Word of the Week: Spießer

Aug 19, 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.

Spießer (Spiesser)

"Spießer" (Spiesser), as portrayed on German TV in 1999. Enlarge image "Spießer" (Spiesser), as portrayed on German TV in 1999 in the series "Haußmeister Krause - Ordnung muß sein". (© picture-alliance/dpa) Your lawn is neatly mown? You are married with just about the usual amount of children? You might even live in an average-sized town house? You think you fit in just perfectly? Bad news: you run high risk of being despised as Spießer (Spiesser) – one of the most severe offenses the German language has to offer. A Spießer is a pejorative label for somebody who overdoes conformity – and being considered one is the death sentence for being in any way interesting.

No doubt for us human beings to stick to social norms provides a feeling of belonging, security and social acceptance. But a Spießer is taking conformity to a different level. A Spießer is a narrow-minded person, preserving traditional views, instinctively objecting to any form of progress and clinging to bourgeois values. A Spießer has the overwhelming desire of opposing everything he is not used to. Being a Spießer means being unsophisticated, square, reactionary - simply mainstream. Want to get to know the rigid, uninspiring life of a Spießer? Read "Babbitt" by Sinclair Lewis.

But why call those people Spießer? The word Spießer derives from the German word Spieß (stick) and refers to the ordinary citizen in the Middle Ages who could only afford sticks as a means of defense. The term celebrated its renaissance in the 20th century when the aristocracy used it as a depreciative way to ridicule the bourgeoisie. Since then it has been borrowed by different groups to scorn what they consider as the average middle class superbore.

One important rule to remember: Spießer are always the others. In fact, the benchmark to reveal a Spießer is your own taste – there is no clear-cut definition. People with diverging attitudes from your own are easily dismissed as Spießer.

You are not a pot-smoking leftist? You do crosswords? You get annoyed if your neighbor is listening to booming Heavy Metal music in the middle of the night? You are a civil servant? You do not find full-body tattoos overly attractive? What a Spießer you are! You don't let your teenage kids party hard until dawn? Well, just ask them - they surely know who the Spießer is in the house.

So have the guts to strip off the straightjacket of bourgeois values – or simply accept that to someone out there you will always be a Spießer.

© Germany.info

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