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Both colloquial terms "Triefnase", and "Rotznase" translate with "runny nose". However when used as an invective they seem to have very different meanings

"Diese Triefnasen haben immer noch kein Ergebnis abgeliefert."
"Da haben diese Rotznasen wieder einen ihrer bösen Streiche gespielt."

How would you translate these different meanings? Is there a reason why a "runny nose" is used in such a different context in German?

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I can't answer your question completely, but I can confirm that "Triefnase" is probably much rarer and more ambiguous than "Rotznase", which should be relatively universally understood.

A guess toward the different meanings:

"Triefnase" is a slouch. It's not hard to see the connection: People with runny noses usually have a cold, which makes people slow (both in the literal sense as well as in the figurative one).

"Rotz" or "Rotze" is a relatively vulgar word for snot, and is used often in a more active negative sense ("Auf die Straße rotzen" invokes a stronger image than "auf die Straße spucken").

"Rotznase" (synonym: "Rotzlöffel"!) carries a rougher, more repulsive and more derogatory connotation than just "somebody with a runny nose"."Rotz" can be translated as "shit" in a sentence like:

Das ist totaler Rotz!

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I'd translate "Rotznase" as "brat" (dict.leo.org says "snotty-nosed brat"). Another synonym for this would be "Bengel" (which means rascal or urchin).

I've never heard the word "Triefnase" used in this way, however. This one I'd only use for its literal meaning (running nose). That might be a local thing, however.

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Well, Rotznase and Triefnase are both NOT connected to a runny nose..

"Rotznase" is used to describe a child or a kid that behaves in a silly or unfriendly way, it is also used by arrogant persons to name people of lower education or social status. In case it is used for a child it can also have a "friendly" color like "meine süße Rotznase" like a father could name his child in a lovely way.

"Triefnase" is usually used to address adults who are not doing a good job. for example, you hire a guy to clean your car and the car looks worse after the cleaning, you could say this "Triefnase" did a bad job.

Hope that helps...

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+1 for mentioning that Rotznase/-löffel is referring to children. –  splattne Jan 4 '12 at 14:44
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