and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we will look at the meaning of:
After we dealt with the heavy ass her last time, I promised you something light-hearted, something to gracefully defy the ever dragging gravity of grammar,
something to escape the rocky landscape of structure in which only scarcely a full stop will grow,
something to gaily soar above the worrisome valleys where gender and cases thrive, wild and diverse, befogging even the brightest mind,
something to blithely hang out on the highest branch of the big German oak tree,
from where even the farthest verb can be seen, and … eventually shit on someones car…
Exactly… der Vogel is the German word for bird. And the reason to pick this is because it pecked first…
(they are not laughing yet, gotta wait for it to sink in… still nothing… hmm… I guess I’ll just go on as if this joke never happened)
So the reason to pick this is because German is using birds in A LOT of idiomatic expressions for some reason. Generally lots of idioms involve animals in some way but I think Vogelappears most frequently. So… we will look at some of those expressions today and we’ll start right away with the der Vogel itself.
If you call someone, a man that is, a Vogel, that is clearly an insult…
- Was willst du denn du Vogel?
- Now what do YOU want, you weirdo?
- Thomas ist echt voll der Vogel.
- Thomas is a real idiot.
- Irgendein Vogel hat mich heute morgen um 5 angerufen.
- Some idiot called me this morning at 5.
When you add bunt the meaning changes. Bunt means colorful and a bunter Vogel is someone who is a little out there but not necessarily in a bad way.
- Thomas ist ein bunter Vogel.
- Thomas is an eccentric/an original/ a rare bird.
If you add komisch you get a weird bird… it is not as insulting as plain Vogel but still it is a bit negative.
- Das war echt ein komischer Vogel.
- That really was a strange guy.
Now let’s continue with the compounds.
Ein Vogelhaus is a bird house and ein Vogelnest is a birds nest, those are easy to guess but what about Spaßvogel… literally it means fun bird, but what is that supposed to be? Well, a Spaßvogel simply is … a joker… ok no that might be confusing to some… it is a person who cracks a lot of jokes…
- Thomas muss zu meiner Party kommen. Er ist ein echter Spaßvogel.
- Thomas has to come to my party. He is a real joker.
I was not able to dig up an explanation as to why we say Spaßvogel and not … Spaßkuh or Spaßpferd but it still is a rather widely used term. However I honestly have to say, that it has a bit of a sarcastic undertone to me… it is not all ironic in that all the jokes suck but still, I think it is not really flattering someone to call him or her Spaßvogel.
Similar to Spaßvogel is the word Pechvogel. Pech is misfortune or bad luck so a Pechvogel would be a bad luck bird… and it means unlucky fellow. If you lose your wallet, step in dog shit with both feet, get served stale beer and when you get home your partners mother just unpacks… then you are a Pechvogel. Hey by the way… bad luck bird does actually sound kind of catchy… especially abbreviated:
- Man my day sucked, lost my wallet, my bike got stolen and I flunked the test…
- BLB man, BLB…
Pechvogel is really widespread and it doesn’t sound sarcastic at all… even a bit emphatic.
As for the origin of this term, I have found something. Pech is actaully a black substance, in English tar pitch or pitch and this is the original meaning of Pech.
Now in medieval times they would use it to hunt birds. They would smear the Pech on branches and when a bird sat down there, it was stuck in Pech… hence it is a Pechvogel. Imagine the hunting party…
“Behold my prince and look thither, that bird is all stuck now.”
” Yes, he won’t go anywhere… that imbecile .. thought he was in for some rye… but all he is for now is soup.”
“Hahaha… indeed he’s got some serious tar pitch on his feet.”
“Hahaha yes, tar pitch little bird, tar pitch I say.”
They were one funny folk back then… Sounds crazy but this is supposedly the reason why Pech nowadays means bad luck.
Anyway… there are more compounds and some also include specific birds. I don’t want to discuss all in detail but here is a short list of the ones I could think of… this is certainly not complete.
