A German noun that is being slowly adopted into English. The English equivalent is "a face in need of a slap", and as so often happens, the Germans have a word for it.

All those syllables can be intimidating if you haven't studied German. Let's break this word down:

backpfeifengesicht

back/pfeifen/gesicht

back

pfeifen

gesicht

 

Back

This is easy enough to pronounce. Backe is the most common German word for cheek. It can apply to face-cheeks, butt-cheeks, or to tools. In German a tool such as a vise can have a Backe instead of a mouth or jaw. The formal literary term for cheek in German is still Wange, which applies only to the face-cheek. I can't think of any modern English words that trace their origin to either of these particular words - but Wange was used in English in past centuries. In the C13th an English poet said that 'for-thi myn wonges waxeth won', which wondrous line is my favourite in the whole canon of English poetry.

Pfeifen

It's the P that is confusing you. Some German regions pronounce it, some don't. There is a whole thing where Ps switched to Fs in Germanic languages and it's very exciting if you're into that sort of thing. The usual example is English pepper/ German pfeffer, but I also like to think about the Latin pisces/English fish. It's called Grimm's Law. Yes, that Grimm. Feel free to ignore the P altogether. Feifen.

Now, that vowel in the middle is the same vowel as in the middle of the English words pipe or fife. Fifen.

The 'n' at the end of the word is all about grammar. That's the infinitive form of the verb, which I like to think of as the 'starting position'. In English we would say 'to pfeif', in German, 'pfeifen'. So drop the n. Fife. In German you still pronounce the e at the end, so it's two syllables. Fife-e.

If you hadn't figured it out by now, Pfeifen means 'whistle'. It can mean the kind of whistling you do with your mouth, or it can mean refereeing. It can also be used in a phrase something like "I don't give a whistle about that". And it makes sense, doesn't it - pipe, fife, pfeifen.

Backpfeife

Go on, just pop those two words together. Back and pfeife (don't forget to pronounce the e at the end). What is a Backpfeife, or cheek-whistle? It's a slap in the face, of course! Isn't it a charming phrase? I'll box your ears, tan your hide and whistle your cheek, you fool!

Gesicht

The ge- prefix is another grammatical thing, like the be- at the front of some English words. Beloved, bedizened, betoken. So the important part of the word is Sicht. If you haven't practised the wonderful German ch sound, E2 is not the place to start, so just harden that up to a k. Sikt. Now, a single s in German is usually voiced, like a z. So we have Zikt. Gezikt.

What's a gezikt? It's a face. It might mean the bit on the front of your head with eyes, nose, mouth and Backe - or it might refer to a facial expression, to outward appearance, reputation (like the English phrase 'to save face') or even to sight and vision. There isn't really an English equivalent there, but one might use gesicht to say one had seen a glorious vision, if one was trying to sound poetic. "Lo in the distance, I gesichted a most stupendous gesicht, and I did fall unto my knees and hide my gesicht in my hands."

We now have two wonderful words, Backpfeife and gesicht. Pop them together: Cheek-whistle face. Backpfeifengesicht.

Now try it out: "As an adult, I find Amy March to have a cheek-whistle face. Her smugness is almost unbearable."

 

The only uses of the word Backpfeifengesicht in the E2 catbox, thus far, have been by Simulacron3 in a conversation with DonJaime back in 2010. I'd like to see that change. Tell me, noders, who do you think has a Backpfeifengesicht?

 


 

Source: Wiktionary was extremely helpful, much more so than my sad little Collins Gem English-German dictionary.

A reQuested writeup