Word of the Day- “der Reiz”

Hello everyone,

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

der Reiz

A gentle balmy wind on the skin, the slight fragrance of cherry blossoms in the air, the refreshing bitterness of a cold beer on the tongue, the pollen induced itching in my nose, the first sting of a mosquito on the arm, the sound of birds going crazy at 5 in the morning in the ear.
Besides being all very “spring”-y these things have one thing in common… each one is something we perceive with our senses. Or put in one word – a Reiz.
Reiz comes from an old Germanic root that was at its core about carving or scratching a surface with a sharp object. This root evolved into words like to write and to scribe in English and reißen (to rip) or schreiben (to write). And there was reizen, which in the beginning was very true to the core meaning of carving or scratching a surface. But soon the meaning broadened, people started using it in an abstract sense too. What abstract sense? Kind of scratching our nerves. Well, just imagine someone trying to write on a blackboard with a knife… ritzen is what he does to the board (to scratch), reizen is what he does to your nerves :).
Scratching our nerves … that’s what reizen was used for and the idea made so much sense that Reiz soon became what it is today… the thing that makes our nerves react, the official scientific word for stimulus.

Reiz doesn’t sound as science-y as stimulus though and it’s used in more contexts.

Now, what makes Reiz a really useful word is the broader sense where we’re kind of the nerve and the Reiz excites us. And that can be positive and negative. Just compare the sensations of touching a hot stove and touching yourself. One is kinda hot and the other one is kinda hot… wait… this is confusing. What I mean is… a stimulus be pleasant and unpleasant and while the word stimulus has a positive ring when you use it in an abstract sense, words with Reiz can go either way.

In these Reiz was something positive, it was a pleasant stimulus. And now for some negative ones.

Well, the last one actually comes from the verb reizen. And there, things are really mixed up because reizen can mean to attract, to entice as well as to irritate.

I reizen someone usually means to interest or fascinate someone but other than that it really comes down to context. Same for the d-form reizendfor example. Usually it means charming or nice but it can also mean irritating.

There are two words that are pretty clear though – die Reizung and gereizt which are both about the result of the negative reizen. Reizung is mostly used in context with the human body while gereizt works in all kinds of contexts.

  • “Kommste mit Fußball spielen?”
    “Nee, ich kann nich’ . Ich hab’ ‘ne Sehnenreizung im Knie.”
  • “We’re going to play soccer, you’re in?”
    “Nah, I can’t. I have a tendonitis (irritated/upset tendon) in my knee.”
    (what’s the proper term if it is not inflamed just yet but it definitely shows an “attitude” )

All right.
Now, a look at a word wouldn’t be complete without … prefixes. There are only few with reiz but they definitely deserve a mention.
The first one is der Anreiz which only exists as a noun. Anreiz is always positive so it’s kind of the perfect match for the English stimulus in sense of incentive.

Then there is the adjective aufreizend. This is obviously just the d-form of the verb aufreizen but the verb itself is super rare … like… I don’t even know if I’ve ever seen it anywhere. Aufreizend however is quite common in sense of sexy, saucy, salacious.

  • Maria hat sich zum Meeting ein aufreizendesOutfit ausgesucht.
  • Maria has chosen a saucy outfit for the meeting.
  • Aufreizend langsam zieht Thomas den Teleskopzeigestock aus.
  • Tantalizingly slowly Thomas extends the telescope pointer.

I feel like there’s some symbolism in here.
Anyway, it’s good she’s playing with her Reize because the topic of the presentation itself was really really boring and has 1524 slides with a LOT of text. And that brings us to the last word… überreizen, which basically means to wear out our sensory system with too much input.

Note that überreiztdoes not equal tired. You can be dead tired and still you can’t sleep because your thoughts and all the impressions are like a swarm of wasps.
All right. And I think… that’s pretty much it. This was our look at the Word of the Day der Reiz. It comes from a root that was about carving and today the main meaning is stimulus. Because a stimulus does kind of scratch our surface. It’s used in the biological sense as well as in quite a few more general contexts and it can be both, something positive or something negative.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

** vocab **

der Reiz – the stimulus, the charm
reizen – attract, pique the interest, fascinate, irritate make angry
reizbar – short tempered
reizend – charming, lovely, delightful (often used in an ironic context), irritant
die Reizung – the irritation (mostly for body parts)
die Hautreizung – irritation of the skin
reizlos – uninteresting, plain, unalluring
reizvoll – interesting, alluring
Brechreiz, Würgreiz – impulse to vomit
Hustenreiz – need to cough
überreizt – overstrung, keyed up
aufreizend – saucy, sexy (mostly for outfits)
weibliche Reize – feminine charms
die Reizblase – the tiny bladder
das reizt mich sehr – that really interests me/that piques my interest
der Anreiz – the stiumulus (incentive)
Ich bin ein bisschen gereizt. – I’m a little irritated/pissed.

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