- Lockvogel – lure bird (lit.) – a decoy (if a person)
- Schluckspecht – gulp pecker (lit.) – person drinking lots of alcohol/boozer
- Schnapsdrossel – booze throstle – again: person drinking lots of booze
- Rabenmutter – raven mother – a bad mother, who doesn’t care about her kids too much- this is a heavy insult for a mother so be careful
- Dreckspatz – dirt sparrow – usually used for kids, when they come home dirty from the playground
- Bordsteinschwalbe – road curb swallow – a hooker
- Schwalbe – swallow – a dive in sports especially in soccer, this is the “official” term in German, the origin is probably because the flight looked so pretty
And now let’s get to the expressions with verbs… and prepare for some randomness right there :).
The first expression is with the verb haben.
- Maria hat einen Vogel.
- Maria has a bird.
This can of course mean that Maria literally has a bird. But let’s look at in in some context:
- “Maria hat gestern ihrem Boss gesagt, dass er ein Idiot ist. Die hat echt einen Vogel.”
Seems kind of random to mention that she has a bird, doesn’t it… having a bird in German actually means to be a bit crazy… I mean having a sparrow living in your head WOULD be a bit distracting after all :).
So if you have a bird, you are a bit crazy but what if you want to show it to someone? Well, you shouldn’t because that would be an insult.
- Der Mann im Auto neben mir zeigt mir einen Vogel.
Literally this means that the man in the car next to me is showing me a bird… conceded… if we are in BAD traffic and we are REALLY bored, this might be an actual bird but usually it means somethings else…. einen Vogel zeigen is the action of tapping your index finger at your forehead repeatedly to let the other person know that you think he or she is crazy. If you think to hard, this really doesn’t make any freaking sense. I mean you point at yourself after all and we’ve learned that Vogel all by it self is an insult… anyway… here is an example from business German.
- ” Heute ist so ein Vogel in mein Büro gekommen und hat nach einer Gehaltserhöhung gefragt.”
“Und? Was hast du gemacht?”
“Na ich hab’ ihm einen Vogel gezeigt natürlich… “
- “Today, some idiot came into my office and asked for a raise.”
“So? What’d you do?”
“Basically I told him to f*** off by gesture…”
The last idiom is rather brutal in the literal meaning as the bird gets shot.
- Thomas hat heute den Vogel abgeschossen.
- Thomas shot the bird today (lit.)
The origin of this is probably a marksmen competition of German shooting clubs. They would shoot at a wooden bird and whoever hit it was proclaimed the shooting king… this came with honor but often also with the obligation to pay everyones bill … so while being the best at something it is not all positive. And this is what den Vogel abschiessen is used for today. You do something extraordinary that no one has come close to but what you did was nothing to aim for in the first place.
- Marc hat heute den Vogel abgeschossen und 0 Punkte im Diktat… sogar der Name ist falsch.
- Marc has jumped the shark today and has 0 points in the spelling quizz… even the name is wrong.
This example might be a little extreme and in newspapers you may find it also used in a non-sarcastic way… so someone really achieved something good. But to me it has a sarcastic notion by default and I find it odd to hear it in a positive way.
Now all that’s left is the grammar. The plural of der Vogel is die Vögel, and in plural case 3 we will have to add an extra n… and this time this is BIG TIME FUN! Why you ask? Well… let’s first look at an example.
- Amy fliegt mit den Vögeln.
- Amy is flying with the birds.
So far nothing exciting, but what if I told you that vögeln as a verb means… to fuck… oh the pun-sibilities. Here is a compilation of sentences to say to your date and look at the reaction.
- Also… hast du auch so grosses Interesse an vögeln wie ich?
- So… do you also take such big interest in …birds like I do?
- Soll ich dir was von vögeln erzählen?
- Should I tell you something about …. birds?
- Ich verstehe viel von Vögeln.
- I am well versed with … birds.
And finally the classic
- Ich bin gut zu vögeln.
- I am nice to … birds.
And I thus conclude our Word of the Day: der Vogel. It means bird, but German uses it for sooo much more. If you have questions or suggestions just leave me a comment, and of course I’d like to read your success stories with the material I gave you :)… cross your fingers that I make it save through puberty, hope you liked it and see you next time.