German words expats should know: Der innere Schweinehund
A very appropriate word for the festive season, “der innere Schweinehund” is a little internal demon the Germans like to blame for their lazy habits.
Blame your innere Schweinehund for your lazy habits
If you’ve spent most of the holidays slouched on the sofa in front of the TV, by now you’re probably all-too-familiar with this sensation. You really should get off your butt, do your chores and then go to the gym, but a little voice is telling you how nice it would be to stay put. After all, the weather outside is frightful.
In German, that little voice that eggs on all your slothful habits is known as your innere Schweinehund, which literally means your “inner pig-dog”. An equivalent word in English could be your “inner couch potato”.
What’s the meaning of Schweinehund?
Pigs and dogs are certainly known to like lazing around - just like us humans - but originally the word “Schweinehund” had a stronger meaning. At least as far back as the 19th century, it was used as an insult in German. The word is thought to come from Sauhund, which were historical breeds of ferocious hunting dogs that were used to chase and trap wild boars.
Students apparently used the word to describe someone who behaved unethically or broke the rules. Since both Schwein and Hund were also used as insults at the time, it’s not hard to see why people sandwiched them together to create a bigger insult. In some circles nowadays, it’s still considered exceedingly offensive, while to others it’s hilariously outdated as a swear word.
By the First World War, the phrase “innere Schweinehund” was being used to describe one’s weaker self, in the context of military drills and sports. Conscripts and athletes were being told to conquer their inner pig dogs and leave their weaknesses behind.
Gradually, however, the meaning of the word shifted to become softer and more self-reflective. Rather than a vicious hunting dog, your innere Schweinehund is a loveable - though hopelessly useless - part of your being that really wants to stop you from achieving your true potential. Thankfully, however, it’s quite easy to overcome.
Plead the German pig-dog clause
So, next time your spouse asks you to do the dishes, you can plead with them: “I’d really like to, but my innere Schweinehund is preventing me from getting up off the sofa!”