Word of the Week: Pechvogel

May 16, 2014

Pechvogel Enlarge image (© picture alliance/chromorange) Some people always have the worst luck, whether they miss the bus every morning or get struck by lightning - twice. Are you one of those people? In Germany, you'd be called a Pechvogel.

The word Pech means "bad luck" and Vogel means "bird." So together, a Pechvogel is a "bad-luck-bird" - basically, an unlucky person who always seems to be suffering from some sort of misfortune. A similar English equivalent would perhaps be "bad news bears".

Written records trace the origin of the term to 1479, where Pech was used for the first time as a synonym for "bad luck". Before that, Pech defined a type of oil made from tar - a sticky black substance made from crude oil, coal or resinous wood. During the Middle Ages, bird hunters covered tree branches with Pech so that birds would get stuck, making it easy for the hunters to capture them. Birds that sat on the sticky branches suffered a great misfortune, and were considered unlucky. Thus, the expression Pech haben ("to have bad luck") may have arose from these situations. Unlucky birds were called Pechvögell.

Pechvogel Enlarge image (© (c) ZB - Fotoreport ) But some believe the word had a different origin: when enemies tried to attack castles, knights would pour hot Pech, oil or water on them through the Pechnase (machicolation) -- a floor opening through which objects could be dropped on invadors.

And some unlucky individuals were tarred and feathered as a form of punishment, making them look like unfortunate birds.

It is unclear whether the term Pechvogel came from bird hunting or Medieval punishments, but one thing is clear: today, it signifies a very unlucky person: someone who trips over every stone or always seems to get the short end of the stick. Let's hope that's not you.

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

© Germany.info

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