Advent Calendar 10 – “He who knows who knows”

Hello everyone,

day 10 of our Advent Calendar and today we’ll talk about a specific type of person. A person beloved by all. And Germany has especially many such specimen. I’m talking about someone who knows. Everything. He even knows who knows. I’m talking about the

know-it-all

These people who just know everything, and they know everything better and they can’t help themselves but blurt it out there at every turn.
And the two main words for that in German are Besserwisser, which is literally better-knower and Klugscheißer. Smart-shitter. It’s kind of funny if you picture it. Someone pressing out turds of wisdom. Like…
“.. uhhg… ahhh… it’s actually called past participle, not ge-form… and .. ah… hnnnnng…. It’s actually 19:49, not quarter to…. phew. “
Oh, okay, very helpful, thanks

  • Sag mal, dein neuer Freund ist ein ganz schöner Besserwisser, oder?
  • Hey uhm, your new boyfriend is a pretty big weisenheimer, isn’t he?
  • Marias Bruder ist ein ganz schlimmer Klugscheißer.
  • Maria’s brother is a horrible wise ass.

Now, English has quite a selection of translations, if we can trust the dictionary but the two German ones are different in that they’re PURELY negative and pretty strong. Smart ass for instance. My ex-girlfriend would call me that all the time and it was always meant as a praise. Or … wait… was it?
Hmmm…. anyway so yeah. The German ones are purely negative and quite strong. And what’s pretty cool about the German ones is that you can use them in different forms. As a noun describing the thing, as an adjective, even as a verb and a disease.

  • Deutsche haben einen Hang zur Besserwisserei.
  • Germans have a penchant to “weisenheimer”-ing. 
  • Die Sängerin hat etwas besserwisserisches/klugscheißerisches in ihrem Gesang.
  • The singer has an element of know-it-all in her singing.
  • “Boah, Maria hatte heute beim Meeting mal wieder Klugscheißeritis vom feinsten.”
    “Au weia, da hilft nur eine Dosis Nicht-Zuhör-in
  • “Man, Maria had a serious case of “know-it-all”-itis at the meeting today.”
    “Oh boy, the only remedy there is a dose of “Not-Listenin“.

  • Hilfe mein neuer Kollege klugscheißt die ganze Zeit. Was kann ich tun?
  • Help, my new coworker drops unsolicited wisdom non-stop. What can I do?

Sure, they’re all pretty colloquial but they’re also coolloquial. Get it, get it :)?
Now, there’s a third word, that kind of fits in here: der Rechthaber. Rechthaber is also translated as know it all in a dictionary but it’s a bit more specific.  It is not so much about dropping wisdom and actually knowing everything but about winning the argument. A Rechthaber will use even the most abstract argument, the most contrived logic just to prove his point and he can be just as annoying as a Klugscheißer.
And while we’re at it, let’s also mention the German word for nitpicker: der Erbsenzähler. And I have to say… Erbsenzähler is actually the much better word. Counting peas really is kind of a waste of time as there are more efficient ways to assess their quantity. Nitpicking on the other hand, picking nits out of each others hair or fur has had huuuuuuuge benefits in the social evolution of ape and man that go beyond pure hygiene, so it’s actually kind of disrespectful to use this irrefutably usef… what? I’m a smart ass? Compliment accepted. Thank y…. oh wait, you mean I’m klugscheißening. Ohhhhh :).
So that’s it for today. Let me know in the comments below what you think are the best English translations. And also, what’s your impression? Do Germans really have a tendency to be Besserwisser, as the stereotype says? Let me know in the comments below and win today’s little mystery giveaway.
Schönen Tag euch und bis morgen.

Oh and here’s a song about Besserwisser by “Die Ärzte”, one of the most successful German punk bands ever. It’s not very punk-y, this song, but it will get loud at some point :).

You can find the lyrics here. 

 

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blingsetter
blingsetter
7 months ago

I just looked up the English spelling. Although we pronounce it as “weisenheimer,” it’s spelled “wisenheimer.” So you have “Erbsenzähler.” We have something that translates similarly, but refers to accountants: bean counters–implying tedious, but definitely an important job in our economy with our politics.

