Word of the Week: Narr
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.
Enlarge image Just a couple of "Narren" (fools/clowns) out for a good time ... (© picture-alliance/dpa)
The traditional carnival season observed in many parts of Germany brings out the "Narr" (fool) in anyone feeling "verrückt" (crazy) enough to participate in this festival of seasonally sanctioned zaniness.
"Der Narr" (the fool) tends to meet up with many more "Narren" (fools) in the carnival capitals of Germany, including - but not exclusively limited to - Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz. A related regional description often used in Cologne "und Umgebung" (and the surrounding area), moreover, is "Jeck" or "der Jeck" (the fool). A "Jeck" may be someone dressed up like a clown, or jester.
Enlarge image Dozens of people wearing locally traditional masks and costumes take part in a carnival parade in the southern German city of Bad Saulgau on January 27, 2013. (© picture-alliance/dpa)
The appearance of the "Narr" of course dates back to the Middle Ages, when a colorfully clad fellow who acted the fool provided some lighthearted entertainment, usually at court. Hence "Hofnarren" became the legendary bumbling - yet also crafty and humorous - "court jesters" of their time, alongside jugglers and/or acrobats. (Today the former would possibly be stand-up comedians or late-night talk show hosts, the latter would be circus performance artists.)
The carnival season, moreover, is often described as "die närrische Zeit" (the time of fools). If you find yourself in Germany during this time, be prepared to get sucked into all the Mardi Gras style fun and excess of carnival season, which precedes the austerity of the "Fastenzeit" (lenten or fasting period) in many predominantly Catholic areas of western and southern Germany.
Enlarge image Winter fools march during a traditional processesion known as a 'Narrensprung' (lit. fools jump) through the streets of Ulm in southern Germany on January 20, 2013. (© picture-alliance/dpa) So when Germans don colorful and ridiculous costumes and prance around as clowns or medieval, spooky figures in some instances in various parts of the country, they are all channeling their inner "Narr" and letting loose as they get into the zany spirit of the season. In modern Germany, a bunch of "Narren" are generally good-natured folk having fun getting dressed up and partying on the streets for a few days before life goes back to normal.
Given how much fun it is to dress up and take part in colorful parades and balls, carnival has spread beyond the traditional centers in these parts to other towns and cities across Germany, where people enjoy the colorful processions and festivities that make up the "Karnivalszeit" (carnival time).
Enlarge image A "Federhannes" (Feather Hannes) teases onlookers by engaging in some ceremonial face-tickling with a perfumed calf's tail attached to a stick during a 2013 Rose Monday "Fool's Procession" in the small Black Forest town of Rottweil in southwestern Germany. The Federhannes figure and his antics are based on customs that go back centuries. (© picture-alliance/dpa) Outside of carnival season the word "Narr" is not used that often in daily German language parlance. It may, however, be used in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, including in its verb form - "vernarrt."
Hence an expression such as "Die Narren sind wir" essentially means "The joke is on us." Or an outcry such as "Sie machen sich zum Narren!" more or less means "You are all buffoons!"
At the same time, a star-struck fan of a famous actor might say "Ich bin wahnsinning vernarrt in Jon Hamm!" (I've got the biggest crush on Jon Hamm.)
Some synonyms in German for "Narr" include, among others, "Holzkopf" (wood head), "Tölpel" (dolt, klutz), "Trottel" (dork, sucker), "Hanswurst" (hans' 'sausage'), "Witzbold" and "Schelm" (imp, prankster, joker).