The other day I came across the wonderful German word Pfeife, which means whistle or pipe, and comes from the Middle High German pfife, from Old High German pfiffa, from the Vulgar Latin pipa (pipe; tube-shaped musical instrument), from the Classical Latin pipare (to chirp; to peep), which is of imitative origin, and is also the root of the English word pipe, and related words in other European languages.

I particularly notice this word because the initial pf in Pfeife just appeals to me for some reason. It’s one of the consonant shifts (p > pf) that happened in High German, though not in other varieties of German.

Words and expressions related to Pfeife include:

– pfeifen = to blow a whistle; to sough; to whistle; to hoot; to pipe
– Ich pfeife eben darauf = I couldn’t care less about it.
– nach jds. Pfeife tanzen = to dance to sb.’s tune
– jdn. nach seiner Pfeife tanzen lassen = to lead sb. by the nose
– Pfeifkonzert = catcalls
– Er pfeift aus dem letzten Loch = He’s on his last legs (“He pipes from the last hole”)
– Da pfeift es aus einem anderen Loch = That’s a horse of a different color (“He/she pipes from a different hole”)

Sources: Dictionary,, Online Etymology Dictionary

This entry was posted in English, German, Language, Words and phrases.

2 Responses to Pfeife

  1. Rauli says:

    In Finnish, the loan word piippu means 1) a pipe for smoking tobacco, 2) a gun barrel, and 3) a chimney. In the last meaning, we usually use the compound word savupiippu (smoke pipe).

    I’m going to assume the verb piipata (to beep) is a loan as well.

    The musical instrument is pilli, and a tube for transporting liquids is putki. The latter word is also used for the barrel of a large gun, like a cannon.

  2. Josh says:

    “Pf” is just fun to say; it has a pop to it.

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