Word of the Day – “peinlich”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German word of the Day. This time, we will talk about … my pee stain.
I was in a café, a very crowded café I should say, and I had to go to the bathroom. And as the guys among you know… sometimes a few drops come out late, no matter how thorough you are. That’s what happened to me that day. And as I washing my hands (like real gentlemen do),  it formed. A pee stain. Roughly the shape of Australia. Eight inches in diame… okay, okay, I’ll stop. Of course, we’re not gonna talk about that pee stain. There never was such a pee stain to begin with. The reason I made it up is that it has a lot to do with the word we’ll look at today:

peinlich

 

And  peinlich does have a lot to do with pee stains because peinlich means embarrassing.
Why it means that, and why the translation is not always straight forward, that’s what we’ll look at today.
So let’s jump right in…

The origin of peinlich is the Latin word pena. The original sense of that was about punishment, retribution. A sense that we can still see in the word penalty. But because things were generally a bit rougher back then, it is no wonder that pena broadened to include the ideas torment, suffering and eventually made its way into several European languages as the general word for pain.
The German tribes liked their own word for pain better: der Schmerz. And I kind of get it. I mean… Schmerz does sound like someone twisting the skin on your arm.

  • Das Einhorn kriegt von Grammatik Kopfschmerzen.
  • The unicorn gets a head ache from grammar.
  • Maria ist genervt, weil Thomas mal wieder Weltschmerz hat.
  • Maria is annoyed because once again Thomas “is suffering pain because of how the world is”.
    (Is there an idiomatic translation for it? Danke :))

But German does have an offspring of the Latin pena, as well: the noun die Pein. It means something like torment, agony but it’s pretty rare nowadays and you rarely hear it in daily life.
Except as a part of the German word for embarrassing: peinlich. Originally, it meant something like painful and this is actually still kind of visible in the phrasing peinlich genau. Which is about being so precise, it hurts.

  • Marias Oma wiegt alle Zutaten peinlich genau ab.
  • Maria’s grandma painstakingly weighs all the ingredients. Lit.:  painfully exact“.

But the idea of embarrassing isn’t all that far either. Walking out of the bathroom into a crowded café with a six inch pee stain does kind of hurt. I mean… I think. I’ve never experienced it.
Anyway, examples.

  • Es ist peinlich, wenn man im Restaurant nicht genug Geld dabei hat.
  • It’s embarrassing if you don’t have enough money with you at a restaurant.
  • Die Qualität des Essens, der Service, die Musik… das alles war einfach nur peinlich.
  • The quality of the food, the service, the music… all that was simply a shame/embarrassing.
  • “Und, hat euch der Film geflasht, Bros?”
    “Mamaaa, hör auf, so zu reden. Du bist voll peinlich.”
  • “So, was the movie lit, bros?”
    “Mooom, stop talking like that. You’re so cringe.”
  • “Hast du gesehen, wie Thomas die Frau angetanzt hat?”
    “Ja, das war über peinlich.”
  • “Did you see how Thomas was flirt-dancing with the woman?”
    “Yeah, that was super embarrassing/super cringe.”

And if we want to add the person for whom something is embarrassing, you can do that with the Dative case.

  • “Komm, sing mal!”
    “Nee, das ist mir peinlich.”
  • “Come on, sing.”
    “Nah, that is embarrassing to me.”
    (I feel like there’s a more colloquial way to express that… help please :)
  • Es war dem Kellner sehr peinlich, dass er das falsche Getränk gebracht hat.
  • The waiter was really embarrassed that he had brought the wrong drink.
  • Dir ist auch gar nichts peinlich, oder?
  • You have no shame, have you? (small scale)
    Lit.: Nothing is embarrassing to you, is it?

Now, even though they’re overall pretty good translations for each other, there’s a couple of things we need to note.
For one thing, at least to me peinlich is a little less grave than embarrassing. Like… a drunk prime minister urinating on the flag of his own country would be too big an embarrassment to be called peinlich. There, beschämend is probably the better translation.

