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Where does the word "Pech" originate, and does it have another meaning?

Also, I'd like to know what's the antonym of "Pechvogel"? "lokvogel"?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

"Pech" originates from it's original and still used meaning of pitch, a sticky tar resin that is left over when producing charcoal from wood.

There was a religious believe that there is a lot of "Pech" in hell, thus the connotation with bad luck (see also Grimm's "Frau Holle", "Pechmarie und Goldmarie" and other fairy tales). See also:

Siedendes pech, das schon bei den Römern den sklaven zur marter auf den leib geträufelt wurde, galt in christlicher zeit als eine der höllenstrafen und geradezu als hölle, die man sich als einen mit brennendem pech und schwefel erfüllten pfuhl vorstellte, worin die seelen der verdammten ewig brennen sollen.Deutsches Wörterbuch von Jacob Grimm und Wilhelm Grimm

"Pech haben" comes from a student's saying in the 18th century to someone who had bad luck. This is a shortening for "Pechvogel". "Pechvogel" on the other hand originates from a haunting method to catch birds by putting pitch on tree branches. (Source: DWDS)

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If you have left a comment, that you updated your post, I would have been notified and could have deleted my previous comment, not just because by chance. –  user unknown Aug 16 '11 at 12:51

Made a slight mistake and explained "Pechvogel" not "Pech" itself. Delete if necessary.

The German Wikipedia says that the word originated in medieval times and comes from a practice in bird hunting and trapping. Tar was lathered on the branches of a tree, so birds would stick to them when they landed and the bird could be caught easily. Therefore "Pechvogel" became a symbol for someone struck by misfortune. Several other German websites support this explanation of the origin.

Regarding the antonym, "Glückspilz" is correct. "Glücksvogel" can also be used, it is less common though.

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As you've noticed, I'm more interested in the origin of "Pech". –  user508 Aug 15 '11 at 17:35

An antonym of "Pechvogel" is Glückspilz

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Another antonym would be "Sonntagskind", but it is much less used than "Glückspilz" (at least according to my experience). –  0x6d64 Aug 16 '11 at 19:48

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