German Word of the Week: Spießbürger

First, thanks to all Joysters for the additional German Words of the Week.   Truly the essence of the Internet: the multiplication of individual intelligences and sensibilities into a gigantic Überdialog of diversity.  Or words to that effect.  I have decided that I will choose the GWOW on my own, and let your perceptive comments speak for themselves.  Besides, I have no idea what an Eselsbrücke is.  Yet.

And now, gradually, I come to our fabulous new GWOW: Spießbürger.  This word brings us not only the famous umlaut (two little dots over the u), but an odd new friend, the ß.  It looks like a capital B, but it is actually pronounced pretty normally like an S.  So you pronounce this GWOW "SHPEESE-buerger."  Germans call it an S-Z, or "ess-tzed."  Get to know it.  It’s soft and rounded and very friendly.

Spießbürger means, literally, "spear-citizen."  This is not a degrading reference to Africans, it’s a degrading reference to Germans.  I’ll let the Wikipedia entry for the term speak for itself, in my translation:

A Spießbürger is a pejorative reference to a person who is distinguished by his intellectual stodginess, extreme conformity to social norms, hostility to changes in daily habits and rejection of everything unfamiliar.  At the beginning of the 20th century the short form Spießer [Spearer] and adjective Spießig [speary] were introduced by progressive and left-leaning groups as a Kampfbegriff [struggle-idea!] against the establishment.  The concept dates back to the Middle Ages, when it was used to denote a militia of spear-carrying foot-soldiers composed of ordinary citizens. 

No GWOW would be complete without a real-word example.   Mine comes from an ad for a savings and loan (Sparkasse) that I saw before a recent movie.  At first, you see a hippie encampment.  Perhaps the people are squatters, or maybe it’s a commune.  An older counterculture type — a prototypical anti-Spießer — wanders through the throng of pot-smoking, drum-playing, tie-dyed, nose-ringed inhabitants.  He’s accompanied by his young son.  They sit down, and the old hippie, lookíng a little tired, and very dilapidated, surveys the scene of controlled chaos with the little tyke.  Eventually, the lad looks up at his father with an yearning expression, and says: "Dad, why do Spießer get to live in nice houses?"  Then you see the logo of the savings and loan…

9 thoughts on “German Word of the Week: Spießbürger

  1. The word “Eselsbrücke” leads you directly to the next potential gwow: “Gedächtnisstütze”. Both describes some sentence – often a rhyme – that helps you to remember facts you otherwise would never get inside your head. For example the order of the planets Merkur, Venus, Erde, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptun, Pluto. You just have to learn the sentence “Mein Vater erklärt mir jeden Sonntag unsere neun Planeten.” to figure it out. Literally “Eselsbrücke” means “Bridge for a donkey”.


  2. May I add to the explanation by ramses101 that Eselsbrücke makes use of an ambiguity. The donkey is thought of as a stupid animal, and therefore Esel is also used as an offence, equivalent to idiot.


  3. Hi, i`m Lena and the girl from “spiesser” – commercial. sorry, i get english lessens in next scool year but i understand that this postings translate the word “spiesser” and the commercial. i mean, spiesser live in a house with garden or has a garden and into a “Gartenzwerg”. anybody translate the word “Gartenzwerg” 🙂 greetings from gremany lena


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