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Odd German Animal Names, Part III

In Part I and Part II of this series, we went through a lot of odd German animal names, looking at how the names may—or may not—connect directly to descriptions of the animals. Today, let's conclude our exploration of the wild and woolly world of odd German animal names!


Entschuldige, dass ich dich „Seehund“ genannt habe.

Sorry that I called you "sea dog."

Caption 26, Peppa Wutz, Sport

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The proper English name of the largest rodent in the world is "capybara," and it's formally das Capybara in German. The informal name of the capybara is "water hog," which is also the direct translation of the informal name in German: das Wasserschwein.


Wer ist das größte Wasserschwein auf dem Planeten?

Who is the biggest water hog on the planet?

Caption 98, heute-show Wasserknappheit: Verkauft eure Aktien und investiert in Wasser!

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This is a slang usage of das Wasserschwein, and is not referring to the animal at all! Just as you might tell somebody who is drinking up all of the water to "stop hogging the water," this video is referring to a Swiss company that is exploiting a lot of American water resources as a "water hog."


Schweinswale sollen direkt vor dem Badestrand gesehen worden sein.

Porpoises were reported to have been seen near this swimming beach.

Caption 32, Abenteuer Nordsee: Unter Riesenhaien und Tintenfischen

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The German word for "porpoise" is der Schweinswal, which translates directly to "hog whale" or "pig whale." That doesn't seem to make much sense, but the fact that they have a flat snout, unlike dolphins with their pronounced beaks, may have led to a comparison with pigs in German. And dolphins are in fact classified as toothed whales, although their nearest relative, going back 40 million years, is the hippopotamus!


Some other German animal names with -schwein include:
das Meerschweinchen (Guinea pig, literally "little sea pig")
das Seeschwein (dugong, literally "sea hog" or "sea pig")
das Stachelschwein (porcupine, literally "spike pig")


But the winner for the title of the oddest German animal name must be...


Eichhörnchen jubilieren nicht“, stellte Frederick richtig, „sie knacken Nüsse, Tannenzapfen, Eicheln und so weiter.“

"Squirrels do not rejoice," rectified Frederick, "they crack nuts, pine cones, acorns and such."

Captions 14-15, Piggeldy und Frederick: Tiere im Winter

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If you translate das Eichhörnchen literally from die Eiche and das Hörnchen, you wind up with either "little oak horn" or "oak croissant"! In fact, the origins of the word Eichhörnchen are uncertain, but the Eiche part probably goes back to an ancient Indo-Germanic word, aik or aig, that means "restless movement," which is certainly an apt description of the squirrel! German squirrels also have tufted ears that look a bit like little horns...

Further Learning
Go to Yabla German and watch the videos listed above to find out more about these animals in context.

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