Austin Scruggs
Austin Scruggs
5 years ago

Never heard Weisenheimer before but it sounds like it would translate to “wise ass,” which is just another version of “smart ass” or the child appropriate version, “smart alec.”

Rechthaber – Very literally seems to translate to “Right have to be-er,” or “someone who always has to be right.” At first I was thinking self-righteous, but that’s more along the lines of belief in intellectual superiority rather than always having to get the upper-hand in an argument. I don’t think we actually have an expression for that.

Tom
Tom
5 years ago

I live in New York. And yes I’ve heard and used the term “weisenheimer” in the 80s. My Father-in-law from Brooklyn has used it in the past as well but it seems to be an older term. “Oh? A weisenheimer, eh?”

Camille713
Camille713
5 years ago

My first (American) thought is usually “smart ass” although some crowds are quicker to accept “smart Alec”. I hear them both!

Ruth
Ruth
5 years ago

“Wise guy” sounds very American. “Wise guy”, “smart arse” and “smart Alec” all suggest to me a disruptive or insubordinate element I’m not picking up from Besserwisser or Klugscheißer. Unlike Andrew, above, I’d cheerfully use “clever clogs” of any age of person. There’s also “smarty pants”, which I think is mainly used by and of children.

“Know all” might be as close as English gets to Besserwisser and Klugscheißer. Surely too bland to make a catchy song with. Perhaps Shakespeare used a better expression somewhere.

Eloise Smith
5 years ago

Ich hatte “weisenheimer” als Jugendlicherin im Bundesstaat New York gehört. Es war eine etwas humorvolle Form von “smart alec” oder “smart ass.” Ich habe es nicht viel hier an der Westküste der USA gehört. Es ist wirklich ein Amerikanismus. Die Seite sagt: weisenheimer or wisenheimer, “a person who behaves in an irritatingly smug or arrogant fashion, typically by making clever remarks and displaying their knowledge.” Sie sagt auch, “early 20th century: from wise + the suffix -(n)heimer found in surnames such as Oppenheimer .” Ich verbinde “Wise guy” mit Slapstick-Komödie.

Mara
Mara
5 years ago

a little hard to understand this term

planudes
planudes
5 years ago

Komisch. A bean-counter in English is pegorative for Buchhalter.

Weisenheimer is American slang, though not the most up-to-date. It is a compound of the “wise” in “wise-ass” with last names like Oppenheim or Guggenheim. So I guess the early 19th century American idea of the Besserwisserei of the German-Jewish immigrants like my family.

cam147147
cam147147
5 years ago

Hahah these are good words. American English speaker here. Yes, “Smart Alec” is in use, but to me it sounds rather silly. It would be something that a parent would say to a child when the child is “talking back” to the parent. Then “know-it-all” also works but again sounds rather silly to me. Among friends I might say “wise guy” albeit somewhat ironically because it also sounds a little silly. I think “smart ass” and “wise ass” feel the most appropriate, but of course they are rather colloquial. But hey, if you’re gonna go for it, don’t hold back!

Tony Mountifield
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I guess the closest would be “smart ass” (US) or “smart arse” (UK). Neither of which are terms I use personally, and it even felt odd mentioning them.

Ziixxxitria
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I don’t think I’ve said anything like ‘know-it-all’ after I stopped living with my family. It just doesn’t come up that much in my life (American), so perhaps it’s the same for others. The most recent I can think of were on the internet, where it’s more common to say something like a ‘troll’ (if the person is playing on semantics and obscure facts and such to bait others into being angry), or “neckbeard” (rather unkind term describing a type of person who willfully ignores social etiquette and views ‘winning’ arguments as the real goal in otherwise casual conversation, which often comes with a kind of ‘know-it-all’ attitude).

parisbongi
parisbongi
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Still using “smart ass” all the time myself but usually to refer to people with a very sarcastic nature – “that guy is a real smart ass”.
And it is only offensive when the person you call one isn’t ;)

Elisabeth S
Elisabeth S
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

It might be an age and gender thing. They are expressions that I imagine men (and maybe younger women) would say to each other but not use in the Family or in Company with women. Smart Alec or know-all are what I would use. I’m old!

billkamm
billkamm
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I have a feeling that Klugscheißer LITERALLY means Smartass in English, because ass is a thing that shits therefore it is a “shitter”.

