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Example of professions defined by this word might be lawyers, notaries, accountants, bureaucrats, and similar. The word I'm looking for might have a playful or even slightly derogatory connotation.

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    So your looking for a translation of "paper pusher"?
    – henning
    Mar 3, 2022 at 19:24
  • To answer the question you asked: yes. It's German, they've got a word for everything. Mar 4, 2022 at 8:52

8 Answers 8

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Jonathan Scholbach has given two good examples already

Let me add a third: Bürohengst, which compared to Sesselfurzer carries more connotations of pedantry rather than laziness. It can refer to someone who takes their office work a bit too seriously.

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    That's the closest to what I was trying to convey, so I'm going to accept your answer. Thanks!
    – mrzool
    Mar 4, 2022 at 10:59
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    Note that Hengst is a male horse...and while women might take exception at being referenced to as male, exchanging it with "Bürostute" is an absolute no-go, as "Stute" will be understood as "breeding mare", with a clear derogatory sexual connotation.
    – ccprog
    Mar 4, 2022 at 21:31
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Schreibtischtäter has a derogatory connotation, as "Täter" means "perpetrator". The literal translation of "Schreibtischtäter" is "desk perpetrator". The word has been used to denote those people in Third Reich who were responsible for the killings by giving orders (from their desks). From the history alone you can see how it might be received. You might be misunderstood if you use it not wishing to express a negative or even a strong negative sentiment, including moral or legal judgement. Yet, I have seen it used merely referring to people who have an office job, without an intended derogatory connotation.

Another word would be Sesselfurzer, literally meaning "armchair farter" - also a derogatory term to denote someone working in an office, as opposed to someone doing physical work.

Within the semantic field of the opposition office work vs. physical work, German also has the term ehrliche Arbeit ("honest work", "honorable work"), referring to physical work. So, the idea that office work is something negative is present in the German language in general.

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    I would shy away from "Schreibtischtäter" unless I clearly want to communicate that the person does amoral/criminal things from their desk without getting their own hands dirty. I know some people use it more flippantly, but it's originally quite a grave statement about someone. "Sessel(p)furzer" is juicy and derogatory, but it can be more easily used in the sense of "distant, not knowing anything or not caring about the real world".
    – HalvarF
    Mar 1, 2022 at 17:52
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    I completely agree with your answer. I found "it has a derogatory connotation" a bit weak in comparison to what you said about "Sesselfurzer", that's why I added an additional perspective. It's not meant as criticism.
    – HalvarF
    Mar 1, 2022 at 19:43
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    I my social group the "Schreibtischtaeter" has lost all of its sinister meaning and is only used in a derogatory way.
    – arne
    Mar 2, 2022 at 9:09
  • @HalvarF Ich hab versucht, es noch deutlicher herauszuarbeiten. Mar 2, 2022 at 13:46
  • If you want to avoid "Schreibtischtäter" because it sounds criminal, there is also "Schreibtischstratege", meaning "desk strategist". Mar 4, 2022 at 10:23
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There also is "Papierschubser", meaning "someone who pushes paper around". It's slightly derogatory in that it reduces the profession down to "pushing paper", but also does have that playful touch.

It may be used seldomly (Google n-gram does not know it), but it is in use (standard google search did find occurences on the web). I know "-schubser" as a recurring scheme that is understood (with the right context) by most german people, with "Pixelschubser" for web designers and digital artists probably being the best known example. (Looking for more examples on the web, I found "Möbelschubser" for movers, "Baumschubser" for lumberjacks, "Geldschubser" for accountants ... even companies playing with that scheme in their own name. Just use any basic word, add "schubser" to the end, and see what google finds.)

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  • I just remembered that "Baumschubser" also was the name of Earls profession in the german version of the TV show Dinosaurs/Die Dinos.
    – orithena
    Mar 2, 2022 at 12:34
  • So far, I was only aware of Saftschubser which even made it into Duden: duden.de/rechtschreibung/Saftschubser Mar 2, 2022 at 13:51
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    The direct translation is used in the same sense in American English, and was the first word I thought of when I read the question. Mar 2, 2022 at 19:16
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    Could "Papierschubser" be an anglicism only used by people who speak English and back-translate into German? I have never heard that, but it's easily understandable of course.
    – HalvarF
    Mar 3, 2022 at 14:44
  • @HalvarF I cannot rule that out, though half of the occurences I found on the web are not in anglophile contexts (i.e. IT-related or s.th. like that). It could also be that the first usage came up as you said, but then the "-schubser" scheme took on a life of its own in german. It also could be that the scheme started out in german with the "Baumschubser" of the TV show "Die Dinos" in the early 90s, which would be a translation of the english "tree pusher" -- though I seem to remember that that scheme already did feel familiar to me when I watched that show.
    – orithena
    Mar 3, 2022 at 15:07
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Another variant is "Büromensch". Duden says it is "umgangssprachlich, oft abwertend" (colloquial, often derogatory). In my opinion it is just a little bit derogatory, one can use it in a fairly neutral sense.

It comes close to "Bürohengst", but this word which has a much more derogatory connotation.

A "Büromensch" is a person working in an office which is more general than being a lawyer, notary or accountant.

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    It's nice to see an actual reference for an answer. But while I'd agree that BM would be a synonym, it is hardly a colloquialism. Hengst is that, and it only can have that bad colour attached to it, but isn't necessarily so bad. The para on lawyer is taken from Q, I understand, but it's unclear to me how it's meant in this A. You might also add Bürokrat Paragrafenhengst ugs. · Paragrafenreiter ugs. · Paragraphenhengst ugs. · Paragraphenreiter ugs. · Wortklauber ugs. Geschäftszimmersoldat, Schreibstubenhengst ugs., Jargon Mar 2, 2022 at 0:21
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A more positive, playful term could be Kopfarbeiter (literally “head worker”) which is someone working with their head as opposed to their hands.

It’s not connotated with paper though, so it would include e.g. IT persons and designers working on computers as well.

Another term could be Büroheld (“office hero”) which is generally positive (e.g. you see it in job postings), but can also be used tongue-in-cheek when talking about office people.

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    Kopfarbeiter reminds me of the socialist term Arbeiter der Stirn. Mar 2, 2022 at 13:50
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At least in Switzerland, the expression "Bürogummi" (office eraser) is used to connotate an office worker. It isn't mean but somewhat judging.

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I once heard the term "Schreibtischjockey".

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"Papiertiger" came to my head immediately.

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    I don't think that the proposal matches this context precisely, even if it is in the correct direction. As I understand Papiertiger, it mostly means producing many papers, slides, bureaucratic footprint but getting comparably few if any real-world results by it. The total content of this answer would also be more appropriate for a comment to one of the other answers.
    – guidot
    Mar 3, 2022 at 8:05
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    See de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papiertiger / en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper_tiger. Mao said "Der Imperialismus und alle Reaktionäre sind Papiertiger."
    – Paul Frost
    Mar 3, 2022 at 12:52

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