Word of the Day – “verpeilen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German word of the Day. And after last our intense look at auf last fart-night this time we’ll take it easy and…  Wait, I meant fortnight. Fart-night is what I had yesterday. Beans for dinner
you know.
So yeah, obviously we’ll definitely take it very easy and and have a look at a cool little word that’s 100% colloquial. So you won’t find it in newspapers and definitely not in your textbook.  Get ready for a look at

verpeilen

 

And to understand verpeilen, we’ll first look at peilen. And to understand peilen we’ll first need to look at ei. And to understand ei, we’ll first need to look at hen. And to understand hen… okay okay I’ll stop the stupid right now.
Pure, raw facts delivered at light speed from now on. Ready. Goooo

Peilen originally was seaman’s language and it is based on the noun der Pegel. Not much is known about the origin of it but we do know that it’s related to pail, a rare English word for a bucket, and that at its core, a Pegel was about   the following: “how high a liquid is“. Sounds rather specific and strange but think about,  for seamen that was actually an important thing. In shallow waters, it does matter how much water there is under the keel and on open sea it does matter how much rum there is in the barrel.
Pegel has broadened a little bit over the years but water and alcohol are still the most important contexts for it.

  • Die Stadt ist erleichtert, weil der Pegel des Flusses wieder sinkt.
  • The town is relieved because the water level or the river dropping again.
  • Der Lautstärkepegel ist zu hoch.
  • The noise level/volume is too high.
  • Dass der Alkoholpegel im Flugzeug schneller steigt, als am Boden, ist ein Märchen.
  • It’s a fairy tale that the alcohol level in the blood rises more quickly in airplanes.
  • Pegeltrinker trinken nicht um betrunken zu werden, sondern um normal zu funktionieren.
  • Delta alcoholics/level alcoholics don’t drink to get drunk but rather to function normally.

Now, the verb peilen was originally about the act of gaugeing the Pegel. But the sailors soon started using it for other measurements, too,  and over time it shifted focus a bit toward the idea of direction. There’s a nice figure of speech that captures the vibe of peilen pretty well… über den Daumen peilen. It expresses the idea of giving a rough estimate for something.

  • “Wie viel wird deine Australienreise ungefähr kosten?”
    Über den Daumen gepeilt 2000 Euro.”
  • “How much will your trip to Australia roughly cost?”
    “2000 Euro by rule of thumb/as a rough measurement.

Just think  of a sailor pinpointing the position of the ship by looking at the stars over his thumb. There’s a fair chance to get off course a bit. And that brings us to verpeilen. The ver- adds its notion of wrong to the direction-idea of peilen. and in colloquial everyday German it has come to be a very very common option for to forget.

  • Ich hab’ voll verpeilt, dass ich morgen arbeiten muss.
  • I completely forgot that I have to work tomorrow.

Wait whaaaaaaaaaaaaat? How did we get to the meaning to forget again?
Well, remember the sailor measuring the position of the ship? And originally, verpeilen simply meant to mis-measure. The step to the colloquial meaning it has today is simply to see your life as ship. And in the example above you just got it a little wrong. You thought you’re merrily sailing toward day off island when you were headed right for working bay. You’ve verpeilt (mis-calculated) your current position, if that makes sense.  That’s the underlying .. uhm… logic and that also kind of helps understand why verpeilen does NOT work for forgetting objects. Like… your phone on the table. Verpeilen only works as a translation for to forget in sense of events or stuff you’re supposed to do.

  • Ich habe verpeilt, mich nach meinem Umzug umzumelden, und jetzt muss ich Strafe zahlen.
  • I forgot to notify a change of address after I moved and now I have to pay a fine.
  • Ich verpeil’ Freitag abend immer, meinen Wecker für’s Wochenende auszumachen.
  • I always forget Friday night to turn off my alarm for the weekend.

But the related words are commonly used to express the idea of a general forgetfulness or certain mental confusion.

  • Der Physik-Professor ist so verpeilt, er verwechselt ständig Einstein und Bohr.
  • The physics professor is so out of it/dopey, he always confused Einstein and Bohr.
  • “Thomas ist heute mega verpeilt.”
    “Ja, gestern war Whisky Tasting.”
    “Oh, verstehe.”
  • “Thomas is really confsued/out of it today.”
    “Yeah, there was a Whisky tasting yesterday.”
    “Oh, I see.”
  • Ich bin so ein Verpeiler, ey.
  • I’m sooo forgetful/such an idiot (small scale stuff).

