Tuesday, 6 March 2012

German Words That Should Be Adopted Into English

The German language has already provided English with lots of useful words, such as rucksack, poltergeist, dachshund, blitzkrieg, delikatessen, kindergarten, ersatz, kitsch, glockenspiel, angst, mangelwurzel, pilsner, quartz, and a whole load more.

I am forever coming across other German words where I think that English could do with a word like that, or where the German word is so much better than the English one.

Here I present to you some of my favorites. If enough English speakers start peppering their sentences with some of these, maybe we could eventually get them adopted?

Augenstern (m)
This is a delightful term of endearment, and means 'star for the eyes'. In the UK (up until its last showing in 2006 thank God), having stars in your eyes is more likely to mean that this week Matthew, you will be Madonna.

Backpfeifengesicht (n)
Not a word I'd be happy using in polite society, but we have all known one of these - it is someone who has a face that is just asking to be slapped! Like Matthew Kelly (see previous entry).

blondes Gift
This expression literally means 'blonde poison' or 'venom'. 'Gift' here is nothing like the English 'gift' (Geschenk in German). It is a colourful way to describe a blonde bombshell / temptress / femme fatale!

Dudelsack (m)
From 'dudeln' to tootle, and 'sack' which is a bag; put them together and you get a tootling bag, or bagpipes!

Eierlegende Wollmilchsau (f)
Nowadays your mobile phone can do a lot more than just take and make calls; in fact it seems the aim of the iPhone et al is to become an Eierlegende Wollmilchsau - or egg-laying wool and milk providing pig. This is the humerous term given to an all-in-one device that tries to do everything, such as a top of the range Swiss Army knife.

Etepetete (adj)
This word just trips off the tongue: ay-tay-pay-tay-tay. In fact, it is the longest word in German that is formed from the spelling of individual letters (ETPTT). To be described as etepetete is not complimentary though: it means someone who is finicky, prim, spoiled, overly dainty, or generally pays too much attention to detail or to their appearance.

Evolutionsbremse (f)
If you call someone one of these, then what you are saying is that they are a brake (eine Bremse) on the process of evolution, i.e. someone who is not contributing to the gene pool in a progressive way. Someone who by their stupidity or primitive behaviour is holding back the rest of us. No, I'm not looking at you.

Fingerhut (m)
What can be sweeter and simpler than this word; a Fingerhut is a hat for your fingers - a thimble! It is also the German word for the wildflower foxglove, but I prefer the idea of foxes wearing the flowers as gloves.

Geheimratsecken (pl)
This describes the kind of baldness men get where each temple is balding, leaving a 'widows peak' in the middle. It is a distinguished look and not at all derogatory, hence its literal meaning 'High-State official's corners'.

Geisterfahrer (m)
What do you call in English somebody who drives on the wrong side of the road? Except 'effing idiot!' of course. The German's have a word for them though - Geisterfahrer, which literally means a ghost-rider. Or 'Blödes Arschloch!'

Glückspilz (m)
Literally, a lucky mushroom! For some reason, Germans have decided that the fly agaric with its red cap and white spots is lucky. It is why garden gnomes (Gartenzwerge - another German cultural export to the world) are so often seen sitting on them. But not only that, don't be surprised if you get a birthday card with fungi on wishing you luck (or four-leaved clover, or a chimney sweep, or a pig - a Glücksschwein). Of course, you wouldn't be so lucky if you accidently ate too many fly agarics, but to be a Glückspilz is to be a lucky sod/devil/bastard, or a lucky mascot that others might want around them for football matches etc.

Glühwein (m)
Sure, English has the term 'mulled wine' to describe wine that has been heated up and infused with spices, but it doesn't quite convey the warmth of wine (Wein) that makes your whole body glow (glühen) on a freezing cold Winter's evening at the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market).

Katzensprung (m)
Instead of throwing stones around to describe something a short distance away, I think English speakers should adopt Katzensprung. It means a 'cat's leap'. 

Katzentisch (m)
This word means 'cat's table' and is a small side-table or where the children sit down to eat. Also a table that is by the toilets or the doors to the kitchens that you might get if you don't make a reservation. It harks back to the time when pampered household cats (and lap-dogs) were fed in wealthy households at their own miniature table. Hopefully our cat Cassie won't read this and get ideas above her station.

