Word of the Day – “schüchtern”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of The Day, this time, with a look at a word that can even give fluent learners a sobering reality check about pronunciation.

schüchtern

 

I mean, come on… it might not be as bad as Eichhörnchen or that one infamous metro station in Berlin that contains these consonants:

Schlsschs Tr
(Leave a comment, if you know what I mean ;).

But schüchtern is definitely a one of those words that can make you feel shy about your pronunciation.
Which is a perfect match because schüchtern actually means shy.

The origin of the family is the rather un-ancient Germanic word *skeukh(w)az which was about being afraid. And there might be a connection to the ancestor of to shoot – to the actually ancient Indo-European *skē̌u–  -with the common theme being “make go fast”. Like… when I scare a deer in the forest, it starts to run really fast.
But there’s no consensus about this theory, yadda yadda yadda, science science science. It’s still good material to impress your date with.

“I… I’m pretty shy.”
“Awww… ”
“And you know what they say… shy might be related to shot! *wink wink”
“Oh… uh… so??”

I haven’t thought this through till the end to be honest. But I don’t have any dates on the horizon, so there’s still time I guess…. *sad piano…
anyway…erm… time for some actual examples for schüchtern… 

  • Thomas ist sehr schüchtern.
  • Thomas is very shy.
  • “Wieviel kostet das Bier?” fragt Maria mit einem schüchternen Lächeln.
  • “How much is the beer?” Maria asks with a shy smile.
  • Thomas geht zu einem Dating-Coach um seine Schüchternheit zu verlieren.
  • Thomas goes to a dating coach to lose his virgshyness.

Now, if you look for shy in the dictionary, you’ll find that German also has the word scheu. Which sounds much more like shy and it’s MUCH easier to pronounce than schüchtern. I mean… schüchternes Lächeln?! Come on, maaaan.
The thing with scheu is that it’s the more “instinctive” type of being shy. I don’t know if timid is a good fit, but scheu definitely leans more toward scared, and it’s the perfect word for animals.

  • “Ihhh, deine Fashion-Jacke ist so hässlich, die macht die Pferde scheu.”
    “Dann setzt ihnen Scheuklappen auf. Die Jacke bleibt an.”
  • “Eww, your fashion jacket is so ugly, it “makes” the horses scared/spooked.”
    “Then give them blinders/blinkers. The jacket stays on.”
    (Does English use “shy” here?)
  • Bären sind normalerweise menschenscheu.
  • Bears are normally shy of humans.

And while it is not really used that much for humans by itself, there are a few quite useful compounds that ARE used for humans in the sense of someone being “avoidant” of something… like… this reaction of “Ewww, get that away from me.”

  • Ich bin arbeitsscheu, aber ich bin auch konfliktscheu… ein epischer Kampf auf Arbeit.
  • I’m work-shy/averse to work, but I am also conflict avoidant... an epic battle at work.

There are a few other established ones, but feel free to play around and make up a new one… like spaßscheu or romantic-comedy-scheu. Native speakers will understand and it’ll sounds creative to them rather than “wrong”.
Cool.
So scheu is a visceral, instinctive type of shy that leans toward fear and schüchtern is this typical human type of shy that comes a lot from our mind and soul.

Now, there’s one important pitfall to be aware of and that is shy in the sense of short.

  • Maria’s time for this marathon was 10 minutes shy of her personal record.

This shy is NOT translated with schüchtern or scheu and it would make absolutely no sense to a native speaker if you said such a sentence.
What to say instead? Well, that’s really impossible to say because it HUGELY depends on the context. Sometimes, something with weniger is idiomatic, sometimes German fast works. And sometimes you might need a completely different phrasing. My best advice here is to find an alternative phrasing in English and then try to translate that.
All right.
So now we know scheu and schüchtern, and those of you who are regular readers probably know what we’ll look at next… prefix versions.
Or related words, more broadly speaking. And there’s some nice stuff to be found.

Related Words

For schüchtern, there’s actually only one real prefix version… the verb einschüchtern, which means to intimidate. Quite literal, if we think about it. ein is pretty much in and timid is the Latin based version another word for schüchtern.

  • “… dann ist er weggerannt.”
    “Mann Maria, du sollst ihn daten, nicht einschüchtern.”
    “… and then he ran away.”
    “Dude, Maria… you’re supposed to date him, not intimidate him.”
  • Die Eichhörnchen ignorieren die Einschüchterungsversuche der Einhörner.
  • The squirrels ignore the intimidation attempts of the unicorns.

