2014 Faves

10 fabulous German words with no English equivalent

It’s the end-of-year, time-for-reflection time and we’re thinking back to all the HelloGiggles stories that we (and you!) truly loved in 2014. Here’s just one of our faves, which was originally published on May 15, 2014.

This past week, I journeyed to Berlin, Germany with one of my best friends in an effort to avoid the utter sadness that comes with the impending conclusion of my study abroad experience. Despite not knowing a lick of German (my apologies to every person that had to endure my not-so-impressive hand gestures and aggressive pointing), the trip was a success and we both left feeling more cultured and a little more appreciative of our English-speaking countries. That’s not to say the German language is unpleasant. In fact, there are a handful of fantastic German words that describe life more perfectly than any English word could. For example:

1) Weltschmerz (n.): mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state

They say that the grass is greener on the other side, but it’s that kind of mindset that causes the grass on your side of the picket fence to look gray and infested with earwigs. Which is to say, comparing a perfect situation to the real life scenario is bound to land you with severe case of weltschmerz, a word used to describe the disappointment you feel after watching the inevitable destruction of your unrealistic expectations. (Thanks for that, every Disney movie ever.)

2) Kummerspeck (n.): excess weight gained from emotional overeating

One can always count on the Germans to be literal and they do not disappoint with kummerspeck, the exact translation of this phrase being “grief bacon.” As in, “I bombed that test on vegetarianism so badly, I need some bacon to cure my grief.” Other possible food substitutes include candy, ice cream, tubs of cookie dough, bathtubs of cookie dough, and carrots, for all you “healthy” stress eaters that put the rest of us to shame.

3) Torschlusspanik (n.): the fear, usually as one gets older, that time is running out and important opportunities are slipping away

Picture this: you’re 26 years old. You’re living with your parents and struggling to maintain the underpaid assistant job, meanwhile, your best friends are landing CEO positions and securing future husbands. Nothing is happening according to the 5-year plan that you made during your senior year of college, and you can’t help shake the feeling that someone accidentally clicked “fast forward” on your life. That particular type of desperation is known as torschlusspanik, meaning “fear of the gate closing.”

4) Fremdschämen (n.): the almost-horror you feel when you notice that somebody is oblivious to how embarrassing they truly are

The only thing worse than being in an embarrassing situation is watching someone enter an embarrassing situation and being powerless to stop it. Grandparents and sitcom characters are usually the worst offenders of obliviousness and the most likely to evoke fremdschamen, or the cathartic sense of pain you feel witnessing another person make a fool of themselves.

5) Backpfeifengesicht (n.): a face that cries out for a fist in it

Rather than try to explain what backpfeifengesicht means, I’ll instead provide a list of people that might possess a face that’s just asking to be punched:

–       Teenagers who complain about “terrible” Christmas gifts they got, like cars.

–       People who tattoo their significant other’s name across their face, or anywhere.

–       Disrespectful bros.

–       Whoever started the “felfie” trend.

–       People who eat hamburgers with a fork and knife.

–       Hitler.

6) Erklärungsnot (n.): the state of having to quickly explain yourself

Erklarungsnot refers to the exact moment you are caught with your hand in the cookie jar and forced to explain yourself with only a split second to think. Unless you’re a good liar, the results of erklarungsnot are usually unbelievable and silly, like “my dog ate my homework” or “I didn’t know streaking through the grocery store was illegal!”

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005924012188 Sabrina Kopp

    Well, I am Austrian and I didn’t even knew the words Weltschmerz, Treppenwitz and Handschuhschneeballwerfer existed. You don’t really use it in daily conversations i guess.^^

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1571598138 Franziska Moerl

      Same here and I’m from Germany. I’ve known Weltschmerz as a typical German word used in English, like Rucksack, Kindergarten etc. But I couldn’t have explained it. And I definitely never heard of Treppenwitz or the Handschuhschneeballwerfer 😀 Maybe they are just used in certain regions…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1842451939 Bee Rachael Greenberg

    I love German! Ich liebe Deutsch so viel! Es ist meine Zweitsprache!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=598245881 Amy Louise Wright

    Almost all of these apply to my life right now, the German language is pretty astute. My favourite German word is Nacktschnecke, meaning ‘slug’ or literally, ‘naked snail’ XD

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1664795627 Julia Lana Knipscheer

    Schadenfreude is one of those words. Like said in “Avenue Q” it is the “happiness of the misfortune of others”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1499521211 Robert Leichsenring

    nice list, but Treppenwitz means a joke that you laugh about way later. Witz means joke and Treppe is stairs and it is not used for realizing something later on 😉 except punchlines, of course.

