Word of the Week: Innerer Schweinehund

Jan 20, 2012

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

Innerer Schweinehund

Two piglets hang out under a heat lamp in some straw on a farm near the western German city of Münster. © picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image Two piglets hang out under a heat lamp in some straw on a farm near the western German city of Münster. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

To start up any post-holiday exercise regimen, for example, you may need to overcome your "Innerer Schweinehund" (inner pig dog) before getting off the couch and lacing up those running shoes.

The expression "Schweinehund" (pig dog) used to be deployed as a kind of dirty insult, one that is rather perplexing given Germans' historic love for pork products, from sausage to schnitzel.

It dates back to at least the 19th century, when students used it as a colloquial swear word that relates back to wild boar hunting and the "Sauhund," a type of hunting dog historically used to track and chase wild boar in central Europe.

But these days "Schweinehund" is used more as a self-deprecating idiom to in connection with "innerer" (inner), as in "innerer Schweinehund" to denote a form of lazy procrastination, usually of the physical kind, that needs to be overcome to get yourself going. (As most modern self-help gurus, not to mention Oprah, universally - and rightly - proclaim, at the end of the day, it really is all up to you, and you alone, when it comes to such matters at least.)

According to some reports, "innerer Schweinehund" has been in use in the German language since at least the early 20th century.

And so it is, when speaking to a German, for instance after the ubituitous holiday feasting common throughout the western world, when a few pounds tend to creep onto even the most slender frames, you may hear them proclaim, regarding a planned new personal exercise regimen: "Aber erst muß man ja sein inneres Schweinehund überwinden." (But first one must overcome one's own inner pig dog.)

Food for thought, to be sure, not to mention an idiomatic insult to the actually rather intelligent pig?

© Germany.info

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