Word of the Week: Hagestolz
Enlarge image (© picture alliance / akg) In German, there is a particular word to describe an old confirmed bachelor who loathes the idea of getting married: a Hagestolz.
Many of us know one. Maybe it’s your old next-door neighbor who has lived a life of solitude. Maybe it’s a friend who has vowed never to get married. Maybe it’s that coworker who bought a house for one and spends weekends watching sports in his basement.
The one thing these bachelors have in common is that they enjoy their lives of solitude.
The origin of the colloquial term Hagestolz lies partially in the old Germanic word Hag, which is a property enclosure like a bush (the English equivalent would be the word "hedge"). The word Stolz comes from the Middle-High German word stellen (to position something), which is similar to the words Gestalt ("shape") and Anstalt ("institution").
Naturally, you might wonder: how did the word for "hedge-shape" morph into "old bachelor"?
Well, in the old Germanic culture, the word Hagestolz defined a younger son who would not inherit any of his father’s property. Instead, he would be given a neighboring property (often nothing more than a small hut) surrounded by a so-called Hag, or “hedge.” And since this boy would not be inheriting any of his father’s estate, chances were slim that he would find a wife. His property was often too small for a family, and there was a good chance he would die a lonely bachelor behind his hedge.
In one of his works, German poet Heinrich Heine described philosopher Immanuel Kant as a Hagestolz, claiming he led an “almost abstract life of a Hagestolz in a quiet, remote little street in Königsberg.” And yes – Kant lived behind a type of border fence synonymous with a Hag.
Old German laws were not particularly friendly to Hagestolze: local laws called the Hagestolzenrecht gave the properties of deceased Hagestolze to the state – regardless of whether or not they had a will or blood relatives. These laws were eliminated during the 19th century.
Over the years, the meaning of the word Hagestolz evolved to define any bachelor. But today, it typically defines old confirmed bachelors – usually over the age of 50. Does that ring a bell?
By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany