Untranslatable Words: Der Spießer Posted by Sten on Jan 20, 2019 in Culture, Language
Spießer. A very German word! Germans feel as if they are seen from the outside Germany as Spießer, as Germans generally like things to go orderly, not too chaotic, and are not the biggest fans of societal change. That is the stereotype. Let’s look at that word today!
What does Spießer mean?
Spießer is short for the official word Spießbürger. The Duden defines it as “engstirniger Mensch, der sich an den Konventionen der Gesellschaft und dem Urteil der anderen orientiert” (bigoted person that is guided by the conventions of society and the judgment of others). They are often understood as people that try to be very correct, to comply indeed with what is seen as “normal”, even though that may not be exactly what they agree with or what they want. It is also related to being a Philister (philistine), people that are unable to be moved by arts, for example. So Spießer definitely carries a negative connotation!
In Switzerland, the terms Bünzli or Füdlibürger are common, with the same meaning.
What would be a literal translation of Spießer?
The word Spießer comes from the verb spießen, which means “to skewer” – but that is not where this word comes from. It is rather related to the job in the military before guns were introduced – a Spießer is a pikeman. Those that would not switch to the gun, but stuck to the traditional Spieß, were seen as traditional and old-fashioned. So that is where it supposedly became a derogatory term, to make fun of such people for not using the obviously superior weapon. The term Spießbürger became a term used to refer to Spießer in the middle-class in smaller cities, which was emphasized by referring to them as Spieß-citizens.
How would you use Spießer in a sentence?
Herr Meisner meint, ich soll nicht auf dem Schulhof rauchen. So ein Spießer!
(Mr Meisner said I am not supposed to smoke in the schoolyard. Such a Spießer!)
Das Bild heißt “Blau”, ist einfach nur eine blaue Fläche, und das soll Kunst sein? Das kann doch jedes Kind. Vielleicht bin ich ja ein Spießer, der die Kunst einfach nicht versteht…
(The painting is called “Blue”, and is simply a blue surface, and that is supposed to be art? Any child can do that. But maybe I am a Spießer, that simply does not understand art…)
What is the nearest English equivalent of Spießer?
Spießer is often used to refer to somebody to be boring, or no fun. So in that sense, you could translate it with the slang square – a boring, conventional person, basically. However, that does not necessarily include the philistine connotation, the haughty attitude or the bigoted nature. So another word that could work is a bourgeois, a snobby person. Or simply a “philistine”, of course. But again, none of these words completely catch the meaning.
We are all a bit of a Spießer, anyway…
In the end, we are all a bit of a Spießer. Have you had coffee from a cup machine? Do you enjoy soccer (or football) only during the World Cup (or the Super Bowl)? Do you have a tumble dryer in your house? What we consider as conventional is different per person, but we all have some things that make us conventional, of course. And it is these things that can already make you a Spießer!
Do you want to know whether you are considered a Spießer? You could try this test. It is in German and related to German things, but give it a shot, and let me know about the results below!
What do you think of this word? Have you heard it being used in different contexts? Do you know other alternatives? Let me know in the comments below!
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