  • Dieses Video war beschämend.
  • This video was embarrassing (“be-shaming”).

But the more important difference has to do with the related words. We’ve already seen the origin of peinlich and the only relatives,  Pein and the noun die Peinlichkeit, are pretty rare.
Embarrassing on the other hand comes from the verb to embarrass, which is not rare at all, and neither is the form embarrassed. The origin of the verb is a combination of the prefix en- and a Latin word -barra which was about barring something, just in case you’re interested.
Anyway, the thing that’s a bit tricky is that those rarely translate to something involving peinlich.

  • I feel a little embarrassed.
  • Das ist mir peinlich. (you did something weird)

    Ich fühle mich bloßgestellt. (lit.: “put down bare“)(if you’ve been exposed, sounds formal)

    Das ist mir unangenehm. (source of embarrassment is outside, feeling of discomfort)

  • I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of everybody.
  • Ich will mich nicht vor allen zum Affen machen.
  • With his comment about unicorns, Thomas completely embarrassed himself.
  • Mit seinem Kommentar über Einhörner hat sich Thomas total blamiert.
    (blamieren is a false friend of to blame. The German version is all about “making a fool”, not “making accusations”)
  • Maria’s embarrassment was obvious. (her feeling embarrassed, moderate intensity)
  • Marias Verlegenheit war offensichtlich.
  • Unicorns and their recent behavior are an embarrassment for God, their creator. (strong cause of the feeling of embarrassment)
  • Einhörner und ihr Verhalten in letzter Zeit sind ein Schande für Gott, ihren Schöpfer.

Now you’re probably like “Oh my God, so many options. How am I supposed to memorize that.”
And you’re right to be worried because mixing those up is incredibly peinlich. Everybody will laugh.
The good news is, though, that you can avoid it. All you have to do is to make sure you have a big pee stain on your pants. That’s an ancient technique called pisstraction, and it’s from the book the Art of Warhol by Macchiavelli.
“Emanuel… does the fact that you’re talking nonsense mean that we’re done for the day? Because then we’d leave. We have stuff to do, you know.”
Well, you got me there. We’re pretty much done :).
Just to make sure though… of course it is NO problem if you don’t have the right translation for a given context. The ones I gave you weren’t even all there are. All that matters is that you remember that peinlich does NOT work as a translation for the entire embarrass-family, but only for embarrassing and cringy.

So, that’s it for today. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions or if you want to share a peinliche situation from your life in German, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

** vocab ** 

peinlich – embarrassing
der Schmerz(en) – the pain
die Kopfschmerzen – head ache

das Schmerzmittel – the pain medicine
die Schmerztablette – pain killer (aspirin)

die Schande, the disgrace – strong embarrassment (causing the feeling)
die Verlegenheit – a feeling of light embarrassment
bloßstellen – expose;embarrass
sich blamieren – to embarrass oneself
sich zum Affen machen – to make a fool of oneself

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Kari
Kari
1 year ago

Greetings

Gibt es einen Unterschied zwischen peinlich und verlegen?

Mein Gesicht wird rot, wenn ich verlegen bin.

Mein Gesicht wird rot, wenn es mir peinlich ist.

Vielen Dank!!

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
1 year ago

I came here to read about verlegen because it shows up a lot in the book I’m reading. And I learned some cool nuances :) Then this caught my attention:

Dir ist auch gar nichts peinlich, oder?

What does auch bring to the party? It doesn’t seem to mean too, but I’m not sure how the sentence would be different if it wasn’t there.

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Yes, thanks!

Jeff
Jeff
3 years ago

Hi! I often say when someone asks me to do something in front of people – Ich bin zu verlegen. Is that wrong?

Jeff H.
Jeff H.
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Hey Emanuel, I guess what I am saying is that I often use ‘Ich bin verlegen’ for ‘I’m embarrassed’ more than I say ‘Es ist mir peinlich’.