I guess we should note that einschüchtern usually sounds like someone does it on purpose than intimidate does in English. So einschüchtern sounds like there’s an intent. Or at least, it’s done by a person. For example, if you want to say that German is intimidating, einschüchternd isn’t a good choice. In fact, there are NO results on Google for the phrase “Deutsch ist einschüchternd”.
I can’t give you a good translation though… I think people would phrase with something like respect or angst. Or in case of German kompliziert. Or maybe bedrohlich, if it is actually a bit threatening.

Anyway, the more productive word in terms of relatives is definitely scheu, and the first ones we have there are the nouns die Scheu and die Abscheu.
Scheu is pretty much what you’d expect, so it’s a mix between fear and shyness and while not super common, it is used in a few phrasings.

  • Nur keine falsche Scheu beim Bewerbungsgespräch. Sagen Sie klar, was Sie wollen.
  • Don’t be overly shy at a job interview. Say clearly what you want.
    (lit.: “no misplaced shyness”)

Die Abscheu on the other hand shifted away from fear and shyness toward one slightly different reason for avoidance… disgust, revulsion. And it’s the core of the adjective abscheulich and the verb verabscheuen, which is a distinguished sounding option for to despise, to detest.

  • “Die Suppe schmeckt abscheulich.”
    “Ja, ich dachte ich mach was, was zu deiner Jacke passt.”
  • “The soup tastes abhorrent/awful.”
    “Yeah, I thought I’d make something that fits with your jacket.”
  • “Ich verabscheue Hass.”
  • “I despise hatred.” (Ancient Buddhist trick aphorism)

Cool.
The next relative of scheu is the verb scheuen which is pretty much about the idea of shying away from something. Or more simply, to shun.
It’s not very common, though, and sounds quite “bookish”, so it’s only idiomatic in a few somewhat fixed phrases.

  • Ich habe keine Kosten und Mühen gescheut, um diese Party zu organisieren.
  • I didn’t spare (avoid) any effort or expense to organize this party.
  • Thomas scheut den Abwasch, wie die Katze das Wasser.
  • Thomas shuns doing the dishes like the cat shuns the water.

And last but not least, we have the verb scheuchen. Which is actually more common as one of the prefix versions verscheuchen or wegscheuchen, but the core idea of all three is basically what you want to do when you say

“Shoo shoo!”

Like … to a raccoon on your porch or whatever. You want to chase it away by making it scared (which was the original sense of the shy-family).

  • Thomas hat das Einhorn mittels Liebe von seiner Terrasse verscheucht/gescheucht/weggescheucht.
  • Thomas shooed away/scared off the unicorn on his porch by means of love.

And if you’ll ever read the Wizard of Oz in German, you’ll find that the Scarecrow in German is die Vogelscheuche…  because it scheuchs the Vogel.

And that’s pretty much it for today :).
This was our little look at the pronunciation nightmare that is schüchtern and its posse.
As usual, if you want to check how much you remember, you can take the little quiz I have prepared. And yes… there is a pronunciation portion in there.

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.

 

* * vocab **

schüchtern – shy (for humans and pets)
die Schüchternheit – the shyness

einschüchtern – to intimidate (Implies intent or at least someone actively doing something. Not a good fit for a mountain.)
der Einschüchterungsversuch – the attempt at intimidation

verschüchtert – shy, timid, intimidated (Stronger and more situational than “schüchtern”)

scheu – shy, timid, scared (Instinctive, really common for animals)

die Scheu (vor)  – the timidness, the shyness (Only common in a few fixed phrases)
die Scheuklappen – the blinders, the blinkers (for horses)

die Abscheu (gegen) – the disgust, the revulsion
abscheulich – awful, repulsive
verabscheuen – to despise, to abhor

scheuen – the shy away from, to shun (Not common, except in fixed phrasings)

scheuchen – to shoo, to scare off (no real difference to “verscheuchen” and “wegscheuchen”, except the “destination” is open)
verscheuchen – to shoo away, to scare away  (no real difference to “verscheuchen” and pure “scheuchen”)
wegscheuchen – to shoo away, to scare away (no real difference to “verscheuchen” and pure “scheuchen”)

die Vogelscheuche – the scarecrow

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Mary
Mary
6 days ago

Horses shy (rear up) when they are startled. There are coconut shies at funfairs. (To shy used also to mean “to throw”).

