and welcome to our German Word of the Day.
This time, with a quick look at the meaning of
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.
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.
“In deiner Tasche ist irgendwas Spitzes.”
“Was machst du in meiner Tasche?”
“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.
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.
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 tail… penis. 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.
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.
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- Question 1 of 10
What’s the core idea of the spitz?
- Question 2 of 10
What’s the opposite of spitz?
- Question 3 of 10
What’s the difference between scharf and spitz?
- Question 4 of 10
Which of the following is NOT a translation for die Spitze?
- Question 5 of 10
Typing time. Use your fingertips to type the German word for… fingertip
- Question 6 of 10
Maria often calls Thomas “Couch”.
So in German you’d say Couch is his ….
- Question 7 of 10
What does it mean when your date tells you that your dinner was spitze?
- Question 8 of 10
Which of the following expresses that a movie was top notch.
- Question 9 of 10
Where do you usually find Spitzel?
- Question 10 of 10
The noun der Spieß is a skewer was it also used for basic spears.
What do you think is the meaning of the following common German idiom:
“Maria dreht den Spieß um.”
(Maria turns around the “Spieß”)
** 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)