Learning from other people’s mistakes — Spass is German for funny
Last week I wrote about the German “S-word“. I’ve received some feedback about this, which is great. One thing I want to really make clear is that swearing is not deemed as proper in many situations – easy way of making sure you don’t offend someone is to ask yourself, “Would I say shit or f*#k here in an English context?” If the answer is “no” then don’t do it in German. That said, knowing swear words and phrases is important in any language, because you are sure to encounter them in everyday life.
We’ve all heard the saying “There’s a lot you can learn from your mistakes.” There is a great deal of truth in that. One of the many great things about German is that there are a lot of things you can learn from the English mistakes German speakers make. When you here: “We see us tomorrow.” you know that too see someone in German is reflexive and “Make my homeworks” tells us that in German they machen their homework and not tun it as well as they have more homework than English speakers, which is why they have a plural form of it.
One word that gets me all the time though is funny. German speakers always say things like: “That’s a funny roller coaster” when they should say fun, because they mean it’s fun to ride. They don’t seem to differentiate between funny and fun. And then in my German classes many people are continually surprised by the word Spass, even after it’s been used many times. Perhaps that is because they do not believe Germans are funny, or fun for that matter. There was recently an interesting article in the Guardian entitled “What’s German for funny?”, in which the writer, Philip Oltermann, discusses the difference between German and English humour. All this discussion aside, I’ll just say Germans can be funny, but let’s return to the point of this article.
Spass is an interesting word and I was reminded of this yesterday as a group of friends and I were in the Schattenburg in Feldkirch, Austria. There is a restaurant there that is famous in Vorarlberg and the Rheintal for its 30 cm schnitzels. Their house specialty is the Schattenburg Schnitzel which on the menu is described as “30 cm Schnitzelspass hit gemischtem Salat“- an odd combination of words for something I intend to eat and not make or do, but then again I guess I do experience it. Like I said, this got me thinking about the word Spass. In fact I was also a little surprised that they did not choose to use the Austrian variation of Spass — Gaudi. In Switzerland we often use the term Plausch where Spass might be used.
If you look up Spass in the dictionary you’ll find: that it has two meanings:
1. fun, jest, joke, lark, and/or practical joke. Here it’s used as a noun with a plural even (Spässe)
Here are some examples:
- Das war doch nur ein Spass. (It was just a joke!)
- Dieser Spass ging zu weit? (This joke went too far.)
- Hier, da hört [für mich] der Spass auf. (This has gone too far for me.)
- Er hat doch nur Spass gemacht! (He was just joking!)
- Hermann versteht kein Spass.(Hermann doesn’t know what’s funny. (he’s humourless))
- This is where I think the fun/funny confusion comes from.
You can also say something aus, im, and zum Spass when you don’t want to mean what you say, but rather just be funny.
z.B. Er hat das nur aus Spass gesagt! (He was just kidding!)
You should also be aware of these expressions:
- Spass muss sein! (You need to have a little fun!) You say this after making a joke to declare that it was innocent and only meant in jest.
- Spass beiseite. (Fun/Jokes aside.) This is something you might say after a series of jokes to tell people that what’s coming next is meant to be serious.
- Mach keinen Spass! (Don’t make fun!) A declaration to tell people to take what’s just been said seriously.
- [Ganz] ohne Spass. (Seriously!) To tell people what you just said was not meant ironically.
2. the amusement and enjoyment one takes from a specific happening. There is no plural here.
Here are some examples:
- Susi ist der Spass vergangen. (The fun has worn out for Susi.)
- Skifahren ist ein teurer Spass. (Skiing is an expensive form of amusement.)
- Das macht grossen Spass.(This is a lot of fun.)
- you can change grossen for: richtigen, viel, or keinen to change the meaning.
- Meine Arbeit macht mir Spass.(I enjoy my work.)
- Note here the use of the dative “mir”.
- Ich wünsche dir für heute Abend viel Spass! (I wish you lots of fun tonight.)
- Lass ihm doch seinen Spass!(Let him have his fun!)
- Again notice the use of the dative “ihm”.
- Franz verderbt mir den Spass. (Franz is ruining my fun.)
- Etwas aus/zum Spass tun (to do something for fun)
Again here we also have some common expressions:
- Aus Spass an der Freude. (Just for the fun of it.) Used to give a reason for doing something.
- Aus lauter Spass und Tollerei. (Out of sheer fun.) Used to give the reason for doing something.
- Na, du machst mir [vielleicht] Spass! (You must be joking.) This is used ironically in a situation where you are really surprised by someone’s behaviour.
Here are some common words that you’ll find with Spass:
And last but not least here are a few very funny videos that show that German speakers do indeed have a sense of humour: