Morgen means "morning," and a Muffel is a sullen person, a grouch. Put together, they signify a person who habitually wakes up in a bad mood and needs some time before being able to face the world with an even temper.
The late German chancellor Willy Brandt was, according to his wife Ruth, a Morgenmuffel. And recently, I came across a study dealing with the important question why (German) teenagers are such Morgenmuffel (the plural is the same as the singular).
Stern means “star” and Stunde “hour.” A Sternstunde (plural Sternstunden) is a “dramatically compressed, fateful” event in which a “lasting development is being condensed into a single day, a single hour, or even a single minute” as it occurs only “rarely in the life of an individual or in the course of history.” These are the words of Stefan Zweig, who published between 1927 and 1943 fourteen historical “miniatures” under the title Sternstunden der Menschheit (Sternstunden of Humankind). He called the events he described Sternstunden because they “outshine the night of transience brilliantly and lastingly like stars.” [Source]
What Zweig had in mind becomes clear when we look at some of the Sternstunden he chose to describe: Händel composes the Messiah in a state of creative intoxication after a near-fatal illness (1741); the Janissaries enter Constantinople through a secret gate during the Turkish siege and conquer the city for the Turks (1453); Lenin returns to Russia in a sealed train to lead the Bolshevik revolution (1917). What unifies these events is their momentousness—in Zweig’s depiction, they changed the course of political or cultural history almost over night. If it was for the better or worse is not a concern of his.*
In present-day usage, however, the term Sternstunde has a distinctly positive connotation—it designates a highpoint or a pivotal moment that turns things around in the course of history. For example, Einstein’s publication of his paper on special relativity could be called a Sternstunde in the history of physics, and Germany’s unexpected victory in the 1954 World Cup a Sternstunde for German soccer.
*Historians have also questioned the accuracy of Zweig’s narratives or the importance he assigns to certain events; for example, his account of the creation of the Messiah appears to be entirely fictitious. But this does not diminish the usefulness of the term he coined.
Platz means "place" in a very broad sense—it can be a location, a position (like in a hierarchy), a space occupied by or reserved for someone, or a (city) square. A Hirsch is a male deer, i.e., a stag. Platzhirsch in the original sense is a hunting or forestry term that refers to the dominant stag in an area who lays claim to the resident hinds when they are in heat and fights off all competitors. It's used figuratively to indicate the leader of a group who claims all the rights and privileges such a position entails. In English, we would say he is the "alpha dog."
A Treppe is a stair(case), and Witz means "joke." In combination, they
indicate an event that, in retrospect, looks like a bad joke because it had
completely unintended, negative consequences—it's an initiative that backfired in a way that would be funny, if it weren't so serious. The term can be applied to a wide
range of situations, from personal predicaments to the ironies of
history. An example would be the hiring of a new CEO for a troubled company who
was expected to turn it around, but leads it into bankruptcy instead—the hiring
becomes a Treppenwitz in retrospect.
what in the world does a staircase have to do with something that turns out to
be a failure in the end? In order to understand this, one has to know the
term's history. It is a translation of the French phrase l'esprit de l'escalier ("wit of the staircase"), which was coined
in the 18th century and refers to a clever rejoinder or reposte one
thinks about too late, i.e., after one has already reached the bottom of the
stairs on one’s way home from a party
[Source]. L'esprit de l'escalier becameTreppenwitz in the German translation, where Witz was used not in the sense of "joke," but in the sense of "cleverness"
or "wit." But that meaning has become, by now, secondary to "joke" and along
with this, a Treppenwitz came to be
understood not as a clever retort thought of too late, but as something
that looks like a bad joke in retrospect. When you hear someone speak of a Treppenwitz in present-day Germany, you
can be sure that the latter is the intended meaning.
Sünden means "sins," and a Bock is a male goat in this context.
Sündenbock is used in German in exactly the same way in which "scapegoat" is used in English:
It denotes a person who has been falsely accused of a misdeed and subsequently ostracized within a group,
with the intent to turn suspicion away from the real culprits.
That these terms have the same meaning in the respective languages is not surprising because both have their origin in a ritual described in the Old Testament.
On the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the High Priest
puts his hands on a goat in order to transfer the sins of the people of Israel onto the animal and then has it, and with it the sins of the congregation, chased into the wilderness.
[Leviticus 16, 21-22]
A Sippe is an extended family, a clan. Haftung means "liability" and Haft "imprisonment" or "confinement." Sippenhaft and Sippenhaftung refer to the principle that every member of a clan can be held responsible for any crime committed by another clan member. It was practiced in the Middle Ages in German-speaking countries and is also known from other cultures. It is fundamentally in conflict with the modern notion that individuals can be punished only for acts they committed themselves, which did not prevent the Nazis from reviving Sippenhaft as a means to terrorize the population. [Source]
Why do I bring up this seemingly outdated notion? It’s because I see Sippenhaft, in a vastly extended form, at work wherever I look. For example, the Boston bombers explicitly justified their actions against Americans with the claim that (other) Americans had committed crimes against Muslims. Conversely, more than one Sikh was murdered by an American who considered wearing a turban and a beard a sure sign that someone was a Muslim. In both examples, the killers were willing to ‘murder the innocent,’ and this makes this modern form of Sippenhaft so repulsive to me. In traditional societies that subscribed to Sippenhaft, the member of a clan who committed a crime or who was aware of a crime committed by a relative knew, at least, what was coming, whereas the spectators at the Boston Marathon did not.
Sippenhaft in its extended form becomes grotesque when one realizes that a person typically belongs to more than one group. Take me as an example: I’m male; I’m German; and I may be perceived as being a Christian. This may make me simultaneously the target of certain feminists; of people who suffered under the atrocities committed by Germans all over Europe during WWII; and of radical Islamists. Never mind that I oppose patriarchy in all its forms; abhor the German war crimes; and am appalled by the conduct of Western powers in the Muslim world, from the Crusades to recent times.