Word of the Day – “spitz”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day.
This time, with a quick look at the meaning of

spitz

 

Spitz is a pretty good representative for how German sounds, at least to foreign ears. Sure, it’s not as iconic as kratzen or Strumpf, but spitz does have this certain scratchy “roughness”. But not only that.
Spitz is also a great example for a word that really sounds like what it stands for. But okay… of course I know what it means, and that might well influence my associations. So let’s do a quick poll and see. What does the word spitz remind you of.

What does the word spitz make you think of

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I’m really curious what you guys say.
I picked needle and spitz is basically what makes a needle a needle.

The origin of spitz is the (in my opinion) unnecessarily ancient Indo-European root *spei-. That is also the root of words like spine, pin, the spoke of a wheel and spike and the original sense was “pointy stick”.
So spitz actually hasn’t changed that much. Because its core sense is “pointy, or “spike-shaped”.

  • “Achtung, der Ball ist sehr spitz.”
    “Das macht absolut keinen Sinn.”
  • “Carefull, the ball is very pointy/sharp.”
    “That makes absolutely NO sense.”
  • Durchbohr sie mit dem spitzen Ende.
  • Stick em with the pointy end.
  • “Aua…”
    “Was los?”
    “In deiner Tasche ist irgendwas Spitzes.”
    “Was machst du in meiner Tasche?”
  • “Ouch!”
    “What’s wrong?”
    “There’s something sharp/pointy in your bag.”
    “What are you doing in my bag?”

As you can see, the translation can be sharp but note that spitz is ONLY for pointy things. For edges, like a knife for example, you’d use sharp’s German brother scharf.

  • Das Messer ist spitz.
  • The knife “has a pointy end.
  • Das Messer ist scharf.
  • The knife is sharp.

And while we’re at it, let’s also mention the opposite of spitz (and scharf): stumpf.
Spitz und stumpf… wow, is it just me or does that sound incredibly German…. like, I can see them having their own show.

That’d be awesome.
Anyway… now, the adjective spitz is mostly used in contexts of something being pointy enough to actually hurt you. But there’s also the noun die Spitze and that’s a little bit more broad, because it can be the tip,
but also the top and the tappaty tap tap tap.
Seriously though… Spitze basically is the top of a more or less spike shaped thing.
And that can be an actual object…

  • Das ist nur die Spitze des Eisbergs.
  • That is only the tip of the iceberg.
  • Thomas geht auf Zehenspitzen in die Küche.
  • Thomas goes to the kitchen on the tip of his toes.
  • “Oh Mann, Scheiß-Quarantäne. Meine Haare werden geopfert.”
    “Warum denn. Deine Haare sind okay.”
    “Nein! Ich hab’ gespaltene Spitzen.”
  • “Oh man, damn quarantine. My hair is being sacrificed.”
    “Why? Your hair is fine.”
    “No! I have split ends.”

… but it’s also be more abstract, like the top of a company or the top of some sort of competition.

  • Wechsel an der Spitze – die Firma kriegt einen neuen Chef.
  • Change at the top – the company gets a new leader.
  • In Spitzenzeiten verkauft das Café 2.000 Latte Macchiato am Tag.
  • At peak times, the cafe sells 2.000 Latte Macchiato per day.
  • Nach nur einem Jahr gehört der Koch zur Weltspitze.
  • After only one year, the chef belongs to the world’s finest.
  • Warmer Eistee – eine Spitzen-Idee.
  • Warm Ice tea – a great/genius idea.

The use in the sense of “the best of something” is pretty common, actually, and you can make up all kinds of nouns with Spitzen- in front of them.

  • Nicht jeder Spitzenpolitiker ist ein Spitzen-Politiker.
  • Not every top politician is a top notch politician.
    (the second “spitzen” will be understood in speaking but it’s totally unclear how to spell it. It’s neither an adjective not the first part of a compound. But it’s colloquial anyway)

And you can actually even find spitze used like an adjective with the meaning top notch.

  • Das war spitze.
  • That was amazing/top notch.

But don’t use that too often. It does have kind of a high boomer-factor, if you know what I mean.
Cool.
Now, another really important noun we need to mention is der Spitzname, which is the German word for nickname. The word nickname is actually related to the German auch and use to be “an auch name“… an “also” name. So that makes sense.
But what about Spitzname?
My first association was a name that goes “on top” of the other name. But the real reason is actually more convincing. What does something that is spitz do? Like a needle? It stings. THAT’S the origin of Spitzname. It started as a name used to tease someone.

