German Lessons


German Wordplays

In a video launched last week, German comedian Bastian Pastewka — yes, the same actor who narrates the animated Märchen series — plays himself in an eponymous TV series. In one scene, another actor says:

Das ist Bastian Pastewka, einer der beleibtesten Komiker Deutschlands.

On a first reading, you might think the actor saying that  Pastewka is one of the "most beloved comedians in Germany," but if you look closer, you see that word is not beliebtesten but rather beleibtesten:

That is Bastian Pastewka, one of the most obese comedians of Germany.
Caption 12, Pastewka: Neue Serie für Kessler

So simply switching the letters "ie" with "ei" results in the word changing from beliebt (beloved) to beleibt (obese). Rearranging the letters in a word to form a word with a different meaning is called an anagram. Such subtleties are often the basis for humorous wordplays or Wortspiele in many languages.

Other kinds of wordplays focus on associating two words in unexpected ways. In the following example from the animated Piggeldy und Frederick series, the young Piggeldy notices a sheep bleating "baa", which in German is transcribed as mäh. He then says:

Es hat eben gesagt, was es den ganzen Tag tut. Es mäht das Gras.
It just said what it does the whole day. It’s mowing the grass.
Captions 33-34, Piggeldy und Frederick: Das Schaf

So in German, the word for a sheep's "baa" (mäh) is similar to the German verb for mowing (mähen). Using an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound is called a malapropism.

In a video celebrating World Pi Day, (yes, the mathematical constant "pi" has its own holiday), someone asks the riddle, "Which tower has a downward lean of 3.1415 percent?" The answer is:

Der Schiefe Turm von „Pi-Tag”!
The Leaning Tower of "Pi Day!"
Caption 59, Welt-Pi-Tag: Unser Leben mit der Kreiszahl

The invented word Pi-Tag or "Pi Day" is a pun on the word "Pisa" from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Puns are, of course, the source of a lot of very corny jokes and wordplays. The 1996 French film Ridicule even goes so far as to call puns "the death of wit!"

Further Learning
Learn more about English types of wordplay on English Wikipedia and German wordplays on German Wikipedia and find some of your new German vocabulary words in a real world context in videos on German Yabla.

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