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The German Word Fisimatenten Posted by on Nov 11, 2020 in Language

Guten Tag! Today we’re looking at a peculiar German word: Fisimatenten.

If you’re thinking, Well, that doesn’t look like a German word, you’d be right! There are a few different theories as to this word’s origins.

But before we get into that, what on earth does Fisimatenten actually mean?

Photo by John Lambrechts on Unsplash

Die Fisimatenten

Fisimatenten is difficult to translate accurately, as it has a variety of meanings, but it roughly translates to ‘nonsense’ or ‘messing about’. It is a plural word (so you wouldn’t have a singular ‘Fisimatent’, for example).

Mach keine Fisimatenten!
Don’t mess about! / Don’t make excuses! / No nonsense!

Duden describes Fisimatenten as,

“Etwas, was unnötigerweise etwas anderes behindert, verzögert”
“Something that unnecessarily hinders or delays something else”

Similar words to Fisimatenten include:

der Unsinn – nonsense
der Blödsinn – stupidity
die Dummheiten – stupid behaviour/activities
die Schwierigkeiten – difficulties (being awkward/difficult)
die Ausreden – excuses
die Umstände – fuss, bother

As you can see, there are several, different ways to use the word Fisimatenten!

So where did this word come from?

Theory 1: I am visiting my aunt – Ich besuche meine Tante

Can’t – visiting my aunt. Photo by Aaron Lee on Unsplash

The first theory is that Fisimatenten is an interpretation of the French phrase Je visite ma tante – ‘I am visiting my aunt’ – used in the 19th Century as an excuse to get out of unpleasant or unwanted plans. So when someone tells you to stop with the Fisimatenten, they are telling you to stop making excuses!

Theory 2: Come visit my tent – Besuchen Sie mein Zelt

Come visit my tent. It has a nice view. Photo by Dominik Jirovský on Unsplash

The second theory is that it is an interpretation of the phrase Visitez ma tente – ‘Visit my tent’ – allegedly said by French soldiers in the Franco-Prussian war to invite women into their tents. So when someone advises against Fisimatenten, you could say they are telling you not to get up to any ‘nonsense’ or ‘funny business’!

Theory 3: Officer commissions – Offizierspatente

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

The third and most likely theory, however, is a much more straight-forward one! It is said to come from the Latin visae patentesofficer commissions (‘Offizierspatente’ in German). Becoming an officer was such a long, arduous process back in the day, that the phrase visae patentes soon came to be used when talking about anything that was unnecessarily kompliziert (complicated) and involved a lot of hassle (die Mühe).

A note on spelling:

It is not known why Fisimatenten starts with an F rather than a V, like its origin words (visite/visitez/visae). One explanation might be, that the letter V is often pronounced like an F in German, so this may have influenced the word’s spelling. You can read more about German letter pronunciation by clicking on this post.

The French connection:

France had a big influence on Germany during the 18th Century. Click here if you’d like to read about French loanwords in the German language.

Bis bald!

Constanze

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About the Author: Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze and I live in the UK. I'm half English and half German, and have been writing about German language and culture on this blog since 2014. I am also a fitness instructor & personal trainer.


Comments:

  1. Helen:

    ThaT word brought back a memory. My late husband used it a lot and I thought that he had made it up. I never ever heard anyone else use it.
    Another memory which might interest you is when I first heard yiddish spoken. I was learning German at university and had neighbours who had survived the holocaust. I used to practise German with them. Then they invited me to a gathering they had with other Jewish friends. I was hoping to further my German skills and when I listened to them speaking my first thought was that I had lost any ability to understand German and suddenly realised they were speaking Yiddish. There was also a radio program once a week in Yiddish on a Melbourne radio station. Of course I am going back to the 1950’s!! I had a wonderful friendship with these people.

    • Constanze:

      @Helen Thank you for sharing, Helen! I am glad the post brought back memories. 🙂 Yiddish is a very interesting language!!

  2. Jane Elizabeth Romey:

    Sounds like the meaning is similar to the word shenanigans.


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