  • Weißt du, warum Marias Spitzname Lama ist?
  • Do you know why Lama is Maria’s nickname?

Another noun, or noun group, that might be a little confusing is based around die Spitze as lace.

  • Thomas schenkt sich einen Spitzen-BH zu Marias Geburtstag.
  • Thomas gives himself a lace bra for Maria’s birthday.

I don’t really know how this meaning came about but on an intuitive level it does make sense. This fine type of textile does have some “spitz-ness” to it. And at least Thomas finds this kind of fabric spitze.
Cool.
Now, we’ve already learned quite a few cool new words, but there wasn’t that much mind yoga involved so far. Like… they were all pretty obvious.
So I think we still have energy to explore the family a little more :).

More related words “spitz”

We’ll start with the verbs and surprisingly, there aren’t actually that many.
The most basic version is spitzen, which literally means to make pointy. But that’s pretty much only used in one idiomatic phrasing with Ohren. Literally, it means you make your ears pointy and I think you can already guess the meaning it has.

  • Als ich seinen Namen gehört habe, habe ich meine Ohren gespitzt.
  • When I heard his name, I listened up/started listening attentively.

There are also a couple of prefix versions of spitzen, but those too are not all that common and pretty much all limited to the use context you see here.

  • Die Lage spitzt sich zu.
  • The situation heats up/escalates/comes to a head.
  • Ich spitze meinen Bleistift an.
  • I sharpen my pencil.

And for the younger people among you, let me quickly tell you what a pencil is because you might not know…
“OMG, Emanuel, cringe… boomer humor intensifies.”
Oh yeah? Well, what I was gonna say is that pencil comes from the Latin peniculus which was a brush, which itself comes from the Latin word for tailpenis. So the next time your teacher says pencil in the zoom meeting you can go haha.
Not so boomer now, huh?
Anyway… where were we… oh yeah, the related words.
So a really interesting relative is the noun der Spitzel, which is actually kind of a spy. Not a James Bond type of spy for international affairs but a small scale police “spy”. The dictionary suggests a whole bunch of translations but many of them like snitch or informant don’t really fit. It’s a special breed. The former East Germany for example had the secret police called Stasi and they had a huge network of Spitzel who would report if all the citizens are in line. Those who have seen the movie “Das Leben der Anderen” will know exactly what I mean. Generally, Spitzel has a negative connotation in German and it’s generally a plant that grows on authoritarian soil.

  • Der Spitzel berichtet der Polizei.
  • The police spy reports to the police.
  • In Ostdeutschland wurden viele Menschen bespitzelt.
  • In East Germany, many people were being spied on.

I can’t really tell you for a fact, where this meaning comes from, but I think it fits quite nicely with the idiom die Ohren spitzen, which we had earlier.
Cool.
Last but not least, let’s give an honorable mention to die Speiche(n), which is the German version of spoke as in spokes of a wheel.
And of course the noun der Spieß which kind of brings us full circle because it is pretty much the original essence of the whole family – a skewer, a sharp wooden stick.

And I think that’s enough for today :). This was our look at the meaning of spitz and its family.
There are a few other related words out there, and I’ll include some in the quiz and the vocab, so if you want to learn some more and recap at the same time… take it. The quizz.
If you want to check how much you remember you can take the spitzen-quiz I have prepared for you.
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 with a new episode of German with Spitz und Stumpf... well… okay, just with me.

EDIT: preliminary results suggest that the quiz is … quite hard :). Definitely harder than usual. It’s a real challenge this time, so don’t expect to get it all right.

 

** vocab **

spitz – sharp (for pointy objects)
scharf – sharp (for edges)

stumpf – dull, not sharp

die Spitze – the tip, the top, the peak
die Zehenspitze – the tip of the toe
das Fingerspitzengefühl – the tact, refined social skills
der Spitzensportler – the top athlete

der Spitzen-BH – the lace bra
der Spitzname – the nickname

die Ohren spitzen – to listen up, to get curious
anspitzen – to sharpen (for pencils)
sich zuspitzen – to come to a head, to escalate
(only in combination with nouns that mean situation)

der Spitzel – the police spy (authoritarian)
bespitzeln – to spy on citizens

die Speiche(n) – the spoke(s)
der Spieß – the skewer, the spear, the pike
den Spieß umdrehen – to turn the tables (idiom)
aufspießen – impale, to skewer

