Word of the Week: Angsthase

Mar 28, 2013

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.


Is this "Feldhase" (field hare) an "Angsthase" (coward)? Enlarge image Is this "Feldhase" (field hare) an "Angsthase" (coward)? (© picture-alliance/Eibner-Pressefoto)

As springtime approaches, children look forward to finding colorful eggs and candies hidden in a garden or left behind for them in a basket by the Easter Bunny (Osterhase). Surely this intrepid bunny must be bolder than an "Angsthase" to venture out and deliver such tasty treats to so many different and unfamiliar places.

An "Angsthase" - which literally translates into "scared hare" - is a coward (Feigling). This expression, comprised of two separate nouns (Angst + Hase) is derived from the notion that rabbits are very fearful and flee at the first sight of danger.

The word "Hase" (plural: Hasen) stems from the Old High German "haso", which in turn was purportedly derived from an Indo-European root orginally meaning "grey". A rabbit (Kaninchen) is often mistakenly referred to as a "Hase" (a male or female hare) in German.

"Angst" (plural: Ängste) is derived from the Old High German "angust" to mean "baseless fear". A related term is "ängstlich" (fearful). Synonyms inlcude "Schreck" (fright) and "Furcht" (fear, ie less of a baseless fear and more of a fear with a legitimate, current reason).

A similar expression popular in the United States is "scaredy cat", which is used to define "one who is excessively fearful" and also was the name of a 1948 Merrie Melodies cartoon produced by Warner Bros. Pictures that featured the now legendary cartoon characters Porky Pig and Sylvester the cat.

So if someone is trying to egg a fearful or hesitant person on to make a bold move or try something outside of their usual comfort zone, they might say something along the lines of: "He, Angsthase! Traust dich wohl nicht?" (Hey scaredy cat, don't you dare [do it]?)

Other rabbit-based expressions in German include "Falscher Hase" ('wrong rabbit' aka meatloaf); "Dachhase" ('roof rabbit' - an alleged euphemism for cats that were being eaten in Vienna during the Turkish occupation); "Echte Hasen" ('true' - ie the genetically most original - hares); "Hasenfuß" (coward, scaredy cat, Feigling - or the plant Hasenklee); "Hasenpanier" (a figure of speech meaning 'to flee'); "Hasenpfote" (rabbit's foot); "Hasenscharte" (harelip, cleft lip) and "Osterhase" (Easter Bunny).

The word "Angst" moreover is one of several German words, including kindergarten (literally: children's garden) and lederhosen (literally: leather pants), to have made the leap directly into the English language. In this vein, an American might describe a nervous or neurotic person as "angst-ridden," or as someone who is filled with angst.

© Germany.info

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