Kuddelmuddel (m)
The English language already has a number of words basically meaning a confused mixup: muddle, jumble, hodgepodge etc. There is surely room enough to add Kuddelmuddel too though, or would that be a bit too messy?

Morgenmuffel (m)
A Morgenmuffel is somebody who is just not a morning person. They are grumpy and grouchy, and don't function properly until they have their first caffeine fix. I am a bit of a Morgenmuffel myself, especially during the Winter months when it is hard to get out of the bed on a dark, cold morning.

Muckefuck (m)
This isn't as rude as you think. It's the name for coffee substitute, made out of malt or chicory or dandelion root. It's all you could get back in the day in the DDR, but doesn't it sound great? "Do you want some muckefuck, or do you want some real coffee?"

Naschkatze (f)
Naschen is to nibble and Katze is a cat. Put them together and you have a term to describe someone who is always nibbling away at a chocolate bar, or has their hand in a bag of sweets, or keeps helping themselves to the cookie-jar. Actually, we have a real nibble-cat: Cassie is always pestering us for her favorite cat-nip sweets!

Rabenmutter (f)
In German folk-lore, ravens are supposed to throw their fledglings out of the nest before they are able to fly, and expect them to fend for themselves (see the Grimm's story The White Snake' for example). By analogy a Rabenmutter is a selfish or uncaring mother who doesn't look after her children properly. Though both raven parents are supposed to be cold-hearted, I don't think there is a similar term Rabenvater. Typical!

Schneebesen (m)
English has a word for the thing you beat up a merangue from an egg white with; it is an egg whisk of course. The German word is rather more colourful - it means a snow broom!

Schnickschnack (m)
English has knick-knack and bric-a-brac, so let it also have Schnickschnack!

Sehnsucht (f)
I think this is a romantic but sad word: it means an intensely emotional longing, yearning, or craving for something, bordering on addiction. There isn't an equivalent word in English. It is also the name of the second album by German industrial metal giants Rammstein, which was released in 1997.

Sitzriese (m)
You know when you go to the cinema, and somebody just has to go and sit down in front of you and all you see for the whole of the film is the back of his head? Then he gets up at the end of the film, and he isn't all that tall at all really, he just has short legs and a long torso. The German's have a word for him - a Sitzreise, or someone who is a giant only when he is sitting down. Now why doesn't English have a word for that? 

Spaßvogel (m)
Do you know the type of person who tries to ingratiate themselves into a group by trying to get them to laugh at their jokes or antics? Kind of pathetic really, and made for the term 'we're laughing at you, not with you'. That's what a Spaßvogel is in German (literally a fun bird). Always acting the fool or cracking bad jokes, and not like me at all.

Speckgürtel (m)
It is often the case that many city-centres tend to become inhabited by the poor, whilst those who can afford it move out to the suburbs on the edge of town. In German this affluent area is called, literally, the bacon belt. I don't know what rich vegetarian suburbianites think of living in the bacon belt.

Stollen (m)
This isn't just a word that needs to be in common English useage, it needs to be on all the UK supermarket shelves at Christmas. It describes a wonderful cake rich in marzipan, raisins and almonds, but without all the dense candied fruit and nut nonsense of a British Christmas cake. If like me your favorite part of Christmas was eating the icing and marzipan bit and feeding the heavy slab of dark brown stuff to the budgie, then Stollen is for you! 

Streicheleinheiten (pl)
Streicheln is to stroke, pet, caress. Einheit is oneness, unity. Together it means intimate caressing and tenderness that brings two people together. Or, as it is used in the plural, a prolonged administration of tender loving care.

Trennungswehe (f)
This is that woefully painful feeling that you get when you part with someone you dearly love. Similar in construction is Heimweh - homesickness, and Fernweh - an aching to visit far-away places.

Zaungast (m)
If you have ever been prevented from getting into an open-air concert or football match because you didn't have a ticket, but instead managed to climb the fence or wall on the outside of the venue and thereby got a free peek, then you have been a Zaungast (literally, a fence guest). It is an onlooker who shouldn't really be there, or are so on the periphery of a meeting or event that they don't take part.


  1. Ich hörte nie den Begriff Backpfeifengesicht, aber verwendeten wir Ohrfeigegesicht.

  2. My favourite is "Tuerklinke" for door handle -- just sonds right to me.

  3. Liking your Blog - learnt a few new things!


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