Word of the Week: fuchsteufelswild

Oct 19, 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.


Red Fox, Denali National Park, Alaska Enlarge image Red Fox, Denali National Park, Alaska (© picture-alliance/chromorange)

The word "fuchsteufelswild" is used in German to describe an enraged person who is as wild as a fox and mad as the devil.

Deployed as an adjective, "fuchsteufelswild" is derived from the nouns "Fuchs" (fox) and "Teufel" (devil), as well as wild, which has the same meaning and spelling in both German and in English. There is no "Steigerung," or escalation of this expression. This means that no one can be even more "fuchsteufelswild" (fuchteufelswild-er) than anyone else.

Foxes have been portrayed as cute and adorable by the likes of The Walt Disney Studios. At the same time, they have been the innocent victims of historic hunting practices abhorred as cruel by many animal rights activists.

Yet they also have a legendary, near mythical reputation dating back to medieval times as almost preternaturally sly and cunning creatures. This was largely due to their skill as equal opportunity hunters and invaders of chicken coops and other places where humans tried to raise their own food.

A family of red foxes Enlarge image A family of red foxes (© picture-alliance/chromorange) Given that both humans and foxes were fighting for their very survival, it is not hard to imagine how the fox got such a "bad rap" as a sly, furry little devil in European folklore. The naughty and cunning fox has hence made more than a few appearances in poems, songs and children's tales over the centuries, just as its much larger brethren - the "big, bad wolf" - was demonized as a sinister character in tales ranging from Russia to Germany to the United States.

So if someone is "fuchsteufelswild" they are as out of control as a cunning wild fox and as crazed as a mad devil. Basically, they are "hopping mad." Obviously, anyone would be well advised to steer clear of someone in a "fuchsteufelswild" state of mind.

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