This practice of mashing up words to coin new ones is so common even Mark Twain - who had a love-hate relationship with German - once complained that “some German words are so long that they have a perspective.”
Sitzfleisch is a great example of how these compound words can pack in additional meaning just through juxtaposition.
“German condenses what would take about seven or eight words in English into one particular word,” Joyce said. “The humour comes from the density of the word and the fact that it expresses something in such condensed form that we can’t get anywhere near.”
When someone says you have sitzfleisch, it’s usually a professional compliment: it means they believe you’re capable of focusing long enough to complete a tough project or finish whatever work needs to be done. If you don’t have sitzfleisch, however, that is a particularly evocative way of suggesting you might be flighty or unable to concentrate on one thing at a time. (For example, it wouldn’t be uncommon to hear older people complaining that irresponsible young people as lacking in sitzfleisch because they can’t stay in one place long enough to accomplish anything.)
But this isn’t the only meaning of sitzfleisch: it can also mean, in some cases, that one simply sits still and waits for a difficult situation to resolve itself. In that scenario, it’s still about endurance but rather the endurance to sit tight than the endurance to push through with hard work.
“When someone says, ‘Oh, but he has sitzfleisch,’ that means he is usually in a difficult situation,” said Martina Schäfer, a longtime teacher at the Goethe Institut in Berlin, “And that he is not very active in trying to solve the problem, but instead simply stays in this waiting position and hopes the problem solves itself.”
The term is just as common in everyday speech as it is in the media and formal German, Schäfer explained - its wait-and-see meaning is often used to describe Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, who’s known for her political restraint. “If I were reporting about Ms. Merkel, then I could say, ‘But she once again has sitzfleisch,’” Schäfer adds (Indeed, a search of news articles about Merkel containing the word turns up numerous examples.)
Sitzfleisch is also used to describe the patience needed to make it through a long event or performance. A recent article about the most recent Star Wars film notes that, at 152 minutes long, the movie “certainly strains the sitzfleisch of the average movie-goer.”