In the example I gave above – in English you often say when asked to do something in front of people – I’m too embarrassed (Ich bin zu verlegen) as opposed to saying ‘I’m too shy’ (Ich bin zu schüchtern.) It’s prob not correct and I probably overuse ‘verlegen.’ but here in Vienna I def sometimes hear verlegen being used for embarrassed. Cheers!

Freezy
Freezy
3 years ago

Hi there! Am I missing something or “Click here to get these words as a .csv-file” doesn’t actually have a link?

Lara Elacion
3 years ago

Danke für die kostenlose Mitgliedschaft

Macah
Macah
3 years ago

Pena auf Spanisch bedeutet Traurigkeit oder Leid, ich glaube auf Italienisch und Portugiesisch ist auch so oder ähnlich :)

Maksym
Maksym
3 years ago

Great explaining, thank you!
Also huge thanks and much love for the members who paid some extra for broke students:)

Noah
Noah
3 years ago

The slight phonetic similarity between ‘peinlich’ and ‘pee stain’, in conjunction with that opening story, make for a great mnemonic which I’m certain will never allow me to forget the meaning of the word. Grim but effective. Also I can attest to the use of ‘cringe’ as an adjective in English; anyone unaware of this is likely over the age of thirty-five and should Google such things before leaving comments they deem to be corrective.

Nice post, I’m looking forward to reading more of this site!

P.S. Cheers to Emanuel and to the members who pitched in extra for a membership for lowly students like myself. My appreciation knows no bounds :D

christibos
christibos
3 years ago

“So, was the movie lit, bros?”
“Mooom, stop talking like that. You’re so cringe.”

Das geht nicht auf English. No one would ever say “You’re so cringe” in English, “You’re so embarrassing” is correct.

“Did you see how Thomas was flirt-dancing with the woman?”
“Yeah, that was super embarrassing/super cringe.”

The same for here. We would only use “embarrassing” in this context. Though you could say that was cringe-worthy, or I cringed or he cringed at it. Cringe is an verb and denotes the action of: to shrink, bend, or crouch, especially in fear or servility; cower.

When I look in the dictionary the translation for to cringe is zusammenzuckend and other similars. What do you think?

Ich mag immer deinen Word of the Day, Emmanuel. Sie sind immer sehr interessant. :) Danke!

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
3 years ago
Reply to  christibos

You’ve obviously not been hanging out with my sons – they use “cringe” as a substitute for embarrassing. Oddly enough, often in the same sentence as “Mom”. Hmmm… I think I might be on to something here.

Fredric Price
Fredric Price
3 years ago

Ja, besser! Aber bei mir sind die Tropfen etwas kleiner, wie Du im Post Dein peinliches Problem erwähnt hast.;)

Fredric Price
Fredric Price
3 years ago

Regarding pee-stains: Man kann schütteln, man kann klopfen. Immer noch ein Paar klein tröpfchen!

Francesca Greenoak
Francesca Greenoak
3 years ago

A bit late in the day but I’d translate Maria’s vexation as: Maria is fed up when Thomas insists on taking on the cares of the world.

Anonymous
Anonymous
3 years ago

Good way of explaining a word. On the part, humorous too.

Andy O
Andy O
3 years ago

I would translate Weldschmerz as world-weariness, and the adjective is just world-weary.

Tonygwien
Tonygwien
3 years ago

Hallo all..

regarding:
Marias Oma wiegt alle Zutaten peinlich genau ab.
Maria’s grandma is weighing all the ingredients meticulously. Lit.: “painfully exact“.

better English word, keeping the same root, would be:
“Maria’s grandma painstakingly weighs all the ingredients”

Viele Grüße aus Wien.. Tony..

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

“Painstaking” is very close to “sorgfältig”, I’d say. You “take pains” – i.e., make a real effort, despite any inconvenience. I’m not sure it’s a better or worse alternative, though it might be easier to remember because the sound is similar. It’s maybe a little more everyday-sounding than “meticulous,” too.

