Word of the Week: Revoluzzer

Sep 14, 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.

Revoluzzer

Les Misérables (1998) Enlarge image The young revolutionary Marius (Hans Matheson, center) and his fellow revolutionaries during the 1832 Paris Commune uprising, as depicted in a 1998 film version of "Les Misérables." This was a real revolution - a "Revoluzzer" or "Salonrevoluzzer" is not always engaged in such bona fide revolutionary activity. (© picture-alliance/KPA Honorar & Belege) In German the expression "Revoluzzer" refers in a more tongue-in-cheek or even downright derogatory sense to a "revolutionary" or "radical" seeking to change the world into the utopia reflected in his ideals.

In both English and German the word revolution (Revolution) is one and the same. If something is revolutionary in German, it is "revolutionär." And a revolutionary fighter in the traditional sense is spelled the same way (Revolutionär).

"Revoluzzer" was meanwhile, for instance, used in a mocking or humorous fashion to describe the activists of the student protest movement of the 1960's (referred to more commonly as "die '68er," or "the '68ers"). As a figure of speech it is still used from time to time in the German language today.

The term was purportedly coined by Erich Mühsam in his 1907 poem "Der Revoluzzer" (The Revolutionary), as a mocking expression (Spottbegriff) for a wannabee (Möchtegern) revolutionary. Yet it is not quite as heavy handed or negative in its connotation as the more eastern-inflected "Radikalinski."

Another variation of this word is "Salonrevoluzzer," a mocking term used to describe someone who identifies with specific perceptions or ideologies (often to fit in with a particular zeitgeist), but really is only "all talk, no action" and does not want to follow through by getting involved in putting these ideas into practice.

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