Word of the Week: Schmutzfink

Mar 30, 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.


Could he grow up to be a "Schmutzfink"? Enlarge image Could he grow up to be a "Schmutzfink"? (© picture-alliance/JOKER) Do you have trouble finding matching socks in the morning? Are there "mystery" containers of leftovers lodged somewhere in the darkest recesses of your refrigerator? Then you just might be a "Schmutzfink."

Like so many most excellent German nouns, this word is composed of two nouns - "Schmutz" (dirt) and "Fink" (finch). So it literally means "dirt finch."

Finches are known to enjoy the occassional "sand bath." This is a natural behavior, however, that these little birds engage in to rid their feathers of parasites, which they they do by shaking off the sand once they have hopped around in it.

The term "Schmutzfink" is a colloquial expression used to describe an untidy person. Pig Pen, the kid with the cloud of dirt always surrounding him in the legendary Peanuts cartoons, could be described as a "Schmutzfink."

A person who behaves in a morally reprehensible manner might also be called a "Schmutzfink." In this context, it means something more devious, along the lines of "dirty bastard" or similar.

Simply having an untidy bedroom or showing up somewhere with a disheveled appearance or messy clothes (ironing, for instance, is still pretty important to a lot of Germans) might also lead someone to brand you a "Schmutzfink," but usually in a more lighthearted, jocular fashion.

Although cultural cliches must be handled, by and large, with care as they tend to evoke often incorrect stereotypes, it could probably be said that Germans do place quite a bit of importance on cleanliness and orderliness (Ordnung), which they are universally both admired and - at times - mocked for.

Hence being branded a "Schmutzfink" might not be something to take pride in when in Germany.

© Germany.info

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