In honor of the new documentary Weiner, which hits cinemas this week, Glossophilia is re-posting this short essay on the etymology of wiener, which was originally published when Big Weiner was running for mayor …
Definition: noun: 1) a sausage made from beef, chicken or pork; 2) a hot dog (U.S.); 3) a frankfurter or frankfurter-style sausage (U.S., UK, Vienna); 4) a penis (U.S. coarse slang); 5) a person who is nervous about participating (U.S. colloquial); 6) an irritating or disliked person (U.S. or UK colloquial); 7) (as a term of contempt) a man (derog.); 8) (alt. spelling) some or none of the above, running for New York mayor (NYC)
Etymology: from the German Wienerwurst, meaning sausage: Wiener comes from a pairing of Wiener (“of Vienna”, “Viennese”) and Wurst (“sausage”). And that’s because sausages originally come from (were made in) the Austrian city of Vienna. Its pejorative sense comes from the wiener‘s distinctive penis-like shape. The shortened wiener comes from about 1904; wienie (shorter still) came a little later, in 1911.
One particular Weiner* (larger than the wienie) came along in 1964; from Brooklyn originally, he grew quickly into a wiener (def. 7). The American politician and former U.S. Representative came to office in New York’s 9th congressional district in January 1999. His career came tumbling down in June 2011, after he sent a picture of his wiener (def. 4) to a young woman, thus becoming something of a wiener (def. 6) himself. He came to parenthood that same year, producing a tiny Weiner in addition to the other little wiener (q.v. above) he was born with. He has come back to politics this year, evidently not as a wiener (def. 5), but hoping to become Mayor Weiner in November 2013.
Nowadays, in Germany the original wiener is known as a Wiener Würstchen (“small sausage from Vienna”); in Vienna, they call it a frankfurter (a sausage from Frankfurt). In NYC, we call
him it a hot dog (a penis-shaped sausage, packaged for fast delivery and consumption, that seems like a good idea at the time, but invariably leads to a sense of regret and remorse).
* The German pronunciation of this name would be “VINer”, so the Americanized version would more normally be “WHY-ner”, not to be confused with the noun (Brit.) whiner, meaning a person given to excessive complaints and crying and whining. The common American mispronunciation makes it sound like a teeny wienie sausage.
Originally published when Anthony Weiner was running for mayor in NYC, in July 2013