All these phrasings are super common in daily life among all age groups pretty much and you should definitely add them to your active vocabulary. So next time you forget something or you’re just a little confused, try and use verpeilen. Your friends will be really impressed :)

Cool.
A few more words on peilen before we wrap up. The verb isn’t used much at all, but there are a couple of things worth noting.
First of, peilen can be used as a slangy alternative for to understand. It’s by no means as mainstream as verpeilen though.

  • Ich hasse Mathe – ich peil das einfach nicht.
  • I hate math – I just don’t understand it.

And then, there’s the prefix version anpeilen, which expresses the idea of to (roughly) shoot for/aim for something. 

  • Das Startup peilt den Sommer für die Veröffentlichung der App an.
  • The startup sets their sights on/aims at summer for the release of the app.
  • Die Partei hat das angepeilte Ergebnis verpasst.
  • The party missed the result they had set their sights on. (lit.: “the targeted result”)

And that’s it for today. This was our look at the meaning of verpeilen which went from a noun that was about the very important question of how high a liquid is into German colloquial mainstream.
As always, if you have any questions or if you want to try out some examples with verpeilen, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Btw: there’s a verb picheln which also comes from der Pegel and which is a slang verb for drinking alcohol. Can you make the connection :)?

** vocab ** 

der Pegel – the level of liquid, also: level of blood alcohol
der Pegeltrinker – the delta alcoholic
der Schallpegel – the volume (of sound, technical)

anpeilen – aim for
verpeilen – to forget (events, stuff you need to do, NOT objects)
der Verpeiler – person who is forgetful, confused
verpeilt – confused, out of it (not in a serious sense)

 

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Ruben-Laurentiu Grab
Ruben-Laurentiu Grab
4 years ago

Hi, everyone! I am so glad to be part of this community, and I would like to thank everyone who donated, for your generosity! You are awesome! I promise to make the best of the membership I was granted as result of your actions!

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
4 years ago

While I’m bombarding the comments section with comments… I’d just like to say that I think it’s great that Ema’s posts stay up for days before a new one is posted – gives me time to read and re-read them, look up words, write practice sentences and really let all the great info in each post sink in. And the comments section is very enlightening! It certainly does take a village, doesn’t it!

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
4 years ago

Boring grammar inquiry – “über den Daumen gepeilt” – is the “den Daumen” part singular accusative masculine or plural dative? “Über” being a 2-way preposition. If you like “Guestimate” you must love “Staycation”. What would “Staycation” be in German?

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Vielen Dank für die Links! Ich habe ein Trailer für “Die Slupetzkis” gefundet im Internet! Die Artikel hat nichts unversucht gelassen! All the new vocabulary I’m learning in that article! Beats NDR news!

crittermonster
4 years ago

On a further Mark Twain-esque note…Do you think “peilen” is related to the word “pilot”? Both the verb (to guide a boat through shoal waters) and the person who does it? Seems likely….

Larry
Larry
4 years ago

Now some trivia for you regarding English. During the 18th century American river boat sailors also measured their position on the river by how much water filled a bucket. When making their measurements they announced when they made their measurement by yelling out, “Mark,” to which the pilot would answer, “Twain. These words impressed a young pilot trainee by the name of Samuel Clemens, who later chose his pen name accordingly. Did you know that story.

crittermonster
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Oh and Emmanuel…”twain” means “two”.
I always think of “zwei” as “twain” (obviously by its sound, not its spelling) and “zwanzig” as “twain-zig”. Also twain may have affinities with twin.

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
4 years ago
Reply to  Larry

Larry: Jawohl! Heard that story when we visited the “Mark Twain House”. One of my favorite authors – the man who said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” And I agree with Crittermonster – twain-zwei: “Never The Twain Shall Meet” in my head every time I hear “zwei”. We moved between Chicago, DC and New Orleans my entire life, with the weather so yeah, “pail” and “twain” not at all unusual words for Southerners – although not widely used in Chicago.

And now for Today’s Swedish Info: The Swedish TV Inspectors (the guys that check to see if people who don’t pay their TV-license really don’t have a TV-set) “pejla”. Pejla (pron: paila) is to decide the direction, check the level, sound out; as in to get a feel for, check the level of. Directly from the German.

Sierra
Sierra
4 years ago

In the example, “I hate math…” does the recording actually say “das alles” because it doesn’t sound like it to me. It seems like the speaker says “Ich hasse Mathe – ich peil einfach nicht.” Perhaps my ‘ear’ for Deutsch is still too weak. Please clarify when you get a moment. Thanks

Charlie Joe
Charlie Joe
4 years ago

A “pail” is not a seldom used word in English. There is a famous nursery rhyme that uses it and I learned long ago on school.

