German Word of the Week: Gürteltier

Apparently, the GWOW is one of the most popular features on this site, so in a shameless ploy to maintain my hits, I will give you all the German Words of the Week you can handle!  Hell, if I had enough time, I would give you the German Word of the Hour.

This week’s GWOW is a fabulous one.  It is Gürteltier.  It means armadillo in German.  Many European readers might not know what an armadillo is, so here’s a picture:

Before I explain why this is the German Word of the Week, I’d like to write a short disquisition on armadillos. Here are three amusing facts about them:

  1. They are one of the few non-human animals that can carry leprosy, so they are frequently used for research into this disease.
  2. When they are frightened, they tend to jump straight up into the air.  This means when a car approaches, instead of just ignoring it and letting the car pass over them, they jump up and smack right into the bumper.  That explains the hundreds of rotting armadillo carcasses on the side of Texas roads.
  3. If you pick one up (hard to do, they run pretty fast), it curls itself into a tight little ball for protection.  You can then play soccer with it.  After you’re done, stick around and watch: the armadillo will wait 2 or 3 minutes to make sure the coast is clear, unroll itself, and stroll away as if nothing had happened.

OK, now we’ve learned a little about armadillos, and we’re all the richer for it. 

But why, you’re asking impatiently, why is Gürteltier the word of the week?  Because German animal names are comically literal and descriptive. Tier in German means "animal," and Gürtel means "belt."  So an armadillo is a "belt-animal."  Look at the picture. 

And if that’s not delicious enough, a skunk is a Stinktier (stink-animal), a predator is a Raubtier (rob-animal), a sloth is a Faultier (lazy-animal).  Mammals are Säugetiere ("suck-animals"), and marsupials are Beuteltiere ("bag-animals").  But my favorite German animal name is for the raccoon.  He looks like a little bear, and always washes what he eats.  Therefore, in German, he’s a Waschbär.

19 thoughts on “German Word of the Week: Gürteltier

  1. This is by far the funniest “German word of the week” ever. BTW, the lego technique also applies to the socio-human sphere. There are character traits known as “party-tier” or “sado-tier”. And footballers know that a good goal-keeper is a “tier im tor”.

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  2. 🙂 Nothing tier-ish but I had the funniest time of my life teaching British friends the word Eichhörnchen (squirrel, oak-horny oder litte-oak-horn). There was no way for them to pronounce it correctly – so cute. Admittedly, though, squirrel is also pretty hard to pronounce for a German … 😉

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  3. How about making “Eselsbrücke” as a candidate for the GWOW ? I was talking with with 2 american friends of mine tonight, and it looked like that there is now really good english word for it.

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  4. @ Carl:
    What about an English non-word of the week, i. e. a word not existing in English – built by direct translation from German? I would like to suggest “johnny berries” (Johannisbeeren; currants).
    But Carl, shall we *really* take over the site?? Me indeed, I love it as it is. What makes it particulary interesting to me is Andrew Hammel’s American perspective on German topics – and on the German language.

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  5. And “Schnabeltier” (beak-animal) is a platypus. Which admittedly, does a much better description of describing the thing than English does.

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  6. @Elsheimer:
    No, I have no intention of a hostile takeover of the site 🙂 Its up to Andrew to take or leave suggestions here. I’d be just very interested how Andrew would explain the “Eselsbrücke”, because I’m sure it would be damn funny.
    Andrew, another suggestion: since I am from Köln, and you live in Düsseldorf, I’d love to read your point of view on the love-hate ( or hate-hate ) relationship between these two cities, if you have one.That might be even more hilarious.

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  7. I like the “Lisztaffe”
    too: the ” Liszt Ape” is known as Cotton-Top Tamarin in English (Saguinus oedipus)seems that its scientifc name is funny too.

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  8. Thanks for the picture! Of course I know that Gürteltiere exist but I’ve never seen one before (shame on me…). I really like your GWOW (I think I’d love GWOH!) and if I may vote as well I’m with the Eselsbrücke. I can’t wait. :o)

    Ah, and just for the record: I really like the new sitedesign!

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  9. The “Gürteltier” is another word for a Street-prostitute in Vienna.
    The Innerstreet-Ring in Vienna is called “Gürtel” and the girls there standing on the “Gürtel” are so called “Gürtel”-animals “Tiere”

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  10. The “Gürteltier” is another word for a Street-prostitute in Vienna.
    The Innerstreet-Ring in Vienna is called “Gürtel” and the girls there standing on the “Gürtel” are so called “Gürtel”-animals “Tiere”

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  11. [quote]
    Posted by: zrz | July 09, 2005 at 11:01 PM

    🙂 Nothing tier-ish but I had the funniest time of my life teaching British friends the word Eichhörnchen (squirrel, oak-horny oder litte-oak-horn). There was no way for them to pronounce it correctly – so cute. Admittedly, though, squirrel is also pretty hard to pronounce for a German … ;)[/quote]

    Greetings from Bavaria, Germany (and sorry for my bad school english 😉 )

    I have another nice word for you: Oachkatzelschwoaf

    There is now way to explain how to pronounce it, so better don’t try it.
    Well, it’s not really a german world, it’s a bavarian word. Bavaria is also a part of Germany, but there are many
    local idioms in Germany, and most of the other Germans don’t understand bavarian people, if they talk in their local idiom.

    (bavarian idiom->german->english):

    Oach->Eiche->Oak
    katzel->Kätzchen->Kitty(small cat)
    schwoaf->Schweif/Schwanz->tail

    So, an Oachkatzel is an Eichkätzchen (also known as Eichhörnchen) or a squirrel.
    An Oachkatzelschwoaf is an Eichhörnchenschwanz or a [i dont know the english word, but here is a picture http://img296.imageshack.us/img296/408/eichuc1.jpg ]

    One additional information: Most of all animals have got a tail. Horses for example, or dogs. The horses’ tail is called Schweif. Nearly all other animals’ tail is called Schwanz.
    But there is one difficulty, Schwanz is also a popular german slang for penis (sl. dick). This means that a humans’ Schwanz is allways a dick, but an animals’ Schwanz is maybe a dick or a tail 😉

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