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Q: Word Origins ( Answered,   1 Comment )
Subject: Word Origins
Category: Reference, Education and News > Teaching and Research
Asked by: heiner-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 18 May 2003 03:19 PDT
Expires: 17 Jun 2003 03:19 PDT
Question ID: 205354
What is the origin of the German word "Schlitzohr"? It means a person
who is unreliable and untrustworthy. - e.g. a used car salesman who
sells you a lemon.
Subject: Re: Word Origins
Answered By: leli-ga on 18 May 2003 05:06 PDT
Hello - thanks for your question.

"Schlitzohr" means a slit or torn ear.

This word comes from the days of medieval trade guilds, when men in
some guilds wore a gold ear-ring as a sign of membership. If a guild
member broke the rules, the ear-ring would be torn out, leaving the
offender permanently marked as a "Schlitzohr", and unable to continue
his trade.

There are a couple of extra possibilities, but all agree that the slit
ear was a  sign of punishment, marking someone forever as a cheat or
criminal of some kind. Some people say that a slit ear was a more
general punishment, not just confined to guild members. There's also a
theory that bakers who short-changed customers by supplying
'underweight' bread were nailed to the church door by the ear and had
to tear themselves free.

I found one reference in English to this:

"Christoph Winkler can be a sly dog, a Schlitzohr as the old Berlin
slang puts it, "a torn ear", for clever types who went too far in the
medieval guilds had their earring torn out of their ear."

Her are some of the German sites I consulted, including one excerpt
from the Wortschatz (word treasure) site outlining the 'guild earring'
theory first and then the secondary 'baker' theory.

"Die Gesellen bestimmter Zünfte trugen als Zeichen ihrer
Zunftangehörigkeit Ohrringe. Brachen sie die Regeln ihrer Zunft, wurde
ihnen der Ohrring auf relativ schmerzhafte Art entfernt. Man riss ihn
einfach aus dem Ohr. Das Ergebnis war ein >Schlitzohr<. Mit diesem
Zeichen war es unmöglich seinen Beruf weiter auszuüben.
Eine andere Erklärung besagt, dass Bäcker, die zu kleine Brötchen
gebacken hatten, mit dem Ohr an die Kirchentür genagelt wurden. Um
sich zu befreien, mussten sie sich losreißen. Das schmerzhafte
Ergebnis war ebenfalls ein >Schlitzohr<."

German etymology site

This one says there's no proof for the church door theory.
Textgalerie: Schlitzohr

No master would take on a worker with a torn ear.  

More about the guilds:
Von Schlitzohren und Deutschlands vielseitigstem Wirtschaftszweig

Apparently the gold ear-ring was destined to pay for a good funeral.

Translations of "schlitzohr" from one online German dictionary: 
"shark, sly dog, chiseler, crook"

I hope this gives you all the information you need about the origins
of "Schlitzohr" but please don't hesitate to ask if anything needs

Regards - Leli

searches used:
schlitzohr etymologie
schlitzohr zünfte
schlitzohr ear
Subject: Re: Word Origins
From: magnesium-ga on 18 May 2003 18:50 PDT
What a fascinating word! Thanks for the excellent explanation, leli-ga!

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