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Some seasonal German words

The Secret Santa way of giving presents is becoming ever more popular in the UK, and whilst the practice is the same in Germany, there is an actual verb for it: “wichteln”. Look up “der Wichtel” and you will find the translation gnome, pixy, elf, but the derivation of the word is older than this: in the Old Norse/North German myths (Sagen), “der Wichtel” was specifically the do-er of secret good deeds. It’s an archaic word now, so don’t try to use it as a noun, but “wichteln” is common as a verb.

Perversely, and this is by no means peculiar to German culture, the process can be twisted into a competition to give the most ridiculous, tasteless present. This becomes known as a “Schrottwichtel”, as “Schrott” means rubbish, both in terms of unwanted tat, and spoken nonsense.

If you are the recipient of one of these junk presents, the temptation might be to stick it in a drawer and wait for the opportunity to pass it on to someone who might actually have a use for it. There is a German word for a present that continually gets passed around, and might even make its way back to the original giver: “das Rundgeschenk”, literally a present that goes round.

N.B. remember our famous old false friend, “das Gift” which has nothing to do with presents and everything to do with poison!

One more choice word for you, and apologies for the negative slant during this festive period, if you are the sort of person who resents the pressure to have fun on New Year’s Eve (known as “Silvester” in Germany, after the Saint’s day on which it falls), you might describe yourself as a “Silvestermuffel”. As a verb, “muffeln” means to smell musty, and this image transfers quite nicely as a personal characteristic. You will only get the chance to use “Silvestermuffel” around this time of year, but if ever you wish to describe someone as not a morning person, then the word you want is “Morgenmuffel”!

Finally: the standard way to wish someone a Happy New Year is “Ein gutes neues Jahr” but the cool way is to say: “Guten Rutsch”, by which you are wishing someone a “good slide” into the New Year.

Guten Rutsch!

Andrew Wenger

There are places in our online German groups at beginner, intermediate and advanced level. We would also dearly like to (re)start an in-person group, somewhere in the Reading area – anywhere from Pangbourne to Twyford, depending on where the demand is highest. If you, or someone you know, might like to find out more about joining a group, please contact me here.

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