In this column, author Adam Jacot de Boinod explores the weird and wonderful world of German and Italian vocabulary and discovers some rather interesting terms. Let us look at what he found.

The German vocabulary has a healthy range for the generic types that we have all encountered at some stage:

Krawattenmuffel: someone who does not like wearing ties
Zechpreller: someone who leaves without paying the bill
Spesenritter: somebody who shows off by paying the bill on the firm’s money (literally, an expense knight)
Klatschbase: someone who always gossips (literally, a whacking aunt)
Schürzenjaeger: somebody who chases after women (literally, a hunter of aprons)
Nestbeschmutzer: someone ruining the reputation of the family or community (literally, someone who puts dirt on the nest)
Radfahrer: somebody who flatters superiors and browbeats subordinates (literally, a cyclist)
Sitzriese: somebody who is actually quite short but looks tall when they are sitting down (literally, a sitting giant)
hemdsärmelig: someone who behaves and acts very rustically (literally, shirt-sleeved)
krüsch: (northern German) somebody who dislikes a lot of foods (and is therefore difficult to cook for)
Erbsenzähler: someone concerned with small things (literally, a counter of peas)
– Mäusemelker: somebody who eagerly concentrates on the nitty-gritty rather than the bigger picture (literally, someone who milks mice)
Schnarchnase: someone who is slow in acting (literally, a snoring nose)
Zeit totschlagen: somebody who has free time but does not know what to do, so does something senseless (literally, to beat time to death)
Leisetreter: somebody who does not want to be noticed, lurker (literally, a quiet kicker)

A life of crime

Italian offers a rich vocabulary for different types of crime and criminal. Smonta, for example, is a theft carried out on a bus or train from which the perpetrator gets off as soon as possible, while scavalco (literally, climbing over) is a robbery carried out via a window or balcony. A nighttime burglary is a serenata (literally, a serenade) which may well involve an orchestra, or a gang of thieves and possibly be accompanied by a palo, an accomplice who acts as lookout.

Adam Jacot de Boinod worked on the first series of the BBC panel game QI for Stephen Fry. He is a British author having written three books about unusual words with Penguin Press.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Discover Germany Magazine.’

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