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The Curiosity of the Word “Der Schnickschnack” Posted by on Apr 26, 2018 in Culture, Language, vocabulary

You know when you rent a car, you can get all kinds of Versicherungen (insurances) – do you really need them? Or is it just all SchnickschnackSchnick-what? What is this word? Let’s find out!

Click here for previous entries in the series on curious words in German

Where does it come from?

So ein Schnickschnack: Wertloses Zeug! (What knick-knack: useless stuff!) (Image by foursummers at Pixabay.com under license CC0)

Der Schnickschnack can easily be translated to the everyday word “frills” or the expression “bells and whistles”. People don’t want stuff with Schnickschnack, superfluous stuff that only makes the product or service more burdensome but just not more useful. Frills, makes sense – they are there for being pretty, but serve no particular function. In the worst case, they are in the way. Bells and whistles, again, only add a burden. Having one bell, or one whistle, is enough. You cannot use them all at once, and if you would, it would only make things more confusing than better.

But Schnickschnack?

Schnickschnack is a so-called Reduplikation (reduplication), which repeats (a part of) a the word, for example Papa (dad). It is quite uncommon in German. Schnickschnack is such a Reduplikation, because you have Schnick, which repeats Schnack. And what is SchnackSchnack comes from the low German schnacken (to chatter). Schnickschnack therefore also refers to empty words that people may utter. It has been around since the 18th century. So quite the old word!

It also means trinkets or knick-knack – just wertloses Zeug (useless stuff), as the Duden puts it.

Game show!

Schnickschnack also was the name of a game show in the 1970s in Germany. It was based on the American show “The Match Game”. In it, the host would give a sentence in which one word was “blank”. The players had to guess the word, and come up with the most comical answer.

Although I could not find original footage of it, above is a version of the original American show in which they do something really cool: Instead of saying the usual “blank”, they say, as the Germans do, Schnickschnack! As they explain, in German, there is no word for “blank”, which is why they use the word Schnickschnack. That is not really true, of course (“blank” could translate to leer or unausgefüllt, but that does not roll off the tongue as well as Schnickschnack!).

Does your language use a rather curious word to say “bells and whistles”? What do you think of Schnickschnack? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author:Sten

Hi! I am Sten, and I am half Dutch and half German. I was on exchange in the United States, and I really enjoyed that year! So in that sense, I kind of have three nationalities... I love all of them!