Word of the Week: 'Arbeitstier'

Apr 28, 2011

A man brings his workhorse out to pasture in the northern German state of Brandenburg. Enlarge image (© picture-alliance/ZB) Over the course of the year, Germany.info and The Week in Germany will highlight a different "Word of the Week" in the German language that may serve to surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers.

Arbeitstier

In the literal sense of the word, an "Arbeitstier" is a work animal, as in a beast of burden on a pre-mechanized farm. The horse at the center of the bestselling 1877 novel "Black Beauty" by English author Alice Sewell, for instance, was an "Arbeitstier" - one, moreover, in need of saving from brutal humans driving an innocent, elegant animal to the limits of its physical capacities.

This expression - like so many German compound nouns - is actually composed of two words: "Arbeit" (work) and "Tier" (animal).

An office worker gets a little closer to his beloved computer. Enlarge image (© picture-alliance/Beyond) In the modern sense of the word, however, a person who works very hard is referred to as an "Arbeitstier", a badge of honor for many individuals in a society that prides itself on efficiency and what some Germans refer to as a strong work ethic or "Prussian sense of duty" (though one would be hard-pressed to find a Bavarian using the latter expression).

So an "Arbeitstier" is, essentially, a very hard and focused worker, but not necessarily a "workaholic", an expression which has many negative connotations in modern western societies.

In Germany the expression "Arbeitstier" is, however, generally used in a more positive sense.

© Germany.info

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