überspitzt – exaggerated (rare)

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GlennNYC
GlennNYC
1 year ago

Interesting aside, at the time of the Edward Snowden disclosures,the cover of Stern magazine called Obama Der Spitzel.

crw
crw
2 years ago

By amusing coincidence, I just happened to read this article after watching a video that mentioned the origins of English “nickname” as from an old cognate of German “auch,” “eac” and later (after some vowel shifting) “eek”. Then an-eekname eventually became a-nickname.

xenarose
xenarose
2 years ago

I was thinking of the Zugspitze Burg while learning this. The name does make sense now!

Faddel
Faddel
2 years ago

I think that quiz was so funny and informative, thanks Emanuel for your efforts.

Marissa
Marissa
2 years ago

Great post. A couple of thoughts:

1. Necken is totally false cognate in English… not sure if you’re aware, but “necking” in English is another way to say making out/kissing. Used in the boomer generation. Us millenials would just roll our eyes when our parents would say it around us. :)

2. So, you said that you can add ‘Spitzen-‘ before a noun, but what about ‘Spitz-‘ as in ‘Spitzname’? Is that the only situation where you don’t have the ‘en’?

3. Super minor typo, but we write “ouch” and not “outch”. :) Your German is showing. :) :) ;)

mw123
mw123
2 years ago

Wo ist spitzig? Spitzig habe ich lieber als spitz. Spitzig ist spitziger als spitz, nach meiner Meinung.

Ian
Ian
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

I have heard spitzig in Zürich. Makes more sense to me (as English speaker) as I want to do something to a noun to make it an adjective, e.g. the rock, rocky or der Fels, felsig, and der Spitz, spitzig.

Liv
Liv
2 years ago

Thank you for this… first of all because I actually laughed out loud at Spitz and Stumpf and second of all as I literally the other day heard this word used by my boyfriend’s friend in Germany (zoom party) to describe his English (as I was saying it was good) so now it all makes sense.

Bori
Bori
2 years ago

100% wohhoooo! I knew like 80% of the words that you described in the article, and whenever that happens I am always super happy and proud but then I read your comments, like btw there are are tons of other expressions with this word, but not so common etc..and I am like how many more, tell me, tell me, when is this memorizing-like-20-words-a-day-routine gonna end??? Probably never, there are just too many words in this languageps.: I am too tired today to write in German, so let out my frustration in English:P Tschüssi

Bori
Bori
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

yeah, I agree with you on the concept, it´s just that I gained a bit of OCD when it comes to German learning:P btw, spitzfindig belongs here as well? not sure, but it starts with spitz…:)

Bori
Bori
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

that´s what my colleague called me:D:D I would say pedantic, hair-splitting. My colleague told me it was not so strong as hair-splitting though

Capital_ Ash_
Capital_ Ash_
2 years ago

sorry for commenting too often, but i just want to compliment you for the articles’ quality. i was starting with your oldest articles about grammar and such, and I must say that you now write way better! Die Artikeln sind jetzt Weltspitze, du spitzen-schreiber ;). hope those were appropriate usages of the words lol

Capital_ Ash_
Capital_ Ash_
2 years ago

Haval! Gib mir einfach einen koeftespiess!

Capital_ Ash_
Capital_ Ash_
2 years ago

gespaltene Spitzen? another word for that is spliss right?

samespinoza94
samespinoza94
2 years ago

Always wonderful to be able to come here and learn new words, it is helping me build my vocab quite spectacularly.
I also want to give a special thanks to this community and Emmanuel for the sponsorship into the program. I had it for six months and are going through a rough patch, but dont want to lose my German. And thanks to the program I am able to keep studying.
Lots of love to everyone. Viel Spaß und vielen dank ❤

Pentatomidae
Pentatomidae
2 years ago

If you check out Vermeer’s picture of the Lacemaker you can see lace being made. It’s pretty obvious why you would call it needle work – and anyone putting their hand down accidentally on a lacemaker’s work would probably say it was pretty pointy! The whole work surface is usually covered with pins.

Actually English is full of words describing embroidery that include the word ‘point’ – needlepoint for example.

