Bagpipe face?
February 22, 2010 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Can any German speakers shed light on the supposed German word 'Backpfeifengesicht'?

I just saw this word in this comment. Google search gives lots of blogs where people are explaining that this word means something along the lines of 'a face that cries out for a fist in it'. I know some German, and that seemed fishy to me. I know 'gesicht' is 'face', and 'pfeife' is 'pipe', but according to 'die Back' is a nautical term for 'foredeck'. 'Die Backe' does mean 'cheek', but I also thought that due to the disdain people some people have for bagpipes and bagpipers that English speakers may have misspelled 'Sackpfeifengesicht' ('bagpipe-face'). So, is this a real German word, or just a German-sounding word that someone made up?
posted by squarehead to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Okay I did find someone claiming this:

"One small point of clarification: According to Duden Etymologie, a “Backpfeife” is probably called what it is because the blow whistles (pfeifen) when it hits the cheek (die Backe). In any event, Bill Kristol does indeed have a Backpfeifengesicht.
Posted by josephdietrich

Still seems suspicious to me.
posted by squarehead at 11:02 AM on February 22, 2010

"Backpfeife" is simply an old-fashioned word that means "a slap in the face".
posted by snownoid at 11:03 AM on February 22, 2010

Well, you can search google for German language results only, which seems revealing.

If you can trust a "Yahoo answer" in any language, this one helpfully explains that 'eine "backpfeife" ist ein anderes wort für eine ohrfeige, und ein backpfeifengesicht jemand der umgangssprachlich "quasi um eine ohrfeige bettelt", sprich jemand der extrem nervt oder den man nicht leiden kann.'

That is (more or less), 'A "backpfeife" is another word for ohrfeige ("slap in the face" or "box around the ears") and a backpfeifengesicht a slang way of saying someone who is asking for a slap in the face and is referring to someone who really gets on your nerves or whom a person really can't stand."
posted by flug at 11:07 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Backpfeife" is pretty common and understood by most Germans, say over 30. I'd say it's a word coming from the north of Germany. The respective "face" might be a innovation in your source and its meaning requires a little thinking. But overall "face that cries out for a slap" makes sense.

Btw. the "proper" word for slap in the face is "Ohrfeige", literally "ear fig". So I guess ze Germanz just like to have funny words for this circumstance.
posted by oxit at 11:08 AM on February 22, 2010

Thanks everyone. But as to the origin of 'Backpfeife' - it's essentially a "cheek-whistle", I guess?
posted by squarehead at 11:21 AM on February 22, 2010

Yes, that's correct.

A etymological dictionary says

Backpfeife (19. Jh., bes. nordostd. Dem Wort liegt wohl die Vorstellung zugrunde, daß es beim Schlag an der Backe pfeift; möglich ist auch Umdeutung aus ,,gebackene Feige'', vgl. Ohrfeige).

Which I humbly translate to

19th century, in particular north-east-German. This word is probably based on the perception that there's a whistling sound on the cheek when it gets hit; also possible is a reinterpretation of "baked fig", see "Ohrfeige" ["pfeife" sounds similar to "feige" (fig)]
posted by oxit at 11:46 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just for the record, I was only parroting dogrose - whose comment introducing me to the term was linked to in my own comment. So if it's a made-up word, blame them... or whoever they got it from.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:02 PM on February 22, 2010

The German word "ohrfeige" is the same in Dutch "oorvijg". In Dutch vijg seems to have come from "veeg" (swipe).

For what its worth, I also came across this song by a German group Die Ärzte (the doctors) backpfeifengesicht.
posted by charles kaapjes at 12:13 PM on February 22, 2010

Thanks everyone, and thanks oxit for the link to that etymological dictionary. Bookmarked.
posted by squarehead at 2:43 PM on February 22, 2010

Here's a bit of anecdata for you. My mother and grandmother used to say Backpfeifengesicht when I was growing up. My grandmother (born circa 1880) was from Northern Germany, and spent time working in Northeast Germany.
posted by gudrun at 8:56 PM on February 22, 2010

There's also the Southern German and Austrian variant "Watschengesicht".
posted by Glow Bucket at 4:11 AM on February 23, 2010

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