Annie
Annie
5 years ago

Love this post! There is always a person with Klugscheißeritis in every German class I attend and now I know the right word for it! By the way, here in Australia, I have never heard the term weisenheimer either.

Brightstar
Brightstar
5 years ago
Reply to  Annie

I have heard here in OZ land ‘smart Alec’ quite often

Ruth
Ruth
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Oztrailya, otherwise known as Australia, where I hear “smart arse” far more often. I wonder in what sort of circumstances “smart Alec” is common.

Franzi
Franzi
5 years ago

I haven’t heard weisenheimer in ages! Ausgezeichnet.

5 years ago

Ich habe in letzter Zeit einen guten Witz gehört:

Wenn du Durst hast, aber du bist knapp bei Kasse, dann kannst du immer in die Kneipe gehen und sagen, “Hey zusammen! Die nächste Runde geht auf mir!” Da ist immer irgendein Besserwisser dabei, der sagt, “auf MICH!”

Tony Mountifield
5 years ago

As a native English speaker (UK), I have never heard the word “weisenheimer”. It sounds to me more like another German word! I would naturally use terms such as “know-all” (without the “it”), “a smart Alec”, “clever Dick”, or maybe “wise guy”, although that last one sounds more American than British.

5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I also had to look up “Weisenheimer”. I’m an AE speaker. I wonder if it’s an expression that has fallen out of favor due to possible antisemitic connotations? For me (Southern US/New England), “wise guy”, “know-it-all” (with the “it”), and “smart Alec” are all common expressions for Besserwisser.

Andrew
Andrew
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I’m also a native English speaker (UK). ‘Smart Alec’ is very rarely used in the UK; in fact I can’t remember the last time I heard it used outside of a children’s TV show; it has more in common with expressions like ‘clever cloggs’ which are pretty much exclusively used to describe children. ‘Smart arse’ is by far the most common expression used in the company of adults. ‘Wise Guy’ is always negative. Personally, I would avoid using it; it would sound weird; the phrase is so synonymous with the TV show / film stereotype of New York mobsters that it’s difficult to hear the phrase without conjuring an image of a mobster type saying, in an Italian American accent, ‘wise guy eh?’.

parisbongi
parisbongi
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Maybe it is an age thing, but I remember very well hearing people use “wisenheimer” and “wiseacre” to refer to know-it-all types. For the record, it has been a while and in the US only. And “Wise guy” also refers to a “Made guy” in the US mafia, someone officially recognized as a member of the mob.
Thanks for the enlightenment on the subject in German.
A little bit off the subject but my personal favorite in German is the “Nervensäge”.

Jen
Jen
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

As another American English speaker, personally I’d only expect to hear “smart Alec” around children. Normally it’d be smart ass. If someone said “smart Alec” when they weren’t around kids, it would definitely stick out as strange to me, and I’d assume they’re religious or something. But, the US is a big place, so maybe different regions are different here.

Ein deutscher Freund hat mit mir ein anderes Wort zu Besserwisser verwendet. Etwas wie “ein wandelndes Lexikon” oder etwas in dieser Richtung. Vielleicht hat aber dieses Begriff nicht so einen negativen Ton wie Besserwisser.

Gaile
Gaile
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

As an English term, it’s probably too out-dated to be used now. But I remember the word very well from my childhood (I’m 60). I grew in South Dakota where German and Scandinavian terms were frequently mixed in with English.

billkamm
billkamm
5 years ago

My father used to call me a “weisenheimer” all the time when I was growing, but I’m an American and my great grandparents (his grandparents) were from Germany.