Word of the Day- “der Reiz”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: January 22, 2021

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.

    • Der Nerv reagiert auf den Reiz.
    • The nerve reacts to the stimulus.

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

    • Wenn man sich den Finger in den Hals steckt, bekommt man einen Brechreiz.
    • If you stick your finger down your throat you’ll get nausea (lit: the stimulus/drive to vomit)
    • Wundheilung ist oft von einem Juckreiz begleitet. (literally: an itching stimulus)
    • Wound healing is often accompanied by itches (pruritus).
    • Der Tee stillt den Hustenreiz.
    • The tea calms the need to cough/tickle in the throat.
    • Smartphones, Internet, Gaming – wie die Reizüberflutung unsere Kinder verändert.
    • Smartphones, internet, gaming – how sensory overload affects our children.

    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.

    • Deutsch ist nicht schön, hat aber seinen Reiz.
    • German – it’s not pretty but it has its charm.
    • Die Version  des Songs ist ungewohnt, aber reizvoll.
    • The version of the song is unusual but not without charm/but interesting.
    • Maria setzt ihre weiblichen Reize ein, um beruflich voranzukommen.
    • Maria uses her feminine charms to get ahead in the job.
      (no idea about the English  but in German that’s mainly her  feminine physique… not her behavior)

    • Thomas hat Maria zum Geburtstag Reizwäsche geschenkt.
    • Thomas gave Maria flimsies/sexy lingerine for his birthday… I mean.. her birthday.

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

    • “Sag mal, können wir demnächst mal anhalten?”
      “Schon wieder? Du hast voll die Reizblase, ey… *rülps”
      “Na und? Du hast einen Reizmagen.
    • “Hey uh could we make a pit stop sometime soon?”
      “Again? Dude, you really got an weak/(irritable)  bladder…. *burp”.
      “So what? You have an irritable stomach.”

    • Die Polizei hat auf der Demo Reizgas versprüht.
    • The police has used irritant gas at the rally.
    • Mein Chef ist leicht reizbar.
    • My boss has a short temper.

    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.

    • Das Projekt reizt mich.
    • The project tempts me/has piqued my interest.
    • Der Pullover reizt meine Haut.
    • The pullover irritates my skin.
    • Die ungewöhnliche Kombination der Gewürze ist, was mich an dem Rezept gereizt hat.
    • The unusual combination of spices is what fascinated/interested me about the recipe.
    • Das Pony hat meine Katze gereizt.
    • The pony provoked/aggravated/goaded my cat.
    • Hunger Games 3 Teil 1 gucken? Meh…  reizt mich nicht.
    • Watching the Hunger Games? Meh… not interested.
    • Reiz mich nicht!
    • Don’t make me angry!

    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 reizend for example. Usually it means charming or nice but it can also mean irritating.

    • Dein Make Up ist reizend.
    • Your make up is charming/lovely.
    • Dieses Spülmittel ist  reizend.
    • This detergent is  irritant.

    • Den ganzen Tag Wassersprerrung?! Na ganz reizend. (sarcasm!!)
    • Water is shut off for the whole day?! Well now, that is a delight.

    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.

    • Meine Augen sind gereizt.
    • My eyes are irritated/tired.
    • “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” )

    • Sorry, dass ich dich so angefahren habe. Ich bin in letzter Zeit ein bisschen gereizt. (super common phrasing!!)
    • Sorry, I snapped at you like that. I’ve been a little on edge lately.
    • Der Kandidat reagiert gereizt auf Fragen zu “Rücksitz-Gate”.
    • The candidate reacts testy to questions pertaining to “backseat gate”.

    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.

    • Der richtige Duft im Laden kann ein zusätzlicher Kaufanreiz sein.
    • The right smell in the store can be an additional spending stimulus/incentive to buy.

    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 aufreizendes Outfit 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.

    • Thomas hat den ganzen Tag Game of Thrones geguckt und jetzt ist er total überreizt und kann nicht schlafen.
    • Thomas spent all day watching Game of Thrones and now he can’t sleep because his brain is overloaded with too much input/ he’s keyed up/wired.

    Note that überreizt does 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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