm is a spanned up piece of fabric that protects from rain. A Fallschirm is a piece of cloth that protects you from falling. A Lampenschirm is the cloth around a lamp and the light bulb (which used to be quite hot, back before LED). And a Bildschirm  originally was a piece of cloth that would “catch” the light of a projector.
Oh and by the way… the word screen actually might come from the same Germanic word that Schirm comes from.
Anyway, let’s take a look at a few examples.

  • Ich war vor meinem Fallschirmsprung nicht sehr aufgeregt.
  • I wasn’t very nervous before my parachute jump.
  • Die Eichhörnchen wollen einen Raketenabwehrschirm über ihrem Teil des Zauberwalds aufspannen.
  • The squirrels want to span a missile defense system across their part of the magical forest.
  • Maria hat ein Video von Thomas beim Abwaschen als Bildschirmschoner.
  • Maria has a video of Thomas doing the dishes as a screen saver.
  • Langes Arbeiten am Bildschirm macht die Augen müde.
  • Working at a screen for a long time makes the eyes tired.

Little side note… in quite a few contexts the word das Display is actually getting more and more the standard. Particularly for the screens of notebooks, tablets and especially smart phones.

  • Das Notebook hat ein sehr gutes Display.
  • The notebook has a very good display.

But I guess it’s the same in English.
Anyway, besides the various Schirm-nouns, there’s also the verb abschirmen, which is basically about shielding someone from something.

  • Mein Kopf ist durch den Aluhut von den MSM-Strahlen abgeschirmt.
  • My head is shielded by the tinfoil hat from the MSM-rays.

And there’s also a really useful idiom with Schirm. Actually, that’s kind of the reason why I decided to talk about this word to begin with.
I am talking about etwas auf dem Schirm haben.
I think the origins of it are radar systems and having something on the screen there. So actually, it’s similar to the English expression of having something on my radar. But I feel like there’s a difference in usage because the English phrasing feels like it’s about targeting or tracking while the German expression is often used in the sense of remembering/not forgetting something… like an appointment or a task or something.

  • “Du weißt, dass du diese Woche Putzdienst hast, oder?”
    “Ja, hab ich auf dem Schirm.”
  • “You do know that you’re on cleaning duty this week, do you?”
    “Yeah, I’m on it/it’s on my schedule.”
  • Hast du das Meeting morgen auf dem Schirm?
  • Do you remember the meeting tomorrow?

I feel like the radar-expression wouldn’t really fit in these, but I might be wrong.
Anyway, the expression is pretty common in spoken German and I’m sure you’ll hear it sooner or later, so it’s good to have it auf dem Schirm :).
And I think that’s already it for today. Short but sweet, just like a baby carrot.
Hmmm, with onions in butter. So tasty.
Anyway, as usual, if you want to check how much you remember you can take the little quiz I have prepared. It’s super short because I didn’t really know what to ask, but I didn’t just want to skip it.
And of course if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Oh, and I just realized I didn’t tell you the plural… it’s die Schirme.



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