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

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. 

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. 

 

for members :)

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Tony Mountifield

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.

billkamm
billkamm

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.

Anonymous
Anonymous

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!”

Franzi
Franzi

I haven’t heard weisenheimer in ages! Ausgezeichnet.

Annie
Annie

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

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

cam147147
cam147147

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!

planudes
planudes

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.

Mara
Mara

a little hard to understand this term

Eloise Smith

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.

Ruth
Ruth

“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.

Camille713
Camille713

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

Tom
Tom

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?”

Austin Scruggs
Austin Scruggs

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.