10 Wunderbar German Words Everyone Should Know

The german language is spoken natively by no less than 100 million people, making it the most widely spoken native language in the E.U. and one of the major languages of the world. It’s the only official language of Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein and is an official language of Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Belgium too. These are countries rich in history, culture and diverse natural beauty, but don’t fret if you’re planning a visit and you don’t speak German. They are also chock full of experienced and knowledgeable multi-lingual guides ready to make sure that your visit is the experience of a lifetime.

Here we pay homage to the German language and its lifelong love affair with compound nouns. Over time this language has evolved to create a stunning mash-up of all manner of words forming some truly unique vocabulary. We want to help you astound your German speaking tour guides by teaching you these über-descriptive and comical words.

10. Fremdschämen (translation: Exterior Shame)

You see someone making an incredible fool of himself, and it feels like you just can’t physically bear it. For example, you’re watching a performer on stage who is bombing with a capital “B” and you cringe in phantom pain for his embarrassment. Fremdschämen is a real thing for the more empathetic folk, and if you’ve never felt it, we think there’s an off chance that others have felt it on your behalf. Perhaps regularly.

9. Kummerspeck (translation: Grief Bacon)

You just got dumped. Or maybe your evil boss ripped you a new one over that report you delivered post-deadline. Understandably you’re a bit of a mess, so you start soothing your broken heart or your battered ego with mundo-sized servings of calorie-laden goodies. Expect to build a spare tire made entirely of grief bacon or kummerspeck as a result. How can it be bad, when it tastes so good?

8. Erklärungsnot (translation: Explanation Poverty)

You got caught ogling a hot girl by your girlfriend, and couldn’t come up with a reasonable cover story (sudden-onset-neck-crampitis?). Or you missed a deadline at work and mumbled through the lamest excuse heard since dogs munching homework. You, my friend, are suffering from explanation poverty, or erklärungsnot. If you’re going to be a screw-up, at least be better prepared next time, ok?

7. Ohrwurm (translation: Ear Worm)

Remember the last time you got a refrain from an incredibly annoying song stuck in your head? Sometimes you’re afflicted for a few hours, and sometimes, in the worst case, it sticks around for days! Lately my ear worm, or ohrwurm has been that infernal Pharrell song-like abomination “Happy.” It makes me anything but. Just me? Ok.

6. Fernweh (translation: Distance Pain)

Wanting to be where you’re not. Like most days at work, many hours at the gym, or every visit to your mother-in-law’s. This is the main reason we go somewhere else on holiday. For those with a penchant for travel, this fernweh can hit hard the moment the plane hits the tarmac at their home airport, when they’ve just spent the entire flight home ruminating on the most important question: “Where should I go next?”

5. Innerer Schweinehund (translation: Inner Pig Dog)

Think of the old cartoons where there is an angelic good influence on one side of a character spouting encouragement to do all the right things (get to bed early, exercise, tell the truth, study hard, etc.), and then a nothing-but-good-times-all-the-time influence on the other side (drink more! stay out all night! sleep until noon! make-out with strangers!). That second one is their innerer schweinehund, or inner pig dog talking. So clearly, all those bad decisions have not been your fault – that inner pig dog of yours has a compelling and oddly alluring voice. And who duct-taped the goody-two-shoes one’s mouth shut?

4. Torschlusspanik (translation: Closing-Gate Panic)

When you’re staring down the cross-hairs at middle age,  you may start to consider roads not taken or achievements or adventures that didn’t happen. Torschlusspanik is that feeling of urgency to slide them all in before the final curtain. It can also be used to describe the sometimes desperate behavior of women of a certain age, responding to that loud tick-tock, which signals an impending egg expiration date.

3. Treppenwitz (translation: Staircase Joke)

Let’s say a coworker bests you in a verbal joust right in front of that eye-candy from the Graphic Design department that you’ve been water cooler stalking for weeks. Minutes later while slinking, red-faced, back to your cubical via the deserted stairwell – the most perfect cutting retort forms every so tardily on your tongue. That’s treppenwitz. The irony that all the best jokes, lines, and comebacks seem to occur to you only when no one else is around to hear them.

2. Weichei (translation: Soft Egg)

I cannot stress this enough – DO NOT use this term to order your breakfast – it may come with a side of fist in the face if your server is a man. In German, a soft egg is a total wuss with no backbone or guts to speak of. The same insult is conveyed by calling someone würstchen, the shorter version of sausage. Seems fitting, nein?

1. Schattenparker (translation: Shadow Parker)

This word is part of a series of insults used between guys to accuse each other of somewhat “un-masculine” behavior. Literally, translated here, one is accused of parking their ride in the shade (or shadow) to avoid heating up the interior. The Germans have a litany of these one word assaults on manliness – like my favorite sitzpinkler, which points the finger at dudes who prefer to pee sitting down. The cruelest of all though – frauenversteher – suggests that the subject of the taunt makes a habit of not only understanding, but also considering what women want (gasp!). Be ready to drop the gloves if you use this one.

So don’t be a weichei or a schattenparker, or you’ll end up with a serious case of torschlusspanik. Acknowledge your raging fernweh and book an unforgettable tour with an experienced German guide today!

What weird words in other languages should we know about?

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  • John

    Pretty cool man

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