German Word of the Week: Marienkäfer

What is it about ladybugs that inspires such affection? 

Is it their pleasingly symmetrical half-oval appearance?  The fact that they don’t sting?  The splotchy decorations on their carapace, which resemble a child’s first attempt at fingerpainting?  Or perhaps their dogged, mild-mannered way of crawling to the top of whatever they land on, spreading their outer shells to reveal an unexpectedly complex structure of hidden wings, and flying gracefully away?

Whatever the explanation is, people love ladybugs.  Europeans, in fact, put them under the protection of supernatural forces.  In Germany, these critters are called Marienkäfer — "Mary beetles" (yes, that Mary).

Not to be outdone, the Dutch take ladybug adoration to its logical conclusion.  I have it on good authority from a Belgian friend (and remember, Flemish Belgians don’t speak Flemish, they speak Dutch.  Note that well.), that in Dutch, a ladybug is an Onze-lieve-Heersbestje.  Literally translated, "Our-dear-Lordbeastlet", or more flowingly, "the little beast of our dear Lord." 

Almost makes you want to move to Holland (or Belgium), doesn’t it?

[Hat tip to PDK]

P.S.  Off to England tomorrow.  Hope to post some updates while I’m there, but in any case check back next week, when I’ll resume "providing content."

10 thoughts on “German Word of the Week: Marienkäfer

  1. I just found out that ladybugs (btw, ‘ladybirds’ in British English) were considered a gift from Mary, because they eat aphids. This at least is the reason for their German name.

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  2. This is believed in Germany, too, it seeems to be a common thing, but maybe not in the Romance countries. My dictionary tells me that in France the name is ‘caccinelle’.

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  3. @zrz
    I was talking about Germany, indeed. In Brazil a ” romance language” country there´s nothing that links the ladybug to good luck. The cute insect is called “joaninha”, something like “the little Joana”, which comes from the name “John”. I couldn´t find , though, the origins of “joaninha”

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  4. Being a German myself I can tell you that noone has even pointed out to me that a ladybug may bring good luck to me. We simply consider it a beautiful animal.

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  5. I hereby want to point out to Mr. Steffen Töppler, Germany, that in this our country ladybugs are traditionally regarded as bringing good luck. But, maybe, only to those who believe it.

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  6. The cute bug was the subject of a local weekly magazine, so I´ve decided to seach more about it.
    From Wikipedia;

    “The name which the insect bears in the various languages of Europe is clearly mythic. In this, as in other cases, the Virgin Mary has supplanted Freya, the fertility goddess of Norse mythology; so that Freyjuhaena and Frouehenge have been changed into Marienvoglein, which corresponds with Our Lady’s Bird. There can, therefore, be little doubt that the esteem with which the lady-bird, or Our Lady’s cow, is still regarded and is a relic of ancient beliefs. In parts of Northern Europe, tradition says you get a wish granted if a ladybird lands on you. In Italy, it is said by some that if a Ladybird flies into your bedroom, it is considered good luck. In central Europe, a ladybird crawling across a girl’s hand is thought to mean she will get married within the year. In Russia a ladybird is called Божья-Коровка (God’s cow) and a popular children’s rhyme exists with a call to fly to the sky and bring back bread.”

    The french name “Coccinelle” may come after “Coccinella septempunctata”, the scientific name that means smethign like “seven-dots-little-ball”

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