German words expats should know: Backpfeifengesicht

German words expats should know: Backpfeifengesicht

Our word this week is Backpfeifengesicht, a glorious tongue-twister that’s one of our favourites because it’s just so damned relatable! Let’s face it: we have all looked at somebody and felt, for whatever reason, like they really deserved to be punched in the face. Well, in German, they have a word for that. Let’s get the lowdown on this fabulous German insult

A literal translation of Backpfeifengesicht in English

It’s normally pretty easy to work out the meaning of a long German word by breaking it down into its constituent parts. Unfortunately, this same logic doesn’t get you very far with Backpfeifengesicht… 

A literal translation of Backpfeifengesicht would give you the words Backe (cheek), Pfeife (whistle) and Gesicht (face) - but calling someone a cheek whistle face isn’t going to cut very deep. 

Backpfeifengesicht meaning: Someone deserving of a face slap

Okay, let’s back up for a second. A Backpfeife is actually a slang term for a face slap. It’s not quite clear where the word came from, but it was in common use in northern Germany by the 19th century and has stuck around ever since. It’s actually quite visceral, describing a slap so resounding it whistles along the cheek. Ouch! 

It’s a synonym for Ohrfeige, a word stemming from the Middle Ages which essentially means a box on the ears (there’s also a much ruder slang definition, but we won’t sully ourselves with that here!) 

So, add Backpfeife to the word Gesicht and you get the meaning of Backpfeifengesicht: it’s a face that’s crying out for a slap, or a punch, or… well, you get it. Not because they’re ugly or hard to look at, but because they’re very, very annoying.

Maybe it’s that guy at the office who tells lewd jokes and expects everyone to laugh. Perhaps it’s that smug politician on the telly who’s always telling lies. It could be your friend’s clingy new boyfriend, your condescending uncle, or the impatient woman at the supermarket checkout. Whoever it is, they’ve got a face in need of a fist. They’ve got a Backpfeifengesicht!

How to pronounce Backpfeifengesicht

Explaining the word Backpfeifengesischt might be a bit of a wordy exercise, but using it it is, thankfully, very simple. You’d simply say someone has a Backpfeifengesicht, as in: “Er hat ein richtiges Backpfeifengesicht” (he has a really slappable face). 

Need some help pronouncing it? (It is five syllables, after all!) This video explains all:


A Backpfeifengesicht: The definition of an annoying person

So, there you have it: that person who’s so irritating they get your arms itching is a Backpfeifengesicht

But be warned: it may be a widely-accepted concept in Germany, but explaining that someone has a Backpfeifengesicht is not a defence that will stand up in court. So, if you’d rather stay out of trouble with the police, it’s probably wise to not look them directly in the face! 



Abi Carter

Managing Editor at IamExpat Media. Abi studied German and History at the University of Manchester and has since lived in Berlin, Hamburg and Utrecht, working since 2017 as a writer,...

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