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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

Click here to get these words as a .csv-file to import into your flashcard app (separator is a comma “,”)

for members :)

41
Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
newest oldest
Notify of
berlingrabers
berlingrabers

– 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.”

Jo Alex Sg
Jo Alex Sg

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!

Jo Alex Sg
Jo Alex Sg

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

Ubungmachtdenmeister
Ubungmachtdenmeister

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.

Anonymous
Anonymous

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

Tonygwien
Tonygwien

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..

Andy O
Andy O

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

Anonymous
Anonymous

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

Francesca Greenoak
Francesca Greenoak

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.

Fredric Price
Fredric Price

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

Fredric Price
Fredric Price

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

christibos
christibos

“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

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.

Noah
Noah

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

Maksym
Maksym

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

Macah
Macah

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

Lara Elacion

Danke für die kostenlose Mitgliedschaft

Freezy
Freezy

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

Jeff
Jeff

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