8

An article in today's FAZ has the title: Arbeiten mit Vierbeinern: Darf der Hund ins Büro?

A random page of Google results for Vierbeiner brings up these webpage titles:

  • Bühne frei für Vierbeiner
  • Ein Herz für Vierbeiner
  • Welcher Zahnpastageschmack macht Vierbeiner glücklich?
  • 1974 Euro für Vierbeiner
  • Vierbeinerzentrum Nordheide

In all these pages the Vierbeiner are dogs, and only dogs. Can I therefore assume that the other page titles that contain the word Vierbeiner are also about dogs? Here are a few pages that I haven't opened:

  • Barbra Streisands Vierbeiner sind erst der Anfang

  • Rund um den Vierbeiner: Hitzefrei durch den Sommer

  • Verreisen mit dem Vierbeiner

  • Herzlich Willkommen, Vierbeiner!

  • Viel Streit um Vierbeiner

And a supplementary question: When did Vierbeiner start to become essentially synonymous with Hund?

  • 4
    No, that's not a synonym for "Hund". It applies to all animals with four legs. – πάντα ῥεῖ Apr 9 '18 at 17:14
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    But if I said: Eine meiner Studentinnen hat heute ihren Vierbeiner mit in die Klasse gebracht would you automatically assume I was referring to her dog. – Shoe Apr 9 '18 at 17:19
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    It could have been her cat as well. It's not a synonym but a generalization. – πάντα ῥεῖ Apr 9 '18 at 17:21
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    Agreed, or her rabbit, or giraffe for that matter. I'm trying to get a sense of whether native German speakers assume that Vierbeiner are dogs unless the context suggests otherwise. – Shoe Apr 9 '18 at 17:23
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    "I'm trying to get a sense of whether native German speakers assume that Vierbeiner are dogs unless the context suggests otherwise." I think it is the contrary: native speakers do not assume that Vierbeiner are dogs, unless the context suggest otherwise like the article mentioned in the first sentence of the question. – IQV Apr 10 '18 at 7:58
5

From wiktionary it's suggested that "Vierbeiner" primarily refers to dogs (all emphasis mine):

Bedeutungen:

[1] umgangssprachlich: Tier mit vier Beinen, vor allem Hund

Though dict.cc does leave it with a more generic interpretation:

Vierbeiner {m}
- quadruped zool.
Vierbeiner {m} [Hund oder Katze]
- four-legged friend

As mentioned, while "Vierbeiner" is mostly used as a synonym for dog colloquially in german, it still can't be really considered as a synonym, but is merely a generalization.

From a biological (taxonomical) point of view, it simply describes an animal with a four leg body shape, and there's a number of animals falling into that category (cats, giraffes, horses, cows, etc.).

The main distinction is probably based upon the kind of locomotion, and how the limbs are used for it.

A "Zweibeiner" (higher order primate) uses only two legs (limbs) to move, while a "Vierbeiner" uses all four, and they keep contact to the ground.

As a native speaker, I'd not take the term "Vierbeiner" as a synonym for "dog", even not for left out context.

  • 2
    Thanks. I was searching for advice earlier about keeping Wildschweine out of my garden. Already in the first sentence of the first article I found that the Wildschweine had become Borstentiere. In another article it wasn't long before the Wildschweine became Paarhufer. German writers seem to have a greater need to synonymize than their English counterparts. I can't imagine an English writer suddenly switching from boars to ungulates. – Shoe Apr 10 '18 at 18:54
  • @Shoe The german language can be very florid when it comes to synonymy :-D. – πάντα ῥεῖ Apr 10 '18 at 19:05
9

Vierbeiner

This colloquial term for all animals on four legs appeared in the second half of the 19th Century and became increasingly popular in the 20th century (source Google Ngram)).

Mostly today we refer to dogs when talking about a Vierbeiner but there are many references to other animals too, they need not to be pets:

  • Bei 60 Pferden und damit 30 Prozent der insgesamt 200 gemeldeten Vierbeiner wurden Proben entnommen.Die Zeit
  • Waschbär, Grauhörnchen und Kleinem Mungo geht es in Europa an den Pelz. Die EU-Kommission hat diese Vierbeiner am Mittwoch in Brüssel auf eine Liste unerwünschter Tier- und Pflanzenarten gesetzt. Die Zeit
  • Als einziges Rentierrudel Italiens sind Rudi und Kelly, die Stars im weitläufigen Rentiergehege auf der Rotwand, mit ihren Familien längst lokale Berühmtheiten. Zuhause in der wilden Natur der Dolomitenregion Drei Zinnen, sorgen die wuscheligen Vierbeiner hier oben immer wieder für amüsante und faszinierende Begegnungen und sind sogar auf der Skipiste anzutreffen. Die Zeit
  • Kein Problem ist es dagegen, quer über die Schafweiden zu wandern: Auge in Auge mit den blökenden Vierbeinern, die sich aber nicht aus der Ruhe bringen lassen. Tagesspiegel 29.02.2004

So no, without a clearcut context we can not assume a Vierbeiner always is a dog. If in a furniture shop we may even talk about a chair on four legs.

0

It generally means dog, but can deviate based on context:

Vierbeiner, m. vierbeiniges Tier, besonders Hund (Source: Duden)

four-legged animal, especially a dog

However, its usage is debatable. Wolf Schneider, the renowned German writing-style teacher, writes in Deutsch für junge Profis:

Für die meisten konkreten Hauptwörter steht ein sauberes Synonym nicht zur Verfügung. Für den Tisch zum Beispiel. «Vierbeiner»? Der ist schon vergeben: im Schulaufsatz- und Zeitungsjargon für den Hund (ziemlich töricht noch dazu, da auch Kühe, Ameisenbären und Krokodile vier Beine haben).

There is no obvious synonym for most concrete nouns. Take "table", for example: «Vierbiener»? This term is already taken by "dog", in school essays and newspaper jargon (and foolishly, I might add, since cows, anteaters, and crocodiles also have four legs).

Above, I have translated to English.

-1

Zweibeiner is a common "humorous" term for humans.

Vierbeiner is the analogous term for pets, mostly cats and dogs. If a vet or animal asylum writes this, they don't do horses, cows or other cattle. At least not usually. It also includes bunnies, guinea pigs, hamsters and pet birds, too, usually.

There's also Dreibeiner, an also "homorous" term for men, introduced by comedian Hella von Sinnen thirty years ago.

  • 2
    "pet birds" Huh?? – πάντα ῥεῖ Apr 9 '18 at 21:08
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    "Then they don't do horses" Well, a horse isn't a "Vierbeiner"? Where did you get that conclusion from? – πάντα ῥεῖ Apr 9 '18 at 21:21
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    "Vets that do horses don't call them Vierbeiner." I don't see any evidence though. – πάντα ῥεῖ Apr 9 '18 at 22:38
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    Ich bitte um die Nennung von Beispielen für Vierbeiner die Vögel sind. – Hubert Schölnast Apr 10 '18 at 6:47
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    Echt? Ich nicht. Wenn ich von Vierbeinern rede, dann meine ich Tiere oder Dinge, die vier Beine haben. Wieso bloß? – tofro Apr 10 '18 at 19:07

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