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Untranslatable German Words: Der Pantoffelheld Posted by on Nov 23, 2016 in Language

Guten Tag! Today it’s time for another untranslatable word, in which I share some of the quirkiest, coolest words the German language has to offer – and try (usually fail) to find an identical English version! This time it’s a funny one: Today’s word is der Pantoffelheld.

What does der Pantoffelheld mean?

Pantoffelheld is used to describe a man whose girlfriend/wife controls him; someone who has to ask for permission before doing anything or going anywhere, and who has no say in anything – especially at home.

bunny slippers

Die Pantoffeln – slippers. Photo by roosterfarm on flickr.com under a CC license (CC BY 2.0)

 

What is the literal translation of der Pantoffelheld?

This word is a combination of der Pantoffel (slipper – perhaps more commonly known as der Hausschuh) and der Held (hero). A slipper hero? What’s that got to do with being controlled by your girlfriend?

  • There is a German saying ‘unter dem Pantoffel stehen’ ‘to stand underneath the slippers’ – which essentially has the same meaning as the English ‘to be under the thumb’.
  • My (German) mum’s explanation was that the word Pantoffelheld takes the mickey out of the man’s lack of influence by giving him power over (making him a hero of) something completely stupid (slippers).

 

How would you use der Pantoffelheld in a sentence?

First off, you’d use it in a teasing, derogatory way, and never in a formal situation. This sentence from German newspaper Die Zeit perfectly sums up both its meaning, and how to use it:

Einst war der Major ein Held, jetzt ist er nur noch Pantoffelheld.
‘Once the Major was a hero, but now he’s just a ‘slipper hero’’.

hero

der Held – hero. Photo by wtfitshanna on flickr.com under a CC license (CC BY-ND 2.0)

 

What is the nearest English equivalent to der Pantoffelheld?

Saying a man is ‘henpecked’ or ‘under the thumb’ has the same meaning, though neither have the sarcastic nastiness of calling someone a ‘slipper hero’, in my opinion.

 

What do you think of the word Pantoffelheld? Can you think of a better translation for it? Let me know in the comments!

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About the Author:Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze. I'm half English and half German. I write here because I'm passionate about my languages and my roots. I also work as a translator & group fitness instructor.


Comments:

  1. Margaret Quackenbush:

    That was interesting. Never heard that expression. We lived in an apt. In Queens and growing up we always had to change to Pantoffeln when we came home. This was in consideration of our downstairs neighbors.

  2. Peter Rettig:

    Hmm, ja die Deutschen haben es mit “Helden”. Neben Pantoffelhelden haben wir Frauenhelden, Bühnenhelden, Geisteshelden, Friedenshelden, Glaubenshelden, Freiheitshelden, Revolverhelden, etc. . Wir können aus vielen Helden machen….