Word of the Week: Zappelphilipp

Jun 2, 2017

Zappelphilipp Enlarge image (© www.colourbox.com) What do you call a child who can't sit still for even a minute? A Zappelphilipp!

This unique German word defines a child who fidgets, rocks in his or her chair and just can't seem to stop moving. A Zappelphilipp easily annoys parents and teachers with these habits and often gets scolded. The word comes from the verb zappeln, which means "to fidget".

The term is widely used in Germany today, but it originated in the year 1845. The word Zappelphilipp was invented by German psychiatrist and author Heinrich Hoffmann, who wrote short stories and poems that appeared in his book Der Struwwelpeter ("Shockheaded Peter"). One story, Die Geschichte vom Zappelphilipp ("The Story of Fidgety Philipp"), describes the life of a boy named Philipp who can't sit still at the dinner table. He rocks back and forth in his chair until he accidentally falls backwards, pulling the table cloth, dishes and food down with him. Philipp survives (unlike many of Hoffmann's other characters), but his family has no food to eat that night. The story shows a possible consequence of being fidgety.

Although the story of Zappelphilipp tells the tale of a young boy, today the term is used to describe both boys and girls. If a kid is hyperactive at the dinner table, in the classroom or at a family gathering, you may hear a parent tell them to stop being such a Zappelphilipp.

Zappelphilipp Enlarge image (© Wikimedia Commons) After all, too much zappeln is not only annoying, but can lead to accidents - like falling backwards in a chair.

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

© Germany.info

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