I might say she “weighs all the ingredients with excruciating precision” – not an idiom or anything, but it does get across the idea that she’s causing others pain. :)

Tonygwien
Tonygwien
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

yes, “painstakingly” means with great care and thoroughness (with regard to every detail etc) …

Anonymous
Anonymous
3 years ago

I’m unabashed in thinking a big contributor to weltschmerzen is weltschmelzen.

Ubungmachtdenmeister
Ubungmachtdenmeister
3 years ago

Schon wieder was witzig zu lesen. Zum Affen machen, schön. Auf englisch sagen wir auch „to make a monkey of oneself” UND es bedeutet fast das gleiche. Niemals. Verlegenheit ist auch ein Wort, das ich nie vorher gehört habe. Direkt übersetzt klingt es wie “miss-placed-ness” und das ist ja auch was peinlich mir bedeutet. Denkt dir auch?

Ich mache auch gerade Low-carb. Hab seit 5 Woche angefangen. Der erste Woche ist schwer, nachdem wird einfacher. Ist sehr schnell um abzunehmen. Dauert es dir langer als ein woche? (Tut mir leid, phrasing-fail). Wenn ja, und wenn es dir Rezept-Ideen fällt, hab ich ja viel dabei.

Und zum Schluss, offensichtliche Verlegenheit auf schottisch ist “to take a beemer”, also das Gesicht jemandem zum rot werden. Lustig.

Ubungmachtdenmeister
Ubungmachtdenmeister
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Das hab ich. Jeden Tag esse ich griechischen Joghurt mit Nüssen dazu. Es gibt viele nusssorten, die wenig Kohlenhydrat enthält. Wenn Nüssen dir nicht gefällt, kannst du auch Beeren dazu geben oder beides gemischt. Bier ist es, was ich vermisse. Seit Anfang des Diät Wechsel ich zum Bourbon whiskee wie Jack Daniels. Schmeckt auch gut aber ist gar kein Bier.

Ja Frühstück ohne Eier ist nicht leicht während es keine Kohlenhydrate darfst.

Jo Alex Sg
Jo Alex Sg
3 years ago

Oops, I sent the “Affen machen” too, disregard the last one, please, unless it also has some significant difference from the previous two.

Jo Alex Sg
Jo Alex Sg
3 years ago

As always, your jokes make my day! I must confess, though, that I still don´t know when to use one or the other of the following verbs, as they both seem to lie in between the extremes, leaving me with the impression that only with time and exposure to the culture will one be able to tell apart the different situations in which to use them:
bloßstellen – expose;embarrass
sich blamieren – to embarrass oneself
sich zum Affen machen – to make a fool of oneself

Anyway, thanks for one more delightful lesson! I do love your light-hearted way of teaching, it’s indeed a breath of fresh air!

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
3 years ago

– Maria ist genervt, weil Thomas mal wieder Weltschmerz hat.
– Maria is annoyed because once again Thomas “is suffering pain because of how the world is”.
(Is there an idiomatic translation for it? Danke :))

Nope, “Weltschmerz” is one of those meme-popular German words with no concise or idiomatic English equivalent (see also: Schadenfreude, Fremdschämen).

– “Komm, sing mal!”
– “Nee, das ist mir peinlich.”
– “Come on, sing.”
– “Nah, that is embarrassing to me.”
(I feel like there’s a more colloquial way to express that… help please :)

I think it’d be more typical to say “Nah, I’d be embarrassed.”

I really don’t think “embarrassed/embarrassment” is necessarily more serious than “peinlich.” You might use it for more serious situations too, but if somebody told me, “I really embarrassed myself yesterday,” I wouldn’t assume they’d done something that was really all that big of a deal before I heard more. If you use “shame” and related terms, that would fit the escalation to “beschämend” and/or “Schande.”

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

That makes sense. :)