German word of the day: Die Goaßgschau

Why do we sometimes find ourselves staring into space for no reason? And why don’t we have a word for this in English? Well the Bavarians do: die Goaßgschau.

German word of the day: Die Goaßgschau
A true 'Goaßgeshau'. Photo: Depositphotos/SashaKhalabuzar

What does it mean?

Die Goaßgschau is not a word that you’d hear everywhere across German speaking countries; rather it’s a dialect word that’s found exclusively in Bavaria in southeast Germany. It refers to “an absent-minded gaze”. 

Perhaps it’s a term you’ll hear if you’re headed to Munich for Oktoberfest this year. 

READ MORE: 15 Bavarian words you need to survive down south

What are its origins? 

A Goaßgschau is something we’ve all experienced at some point in our lives. We’ve done it ourselves and we’ve watched other people do it, though we probably didn’t consider that someone out there had named the concept.

An alternative phrase in English that communicates the idea of not quite being present is “to be away with the fairies”, though this British term doesn't quite capture the notion of a staring blankly at nothing. 

In English Goaßgschau translates to “the stare of a goat”, or a person’s absent-minded gaze which resembles that of a goat’s blank stare. 

Goaß is the Bavarian dialect word for goat (as opposed to the standard German word die Ziege) and Gschau is the Bavarian dialect word for a person’s facial expression (which is quite far off from the standard German word Der Gesichtsausdruck).

Goaßgschau: Why do we do it?

As presented in a report by Galileo, the University of Wisconsin conducted research into why we all do a Goaßgeshau.

We usually stare into space whilst we’re working, and according to their findings, a Goaßgshau is an automatic human mechanism which helps us process new information. It also helps us refocus our concentration.

Examples of Goaßgshau

“Hallo!! Hörst du mich?” …“Sorry, Goaßgschau!”
Can you hear me? … Sorry, I was away with the fairies.
“Das sogenannte Goaßgschau kennt jeder von uns.”
Everyone know what the so called “stare of a goat” is all about.
“Wenn nun jemand während einer Vorlesung abwesend ist, Dann ist das Goaßgschau in seiner schönsten Form zu beobachten.”
When someone's not quite present during a lecture, then the Goaßgschau can be observed in its purest form.

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Kätzchen and Büchlein: How to make German words smaller

German grammar is notoriously difficult. But the diminutive form – used to express a smaller version of the noun - is surprisingly straightforward.

Kätzchen and Büchlein: How to make German words smaller

Diminutives are forms of words that are used to express a smaller, younger or even cuter version of a noun. They are used a lot in German, so it’s definitely worth getting to know how they work.

In English, words often become diminutive by adding the suffix -let (e.g. drop becomes droplet, book becomes booklet). In German, the diminutive form (also called die Verkleinerungsform) is made by adding either -chen or -lein to the end of the word:

das Tier → das Tierchen

the animal → the little animal

der Stern → das Sternchen

the star → the little star

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to pick the right German language school for you

Nouns with a, o, and u change their vowel to ä, ö, and ü. The e at the end of the word is usually dropped.

die Katze → das Kätzchen

the cat → the kitten

die Torte → das Törtchen

the cake → the little cake

die Blume → das Blümchen

the flower → the little flower

A selection of little Törtchen on a table.

A selection of little Törtchen on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Catherine Waibel

The diminutive with -lein is used for words ending in -ch:

der Tisch → das Tischlein

the table →  the little table

das Buch → das Büchlein

the book → the little book

As you might have noticed, regardless of which gender the main noun is, the diminutive form is always neuter. See – told you it was simple!

Can you make any word a diminutive?

Pretty much. You can add the ending to any noun in German that is not itself a diminutive, e.g. Häschen (bunny) and Eichhörnchen (squirrel).

Common diminutives

There are many common German words that are diminutive, some of which you have probably been using without even realising it.

das Brötchen for example is the diminutive version of das Brot and means little bread.

das Mädchen, meaning girl, is actually a diminutive of the antiquated word die Magd meaning maid.

And lastly: Hallöchen! is a cute way to say hello there!