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Untranslatable German Words: Dreikäsehoch Posted by on Jan 16, 2016 in Children, Language

Hello and welcome to another post on untranslatable German words, where I bring you the quirkiest, funniest and most intelligent words that the German language has to offer – and ones that are difficult to find a direct translation for!

Today’s word is der Dreikäsehoch.

What does der Dreikäsehoch mean?

The word Dreikäsehoch is a word used to refer to a child – specifically, if one wants to indicate that a child hasn’t grown up yet. It is used in a teasing, derogatory way, often when a child tries to do something they’re too young for, and as a way of putting them in their place. It is most commonly used with boys.

What is the literal translation of der Dreikäsehoch?

The word Dreikäsehoch is made up of three smaller words:
Drei = Three
Käse = Cheese
Hoch = High

No, this isn’t a mistranslation! In German, you really can call a child a ‘three cheese high’!

What does cheese have to do with anything?!

The word Dreikäsehoch apparently cropped up for the first time in the 18th century, so it dates quite far back.

Although it sounds strange, there is quite a simplistic theory for the origin of this word. Cheese has been a delicacy since ancient Greek and Roman times. Because of its popularity throughout the ages, everybody knew what one ‘block’ of cheese looked like, and how big it was, so it was often used as a measure of things. Imagine three blocks of cheese piled on top of one another. That’s not very high, is it? What better way to put a child in their place than by reinforcing how small they are (only three cheeses tall!)?

Another theory is that it has nothing to do with cheese at all, but rather that the word comes from a mistranslation of the French phrase with the same meaning, ‘trois caisses’, meaning ‘three crates’, in which the word ‘caisses’ became the similar-sounding ‘Käse’ in German.

How would you use der Dreikäsehoch in a sentence?

You simply use the word Dreikäsehoch in place of the word ‘Junge’ (boy) or the name of whoever you’re talking to/about:

Jetzt guck dir mal diese beiden Dreikäsehochs da drüben an!
Take a look at those ‘three cheese highs’ over there!

Alternatively, you can directly call the person you’re talking about a Dreikäsehoch:

Julian ist ein kleiner Dreikäsehoch, der überall mitreden will.
Julian is a little ‘three cheese high’ who always has to have his say on things.

What is the nearest English equivalent to der Dreikäsehoch?

Titch, little nipper and squirt are all equivalents, though maybe a little outdated – and let’s face it, none can match up to the brilliance that is a Dreikäsehoch – a three cheese high. 🙂 Any suggestions, however, feel free to leave them 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. Angela Samson:

    We do have an english equivalent to Dreikaesehoch and that is……
    “Knee high to a grasshopper”

    • Constanze:

      @Angela Samson Though it’s a phrase rather than a single word, that’s a great example!! Probably the closest thing, too – though do we use it to put kids in their place?

  2. Carmel Grima:

    In Maltese we have a related expression to Dreikasehoch and freely translated says ‘you shall have to eat a lot of bread and cheese before you are able to say/reach/do that’

  3. Pat:

    Rascal, mischief-maker come to mind (American).

  4. Catie Browning:

    I was just going to write the “knee high to a grasshopper” one. There’s also “ankle biter”.

  5. r patterson:

    I think the olden days word was little whippersnapper, as in, “Get out of my garden, you little little whippersnapper.” Other ridiculing terms might have been ankle biters, still wet behind the ears, still in knee pants. A more modern address might be, “You little punk (or snot-nosed brat), you have no respect for your elders.”
    Of course things have changed a great deal, especially in cities, since the fifties ended. At that time, we children in the United States were expected to respect our parents and older people.