Emmanuel
Emmanuel
16 days ago

Hallo!! this article is so good, and this web page has a high value content. I’m thankful with those people whom had pay extra money for the membership. My economical situation is hard, and thanks those people I’ve receive full membership for a year costless, I’m sure that will help me a lot to learn german and reach my dreams. Danke!!!

vvv-ooo-vvv
vvv-ooo-vvv
16 days ago

schlesisches tor is tricky but i think I got close by breaking it down into three individual parts, practicing those and then put them together fast – it kinda works. Schle (like santa’s sleigh with an “sh” sound) sis ( kinda rhymes with “wish”) “sches” kinda ryhmes with hmmm ….can’t really think of anything in english…sort of “bush” (well not exactly cus i think the sh in bush isn’t as soft and the u of bush isn’t exactly the same…) I’m sure someone who’s first language is german would find my pronunication off but anyway i think the trick to start with is to break it down into 3 parts and then have a german speaker correct the pronunication….

John
John
16 days ago

I have passed through that station but thankfully have never had to ask for directions to it !
For some reason the audio is not working for me today – it normally does – is there a problem for others or is it something on my phone ?

Scott
Scott
17 days ago

Zum Thema virg, habe ich eine Frage. Vermutlich ist ein Mädchen oder eine Frau, das (beziehungsweise die) Sex noch nicht erlebt hat, als eine Jungfrau bezeichnet. Gilt das auch für Jungen oder Männer? Sind sie auch als Jungfrauen bezeichnet?

Junie Curtiss
Junie Curtiss
17 days ago

My southern Mama would say ” Good Lord child, you aren’t going to wear that! You‘ll scare the horses!”.

Fanny Hensel in Maine
Fanny Hensel in Maine
18 days ago

Thank you Emanuel–I was very touched by your respectful and serious response to Rita’s comment. I am an unbeliever, who was however raised as a believer, and yet decades later I still say the word God all the time, and this is the first time I’ve read such a sensible explanation of why. Also, as I’ve said in the past, I truly appreciate your sensibility and your humor (and the cartoons!) in YDG, which I honestly think help us to retain the German lessons that we learn here.

Rita
Rita
19 days ago

I really appreciate still receiving these emails after living for a while in Germany. And want to thank you for it every time I read it. Today: Thank you!! My comment here is about the words going with the drawings. .. In the Altstadt we lived right next to the church and because of Covid the bells tolled thrice a day for a message of solidarity; so over many months (in which I received YourDailyGerman as well; thanks again!) the sound brought thoughts of faith and trust to the forefront for me. So this drawing here have my attention! — And I am wondering .. Why would we speak to God/or use the name of a god when we do not really mean to, for acknowledgement? While in the mean time we are serious (here) about language, having verbs and word endings and the rest right according to language rules? As for the second picture: “Geez” – short for “Jesus”? I comment on this, because we are earnest about German/language we are speaking/learning, but less neat with another type of language. .. Somewhere there might be a Wörterbuch of Swear Words and it will be full of abbreviations and synonyms for God? And regardless of believing in which or no god, we just use these words as if they have not much value. They do not “sign” properly, is what our careless use of them says? They serve us for lightheartedness (fun) or heaviness (cursing). I’m just pondering on how we as language “users” shift value with words in some fickle way. But at the same time we let language rules help us to faithfully speak and write according to a high standard.

Rita
Rita
16 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Enlightening! Thank you for your reply! It makes me think. Like the rest of your posts. Thanks again. :)

LCantoni
LCantoni
19 days ago

Great article! Note on English equestrian usage: Horses may be shy (afraid of mingling at cocktail parties), or they may shy away from something (like a particularly ugly horse blanket, or rider), but they also shy (rear up) when startled. “The horses shied when Frau Blücher’s name was mentioned.” :D

cruthers
cruthers
17 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I don’t know that English has a perfect translation of “scheu” in the case of animals, but the closest thing that I’ve heard is “spook”. Two ways to use it. Transitive: “The man spooked the deer” or “the deer got spooked.” Intransitive: “The deer spooked.” It means the deer got scared and physically reacted, like by jumping around or running away or something. The verb “shy” by itself is pretty uncommon (at least in the U.S. among people who don’t deal with horses).

pmccann
pmccann
17 days ago
Reply to  cruthers

I was also going to suggest “spooking the horses”/”those horses are easily spooked” as being in the neighbourhood of a good translation for “scheu”, but my searches were stymied (and muddied) by the existence of a heavy metal band called “Spook the Horses”, and a Neil Young+Crazy Horse song called “Don’t Spook the Horses” :-) As Hugh points out below, the word “skittish” has similar connotations, particularly in relation to animals: “on edge”, “hyper-reactive/aware/sensitized”. One of the best dogs I’ve ever lived with was a huge, and sometimes “spookable”, Scottish Deerhound. He was, of course, always introduced to strangers as a “Skittish Deerhound”.

pmccann
pmccann
16 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Yep, that makes sense. “Skittish” definitely has a transience (feed the Deerhound dinner, or meet him after he’s done a couple of “zoomies”, and note that the skittishness has totally evaporated), while “scheu” seems much more instinctual, and inherent. 