Jack and Jill
Went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down
And broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after

I think it may have been recently in the last century that bucket became more common but where I’m from in the Southern USA it was common enough when I was a boy.

Also in the USA, Labor Day is one of our like six, I think, national holidays, the unofficial last day of summer, Memorial Day is the beginning of unofficial summer, if you don’t know, but “Labor Bay” is so close to Labor Day that an American from the USA wouldn’t have chosen that wording for a day of work. Yes I know what labor means. Working Day Bay might have been chosen instead. Just a thought from a a distant continent.

Sierra
Sierra
4 years ago
Reply to  Charlie Joe

I agree. Pail is actually often used, at least in my world. I am no linguist, but it seems to be especially used with children toys. The ‘sand pail’ for going to the beech. The pail for the bathtub time. It seems frequently used in gardening too. Like the Southern person, in my Yankee upbringing I definitely heard and learned the word.

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
4 years ago

I‘d say „über den Daumen“ was „Guestimate“.

Poyma
Poyma
4 years ago

Maybe verpeilen translates into English as “spaced” as in, “I spaced out that I had a quiz this morning”.
Thank you as always for an enjoyable and very helpful stroll through the tricky but fascinating terrain that is German!

Sal.
Sal.
4 years ago

Wow!!! I love this connection!! One of my favourite expressions I learnt early on from a friend was “den Pegel halten” when we were standing next to the Pegel on the Rhein in Köln :D. Now in Berlin I´ve experienced, I believe, what “verpeilt” means many times. Now I can connect both worlds!

Somi
Somi
4 years ago

Ich finde Ruths Erklaerung gut. Daumen hoch

Michelle
Michelle
4 years ago

We also have the unit of dry volume – a ‘peck’, which is part of the great tongue twister ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers’ A peck being 2 gallons. The expression I mentioned above seems to be more common with a ‘peck of dirt’. (Personally I’d rather consume a peg, than a peck!) Anyway, my point being they must all have roots with Pegel.

person243
person243
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

The thing with a dozen is that in history, there was no consense in the field of numeral systems. One civilization might have used the octal numeral system, others the sexagesimal system and others the decimal system and whatever the Romans did (XD). In the Germanic tribes, I guess, they used for certain stuff the duodecimal system. The system with the base 12. That is why we have name for the numbers from one to twelve but count “thirteen, fourteen…” afterwords.
So a dozen like ten today was something special because it was a smooth number (“glatt”). In the same way was “60” which is five times twelve and six time ten a very special number, so it came to use for time. 60 seconds are one minute and 60 minutes are one hour, twelve hours for the day, twelve hours for the night, twelve month a year, there you have it again.
The last one is probably the cosmic constant that resulted in this. You have 12 full moons a year, that was something even the tribes in the stone age should have been able to count.
“peg” and “peck” both stem from the gallone system. It seems, the British like to divide or multiply by 2 for their units. Hence you have a new name for two gallones and for a quarter, an eighth, a sixteenth which is a “cup” and a tenth of a cup is a “fluid ounce” which is aprox. 28.41 ml which was rounded to 30 ml for a peg.

Michelle
Michelle
4 years ago

Interestingly in English (Google tells me from India/Nepal) we have the measurement of volume of a ‘peg’, which is 30ml. I only know this from an expression my parents used to use and that is ‘a peg of dirt’ is good for a child. It meant they would be less likely to pick up illnesses/germs etc if they, over the course of childhood, consumed a peg of dirt along the way!

Ruth
Ruth
4 years ago

In English “pickled” applied to a person means very drunk. Perhaps from the same source as “picheln”.
Verpeilen fits with the notion of memory as a bucket. My excuse for not remembering new stuff is that the bucket’s full.

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
4 years ago
Reply to  Ruth

Pickled! Didn‘t think of that – „picheln“ makes me think of „Pitcher“, as in drinking pitchers of beer.

Ubungmachtdenmeister
Ubungmachtdenmeister
4 years ago

Verpeilen. Super cool. Ist es immer vergessen für Dinge oder gibt es was umgangssprachlicher. Cooles Wort nah?

BieneMaya
BieneMaya
4 years ago

Super! Thank you for this entry! I’ve heard “verpeilt” translated as “messed up” . Could “das ist verpeilt” mean “this is messed up”?