Word of the Week: Paragraphenreiterei

Jul 29, 2011

Over the course of the year, Germany.info and The Week in Germany will highlight a different "Word of the Week" in the German language that may serve to surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers.

Paragraphenreiterei

Legal Symbols Enlarge image Visa, Passport, Legal (© picture-alliance/chromorange) Who hasn't experienced the following yet? You go to an administrative office and want to get something done. It might be an application for visa, for a social security card or something similar. Usually, you have to fill out a detailed application and then go to the public servant to hand it in. But guess what - the person behind the counter explains to you in an uncompromising way that your application is simply not acceptable, because you didn't specify this and that or forgot to bring some sort of "super" important document with you.

In case that happens, Germans have a wonderful word to express their frustration with that kind of strictness. The word is Paragraphenreiterei. It means something like "obsessive adherence to rules" or "pedantry". If your complaint is directed toward a specific person you could call him a Paragraphenreiter (a "jobsworth"). In doing so you emphasize that this person is a close-minded, unrelaxed and stubborn moralizer who is not willing to interpret the law or rules in a liberal, modern way. Obviously, that is not necessarily the nicest way to adress a person. The chances you get that application successfully processed after mentioning the word Paragraphenreiter are probably below zero.

However, the literal meaning of Paragraphenreiter is quite funny and might help you to get over your frustration as well as to be patient and put a good face on the matter. Paragraphenreiter is composed of the two words Paragraph (paragaph, clause, article) and Reiter (rider, equestrian). Thus, just think of an equestrian who rides a clause when you approach that person. Maybe, it will actually get you to put a smile on your face and charm the person, so the application gets processed.

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