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:
- They are one of the few non-human animals that can carry leprosy, so they are frequently used for research into this disease.
- 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.
- 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.