Both my parents were born in Germany. They moved to Canada and then had me, so I’m about as German as a Canadian can be – which probably explains my weakness for sauerkraut, oom-pa-pa, and marzipan.
I also have a love for the German language. Some people make fun of it, but I grew up listening to my family speak it; so it reminds me of holidays, house parties, and home. Growing up, I was accustomed to my parents switching back and forth between English and German (particularly when they were excited).
Here are some of my favorite (and not-so-favorite) German words… feel free to add your own in the comments section below!
Pronunciations provided thanks to the nice people at Forvo.com.
I’ve confined myself to words readily available in German dictionaries. I’ve tried to avoid slang words or words unique to one of the many regional dialects. While researching words for this list, I was also shocked to learn that my Oma (Grandmother) had probably made some of my favorite words up.
For example, I was unable to include ‘Muesterchen (Muesterkens)*’ because I couldn’t prove that this word exists outside my immediate family. Muesterchen/Muesterkens (translation: little patterns) are the marks fabrics leave on your face while you are asleep. There should be a word for this in every language (nappers of the world, unite!). It shouldn’t take eleven words to describe this thing that happens to my face at least once a day, it’s just not efficient. It’s almost a haiku, for heaven’s sake. *Spelling variations added as a result of comments (see below).
I’ve also left out German words that just describe my favorite things (“beer” is German, for example). Instead, I’ve included words that I find particularly interesting or unique.
This list also does not include phrases (sayings, idioms). There is definitely room for a Top 10 German Phrases list, because there are some real German gems. For example the German equivalent of “to paint the town red” is “die Sau rauslassen” (“Let the pig out!”).
Fussel, Flusen , Faser, Mull- -all of these words are synonymous with the English word “lint”. When I look up lint in an English thesaurus, only fuzz and fluff fit (perhaps pill works as well…) – yet all of these words all have other meanings as well. Fahnemuse (literal: fahne = flag, muse = ???) This is the word my family uses for the lint that shows up between a baby’s fingers and toes and (regrettably) adult male bellybuttons. Extremely specific and one of my favorite words of all time…
How can someone argue that umweltverschmutzung is acceptable when it’s called what it is? This is an example of where a precise and unflattering word is effective (doesn’t quite make up for the ‘fleisch’ and the ‘speck’, however).
74 percent of Germans rate protecting the environment as very important, according to the Deutsche Welle. Further, proof: Germany’s Green Dot system, which has been “one of the most successful recycling initiatives” and “has literally put packaging on a diet. The crux is that manufacturers and retailers have to pay for a ‘Green Dot’ on products: the more packaging there is, the higher the fee” (Howtogermany.com).
According to increasemyvocabulary.com, the English word “nipple” originates from the Old English word “neb,” which means “bill, beak, [or]snout, hence, lit[erally]…a small projection.” I admit that the English word for nipple is disappointing for a body part that gets so much attention (if only because of it’s location), but at least it’s not disgusting. Breast warts? Sexy. Remember the controversy over Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction? Imagine if the following article at Prefixmag.com was in German, here’s the headline: “Janet Jackson’s Breast Wart Still Causing Problems” and the first sentence, “Janet Jackson’s breast wart just won’t go away.” Yuck (Janet Jackson’s Nipple Still Causing Problems, by Nick Neyland).
7. Tie: Weltschmerz and Lebensmüde
Germans are sure good at making melancholy and moodiness seem romantic: I guess that’s why the Wave-Gotik-Treffen (Wave-Gothic-Meeting) festival in Leipzig, Germany is so popular every year. That’s when 25,000 people catch the 200 performances of ‘dark music’ (death rock, dark electro, EBM, metal, industrial). In between shows, I imagine that attendees compare their black fashions, sigh heavily a lot, and throw words like ‘weltschmerz’ around… The word weltschmerz translates literally to “world pain” and, according to Merriam-Webster online, means “mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state.” Germans also have another word similar to “weltschmerz”: “lebensmüde.” According to reverso.net, lebensmüde is a way to describe someone who is “weary” or “tired of life”. Literally “leben” means “to live” and “mude” means “tired”. The closest English synonym is “suicidal”, but it is really only a very superficial translation. If you ask someone if they are “lebensmüde”, you are asking, “Are you nuts?!” (“Are you trying to get yourself killed?!”) The English language has the phrase “world weary” but it means more that you are tired with the world, which isn’t quite the same thing. Sometimes “world weary” is also defined as “bored with the world” which makes the person seem more snobby and high maintenance than someone who feels “lebensmüde.” A person who is tired of life is much more sympathetic – sort of like all of the little things are grinding them down.