Word of the Week: Seelenklempner [ˈzeːlənˌklɛmpnɐ]

In Vienna, this the dialect term for a psychiatrist or psychotherapist, or any mental health professional, referencing the complexity of their work.

Noun. A psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Lit. “plumber of souls.” While the Anglosphere dismissively uses “shrink” – short for “headshrinker” – as slang for mental health professionals, Austrians and Germans prefer to imply that the psyche is a convoluted tangle of pipes that can go awry in complex ways.

It follows that a Seelenklempner is a professional who plies his trade by diving deep into the murky miasma of human existence, unclogging childhood traumata, mending the burst sewer mains of the unconscious and providing routine bolt tightening on the superego.

Somewhat Freudian in its anal-retentive undertones, belittling mental well-being as a sort of blue-collar activity might be considered as unflattering as shrinking someone’s head; but it also emphasizes the job’s vital nature, as anyone who has ever had a broken toilet or failed boiler on the weekend can attest. In addition, both Klempner and Seelenklempner tend to charge generously for their services, making the analogy apt in perhaps more ways than one.

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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