Weird German Words You Won’t Believe Exist
The road to German fluency is full of twists and turns.
Thanks to its lifelong love affair with compound nouns, the German language has smashed all manner of words together to form new, unique vocabulary.
It’s no small wonder that German boasts many unique, highly specific words that have no literal English translation.
German learners have to slog through learning masculine and feminine words, challenging pronunciations, complex word order and curious vocabulary words.
Many German words have no close translation in English. One of the greatest things about learning languages is to discover words which exist in one language but don’t have any equivalent in your own – or any other for that matter.
Below you can find some of the most entertaining examples including their literal translation and what they really mean.
1. Ohrwurm (Ear worm)
Have you ever listened to a song on the radio while driving to work only to find yourself still humming the same tune by lunch time? Congratulations, you’ve had an ear worm. The beautiful German word Ohrwurm describes the fact of having a song stuck in your head as if it wriggled itself into your brain through your ear.
2. Fernweh (Distance pain)
This gem describes the feeling of wanting to be somewhere else. It’s kind of like a reverse homesickness (Heimweh in German), a longing for a place that isn’t where you are right now. Fernweh is also a frequent reason for people in Germany to go on holiday.
3. Fremdschämen (Exterior shame)
For those of you who cringe in phantom pain when others make a fool of themselves, this is your word. It describes the feeling of shame when seeing someone else in an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation. It’s a real thing for the more empathetic folk.
4. Torschlusspanik (Closing-gate panic)
As people get older, some find themselves worrying about roads not taken or milestones they meant to achieve by a certain age but haven’t. Torschlusspanik is the feeling of urgency to accomplish them before some imaginary gate closes and “it’s all too late.” It’s mostly used for those who sense their biological clock is running out and feel the need to settle with a partner or have children immediately.
5. Treppenwitz (Staircase joke)
Have you ever noticed how when you have a chance encounter with an attractive person of the opposite sex or get into an argument with someone, the best jokes, lines, and comebacks always occur to you afterwards? That’s the so-called Treppenwitz. It’s the joke that comes to your mind on the way down the stairs after talking to your neighbor in the hallway two floors up.
6. Lebensmüde (Life tired)
This word literally means being tired of life and was used to describe the dramatic and soul-crushing emotional agony of young Romantic poets. Nowadays lebensmüde is what you call your friends when they are attempting something especially stupid and possibly life threatening. Most people in fail videos on YouTube suffer from latent Lebensmüdigkeit.
7. Weltschmerz (World pain)
The world isn’t perfect. More often than not it fails to live up to what we wish it was. Weltschmerz describes the pain we feel at this discrepancy.
8. Weichei (Soft egg)
No, Weichei isn’t what you order in the hotel when you want a three-minute egg for breakfast. In fact the waiter might look at you slightly disconcerted for accusing him of being a wuss. A soft egg, in German, means someone who is weak and cowardly.
9. Erklärungsnot (Explanation poverty)
Erklärungsnot is a state shared by cheating spouses, lying politicians, and school children without their homework alike. It’s what you find yourself in when put on the spot without a sufficient explanation or excuse for something you have done or failed to do. Most often used in the form of in Erklärungsnot geraten or in Erklärungsnot sein.
10. Purzelbaum (Tumble tree)
This tree is so common in Germany that every child knows it. However, if you are about to take out your big German botanical dictionary, let me stop you right there. Despite the name, a Purzelbaum
isn’t part of the kingdom of plants. Instead, it describes a somersault on the ground, a favorite way of children to get their clothes dirty.
11. Zungenbrecher (Tongue breaker)
While it sounds like a medieval torture instrument, the nature of the Zungenbrecher
is much less gruesome. It is the German equivalent of tongue twister, a phrase that’s very hard to pronounce even for native speakers due to its sequence of letters. A very common one in German is Blaukraut bleibt Blaukraut und Brautkleid bleibt Brautkleid
. Yeah, practice that for a while and say it 10 times fast.
12. Kuddelmuddel (???)
Great final word right? Don’t even start guessing its English meaning.
describes an unstructured mess, chaos, or hodgepodge. Alternatives which are equally awesome include Tohuwabohu, Wirrwarr, Mischmasch, and Kladderadatsch
I know, some of these just sound too far-fetched to be true. Well, they are far-fetched – gathered in the distant land of Germany.