Tuesday, 27 March 2012


A while ago, some German colleagues introduced me to the word "spießer".  I didn't know who they were describing, but it was clearly pejorative.  Failing to think of an adequate translation, they attempted to explain its meaning.  The origin story -- as it was told to me -- dates to the seventeenth or eighteenth century.  The basic grunts of the Prussian army were pikemen, the German for which was "spießer".  (My amateur philology, unencumbered by either training or a solid knowledge of any language other than English, leads me to conclude that "spieß" is the German reflex of English "spit", i.e. a long pointy stick.)  Those selected to be spießer (as opposed to cavalry or officers) were the least educated of the available recruits, so the term came to be derogatory, associated with people of little sophistication.  One usage example offered was of some relatives, who always ate their dinner at a certain time, not because it was particularly convenient or pleasurable, but simply because they lacked the imagination to do otherwise.

I suggested "bourgeois" as a possible English (*cough*) equivalent, and indeed Wiktionary offers:
  1. (pejorative) square (socially conventional person)
  2. (pejorative) philistine (person who lacks appreciation of art or culture)
  3. (pejorative) bourgeois (individual member of the middle class).
As is so often the case, while the word does indeed overlap with the ones above, in the Venn diagram of noun-space, it is not exactly the same as any of them.  I've found it a (disturbingly) useful word, such that I sometimes wonder how I got on without it.  I therefore offer it to my fellow anglophones and encourage, nay, urge them to make room for it in their wordhoard.

Update:  Another blogger sharing the love for "spießer".