Word of the Week: Brillenschlange [ˈbʁɪlənˌʃlaŋə]

In Vienna, this the unflattering expression for someone who wears corrective lenses; the German equivalent of “four-eyes.”

Noun. 1. The German term for the Indian cobra (naja naja); lit.  “snake with spectacles.” The name derives from the fact that the rear of its hood sports a pattern that (vaguely) resembles a pince-nez, a doughty ancestor of modern eyeglasses now rarely seen outside of period dramas and the steampunk community.

However, as the somewhat whimsical name belies the lethal impact of this venomous creature, the more generic term, Kobra, is more commonly used today.

2. An unflattering expression for someone who wears corrective lenses; the German equivalent of “four-eyes.”  Now, it stands to reason that designating someone a dangerous snake, a salute usually saved for sports cars, special forces and ’80s action heroes, might be considered excessive, even flattering.  But alas! It is merely a not-so-clever pun used to further humiliate those nerdy, bespectacled book worms who already clearly have their doubts about the future of civilization.

Rarely uttered outside of schoolyards and playgrounds, the term has nonetheless left a trail of former and current Brillenschlangen who harbor deep emotional scars from childhood teasing – further fueling the lucrative contact lens industry and leading to long lines outside laser surgery clinics.

The result:  The species is now increasingly rare outside of the Schönbrunn zoo.

No matter how well you speak German, the Word Of The Week will help you impress any Viennese! While learning German is not an easy task in general, learning the language in Austria can come to be twice as complicated.

Strongly linked to local cultural individualities, the slangs change and evolve in all cultures around the world, the words and phrases make sense only when one is familiar with their cultural context. The Word of the Week is here to help you understand those singularities and impress the locals with some real Viennese words and expressions.

The Word of the Week can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Spread the word!

Binu Starnegg
Manila born, Brooklyn bred and a longtime resident of Vienna, Binu Starnegg is currently managing editor for Metropole, where he completes myriad tasks with style and aplomb. Photo: Visual Hub

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