And by way of contrast… Ein Mangel an Scheu war wahrscheinlich die Ursache für das Aussterben der Megafauna in Australien und Neuseeland. (Das und vielleicht auch die Einschleppung neuer Krankheiten.) Quick question: does “Einschleppung” sound weird here? I see “einschleppen” looks like just the ticket for what I’m describing, and it’s such a nice word I’d like to be able to use it properly ;-)

pmccann
pmccann
15 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Oh gosh no, nothing anywhere near so grand, sad to say! My German level’s an infinitesimal fraction of what would be required for such a task. But the extinction of megafauna has always been a source of considerable fascination (and horror) for me, so for some reason the connection to Scheu just reactivated that pathway. Add to that the fact that “schlep(p)” has some currency in at least (American) English —mainly via Yiddish, it seems— and you’ve got a potent enough brew to get me on board!

Hugh Warren
Hugh Warren
17 days ago
Reply to  LCantoni

Good comment. I’d add that to describe the general state of mind of a horse in the moment one would use something like skittish. Shy would be more reserved for describing its underlying personality (ie the cocktail party sense)

johnnybna
johnnybna
16 days ago
Reply to  LCantoni

Rolle, rolle, rolle in der Hay

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
21 days ago

Schlsschs Tr

I’d like to buy a vowel please :) Schlesisches Tor

For the second question on the quiz (Maria calls Thomas “deoscheu”), I think I would tend to use the simple present for the answer, if I understood “deoscheu” right. I interpreted it as a habit, so “he avoids using deodorant.”

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
21 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Yeah, I watch a lot of documentaries. Actually it’s more like listening to them while I work, but I really like the ones from rbb where they show you around Berlin. I work on the desktop and have the laptop set up so I can peek over at the pretty pictures.

Elsa
Elsa
21 days ago

Hello!

And no, I haven’t left the blog nor am I mad at you, I’ve been on holiday!!!

Let’s not be shy and get into typos:
with a look at a word can even give fluent learners” (with a look at a word that can even give fluent learners)
yadda – double d
“I don’t know if timid is a good fits” (I don’t know if timid is a good fit)
I’d say the jacket scares or intimidates the horses… don’t think I’d use shy… but can’t say it’s wrong either… I suppose the horses might shy away from the jacket.
“sometimes fast work” (sometimes fast works)
English job interview: “don’t be overly shy/be assertive”
“toward one a slightly different” (toward one slightly different)

I have one question, not related to this article. Where’s the random article feature on the blog? Have you removed it?

Bis bald!

Elsa
Elsa
21 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Nein, ich würde auf keinen Fall mit Deutsch aufhören!

Mein Urlaub was sehr schön, ich habe viel Spaß gehabt, Freunde besucht und sogar auf ein Konzert gegangen, um Duran Duran zu sehen! Das Konzert was wirklich der Hammer!

Ich stimme dir zu, du konntest einen Zufallsartikel (?) unter jedem Artikel aufstellen, dann konnte man weiterlesen. Manchmal weiß ich nicht was ich am nächsten lernen soll, es gibt so viele Themen!
Deshalb finde ich den Zufallsartikel sehr hilfreich, weil mir den das Bedürfnis wegnimmt, mich fur etwas zu entscheiden!

Bis bald!

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
21 days ago
Reply to  Elsa

Wo warst du denn im Urlaub?
Ich habe seit 2-3 Jahren keinen Urlaub mehr gemacht. Jedenfalls keinen richtigen. In ein paar Wochen fliege ich mit zwei meiner besten Freundinnen nach Lake Tahoe und freue mich schon sehr drauf.

Elsa
Elsa
18 days ago
Reply to  coleussanctus

Dänemark und Schweden! Schade dass du keinen Urlaub gemacht hast. Viel Spaß in Lake Tahoe!