Alicen
Alicen
2 years ago

Nur eine Beobachtung… You mentioned something about being cautious when using ‘spitze’ in a conversation. I just wanted to mention, that the kids on the ‘Peppa Würz’ show used the word quite a bit with each other (that’s how I first heard of it). It is also interesting, your notes on how the former East Germany used the word to mean something connected with spying (never knew that before, and I do like learning these little tidbits about the former DDR)!
Also, German as a language appears to be changing pretty rapidly; there seem to be new words being added to the language every day. My courses focus mainly on the usual, ‘regular’ words – but particularly with the Internet, and the younger generations of German learners, they are not exactly learning their grandparents’ German, you know what I mean? German seems to be evolving constantly, and new words are being added all the time so it is exciting to be part of the present-day language, as well as the stuff from past days.
Es ist spitze, Alter….
;)

pmccann
pmccann
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

* which is cringeworthy/which makes me cringe/(or even, if you’re feeling like testing the pedants) which is cringey.

Actually, your usage –“is cringe”– is also occasionally handy, but almost exclusively when you’re actively trying to sound like you’re writing a stereotypical youtube comment. And if that is was what was happening above, then the joke’s on me. Again…

Kathryn Braun Fenner
Kathryn Braun Fenner
2 years ago

My guess on why lace is “Spitz” is that it was originally made with needles–and some times still is.

Alison
Alison
2 years ago

I really enjoyed this and learnt alot. Didn’t do too badly on quiz- 6.

daschles
daschles
2 years ago

Hi – just curious about your first example: “Achtung, der Ball ist sehr spitz.”
“Das macht absolut keinen Sinn.” — I often read grumpy German articles about how “macht Sinn” is an Englishism that should be driven out of German with pointy, sharp needles…. Do you think it is now perfectly fine and acceptable German and we shouldn’t worry about purists?

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  daschles

In my experience, that’s the case. You might run across somebody now and again who gets grumpy about it, but it’s overwhelmingly common among native speakers, at least anybody under 40 (and probably a lot of folks older than that too).

GANESH NARAYANAN
GANESH NARAYANAN
2 years ago

Hi
This is my first time . Aber es ist fantantisch .

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago

How about ein Spitzbub

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Spitzbub is also the name of a type of cookie with jam that looks a bit like a smily

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago

I think there’s an n missing in “Ich spitze meinen Bleistift an,” unless I’m having a duh moment. And I think Maria might have two nicknames crossing paths, Lama and Zebra.

Exciting to see the new formatting options :)

AmyPond
AmyPond
2 years ago
Reply to  coleussanctus

Das dachte ich auch. Und was ist der Unterschied zwischen spitzen und anspitzen? Danke!

Elisabeth
Elisabeth
2 years ago
Reply to  AmyPond

The difference should be the regions in which they’re used. “Anspitzen” mostly just sounds German to my Austrian ears, which have only ever heard “spitzen”. (So “Ich spitze meinen Bleistift.”)
Both are fine to use like that.

I think there is a slight difference in that “anspitzen” is the act of making the pencil sharp and “spitzen” is more so the act of turning the pencil around in the sharpener (both have the same effect so it does not matter).

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

For the record, I think spitz actually sounds like what spitzen/anspitzen means. Like, you turn your pencil around in a little handheld sharpener, and it goes spitzspitzspitz…

Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

der Kuli – Spitzname für Kügelschreiber
der Spitz – kleine Art Rassenhund aus ursprünglich Pommern?? Warum heißt es Spitz?

FRAGE -!!!!!!

Kann man doch einen Bleistift auch (an) schärfen?
weil-
Ich habe eine wunderbare alte Guhl & Harbeck Jupiter 2 Bleistiftschärfmaschine. (100 Jahre alt)
Dieses Wort ”Bleistiftschärfmaschine” steht goldfärbig darauf geprägt.

hier
Bilder von einer Jupiters 1

https://www.ebay.de/itm/Guhl-Harbeck-Jupiter-1-Bleistiftscharfmaschine-Spitzer/224002360862?hash=item342794c61e:g:8EwAAOSwS7xes-sK

AmyPond
AmyPond
2 years ago
Reply to  Elisabeth

Thanks! I’ve never used anspitzen – that’s great to know.

Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
2 years ago
Reply to  Elisabeth

Wo san di Lauscher in Österreich eigentli zuhaus, wan i fragn darf??? Bin aba ganz neug’rig.
Habn Si Spitznama Sissy?

Ami aus Alaska