For members


German word of the day: Schlau

If you want to point out a rather two-sided character trait in a friend or foe, this German word could be exactly what you're looking for.

German word of the day
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know this word?

Schlau is not just an easy word to remember, it’s also a fun adjective that you may come across anywhere from children’s books to casual conversation. 

What does it mean?

If you think it sounds a bit like an English word you know, you’re probably right. Schlau is very similar to the word sly, and has incredibly similar connotations.

Essentially, it means clever or cunning – but it often has undertones of being a little bit conniving or calculating. In other words, someone who is schlau is generally using their intelligence to benefit themselves – and possibly also to deceive people.

If you want to impress your friends with your use of German idioms, then it’s worth remembering that the animal most associated with being schlau is the wily fox. For that reason, the moniker Schlaufuchs is often bandied around when people want to talk about the smart aleck in their family or social circle.

Incidentally, Schlaukopf (or clever head) can also do the trick – and, let’s be honest, the analogy makes a lot more sense than the English equivalent of ‘smartypants’.

Where does it come from?

The word schlau dates all the way back to Old Norse and likely relates to the word schlagen, meaning to slay or to hit. It entered into common usage in German in the 16th and 17th centuries with words like Slūhörer (eavesdropper or secret listener) and slūha, a verb meaning ‘to sneak’.

Since the 18th century, it’s been used much as it is today: to describe the shrewd folk among us who tend to have a plan – and an answer – for everything. 

Use it like this: 

Er verdient zwar am meisten, aber sie ist definitiv der Schlaukopf in dieser Familie.

He earns the most, but she is definitely the smart one in this family.

Achso, du hast die Tickets vorher im Internet gekauft? Sehr schlau!

Ah, you bought the tickets online in advance? Very smart! 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


German word of the day: Dudelsack

This hilarious sounding German word describes something quintessentially Scottish.

German word of the day: Dudelsack

Why do I need to know Dudelsack?

In the run-up to the German v Scotland opening match of Euro 2024, there were a lot of these gracing the streets of Munich. More importantly, why wouldn’t you want to know a word like Dudelsack?

Just say the word aloud and it will brighten your day. 

What does it mean?

Dudelsack (pronounced like this) is one of those German words that’s both charmingly literal and somewhat onomatopoeic, describing a big bag or sack that makes a ‘doodling’ kind of noise: in other words, the bagpipes.

As well as sounding like the noise this traditional Scottish instrument makes, dudeln also translates as ‘to drone’, and anyone who’s heard the bagpipes will know that this is also a fairly accurate description of how they sound. 

READ ALSO: 10 German words with hilarious literal translations

As Scotland geared up to play Germany in the opening match of Euro 2024 in Munich, many sacks were doodled in the Bavarian capital. 

Seeing parades of kilts and hearing the distinctive wail of the Dudelsack against the backdrop of Munich’s gothic town hall isn’t something you experience every day, and we’re sure it’s an experience the people of Munich also won’t forget for a while. 

Use it like this: 

Hör mal auf, Dudelsack zu spielen! Es geht mir auf die Nerven.

Stop playing the bagpipes! It’s getting on my nerves.  

Weißt du, wie der Dudelsack klingt? Man hört ihn überall in Schottland.

Do you know what the bagpipes sound like? You can hear them everywhere in Scotland.