    Also Allgemeinbildung is not equal to common sense (which is “gesunder Menschenverstand”), you wanted to refer to common knowledge which would be the literal translation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=89904045 Nicky Lang

    There’s an expression that is used in english which has the same meaning as treppenwitz, but it’s from french – esprit d’escaliers. I like treppenwitz better. Let’s make it happen!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1483185071 Jakob Meiner

    You forgot the most wonderful and unique word germans ever established:


    Thats someone who drinks in a bar and does not pay for it. No other Language in the world has it, afaik.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1381392917 Nick Schon

      These words are truly terrific. I love them all. Just a comment on the comments:
      “Zechpreller” translates in English as “freeloader”
      “Hüftgold” is “love-handles”
      “Fernweh” is expressed roughly in English via the Australian “walkabout”

      Btw, what are the genders of the nouns?

      • Sophie

        “der Zechpreller” -> masculine
        “das Hüftgold” -> neuter
        “das Fernweh” -> neuter

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003170919219 Axel Benhelm

    No offense you’re article is cool (y) and i feel no offense that you say we got less culture? Well you said you feel more Culture in english talking countries.. i just list some thoughts to some points to not let you live with the “wrong” impressions..that’s all I SWAR! 😉
    Point 3.. Torschlusspanik is multiple used in many situations.. also when you can’t stay in longterm relationships or got final exam panic or on anything you fear to bring it to an end.. Mainly used on persons who always not finish things no matter on what situations.. It’s not only used as you descriped,but that part you desrcibed well 😉 Is also been used in “just now situation”, if you see someone unsure to do smth right now the 1st time: “you got Torschlusspanik?”
    Point 5. Backpfeifen are just a slap not fists in face but correct anyway, whyever stil Hitler is used in situations German Stuff got compared..lil outdated…NOT the fact that Hitler was insane and everything you wanna call him..just tobring him in in lists where germany is mentioned other then for the Holocoust+WW2 😉
    point 7. Yes someone fault you.. it’s just a Joke who you understand few minutes/Hours later+ not the moment you hear it..has nothing to do with “words you not said, while you could” 😉
    point 8. We not know it that well..we just have to many Problems to get in terms with the Past ..that’s why we created the Word..to many germans can’t forget the past 😉
    point 9. Berlin people are crazy+not german LOL i’m 38years and german was my best thing in school..i’m a little addicted to get every German use correct german, as the youth talk less+lesser good german and ruin the language, but i never heard that Term..i ask’d my granny +parents/friends..none never heard it..anyway the description makes sense..just the word isn’t used o.O

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1341780732 Ellicia Rosemary Klimek

    I really like this article, as I’m currently an au pair in Germany… however Berlin is so different to the rest of the country. I’ve been there three times and whenever I spoke German, I was replied to in English >_<

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006638820935 Mikala Narlock

    What about Drachenfutter: literally translates to “dragon fodder,” but it is the gift a man brings home to his wife when he’s late.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1575724846 Rena Gottfried

    Greetings from Germany! I have two things to add, if you don’t mind :)

    2) “Speck” doesn’t really mean “bacon” but is a common term for “excess weight” (specifically the love handles around your hips), translation may be “flab”

    9) never heard that one, but a nice word that describes talking behind your back is: “hinterrücks” (which is an pejorativly used adverb, one word for “behind your back”)

    I really liked your list, especially “Fremdschämen” (fits so nice, whenever you watch Reality TV)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=749864656 Anna Scho Fondente

      Actually Speck really means bacon in Austria

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=749864656 Anna Scho Fondente

        Actually Speck really means bacon in Austria

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1575724846 Rena Gottfried

          Yes “Speck” generally translates to “bacon”, but also in “Kummerspeck”? (In Germany it doesn’t :)

          Another word for “excess weight around your hips” is “Hüftgold”, like “hip-gold” 😉

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=538179159 Stefan Stockinger

    “Allgemeinbildung” isn’t common sense. “Hausverstand” is common sense. “Allgemeinbildung” is things you should know, facts like about politics, history, ….

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1622165772 Luke Lewis

    I remember having “gemützlich” described as meaning comfy-cozy, but not actually having an English equivalent. Also, “denkfaul,” meaning mentally lazy, which I haven’t heard an English term for..
    One of my favorite German words of all time is the word for turtle, “Schildkröte,” which literally translates to shield toad.

    • nk

      It’s „gemütlich“, not „gemützlich“. Maybe it’s a joke crossed with „nützlich“ (useful).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1324352424 Hana Aquilizan Williams

    Sitzspinkler – one who pees sitting down.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=97600105 Holly Saravia

    These guys were just talking about this yesterday. They even decided to make up some of their own:)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=539703481 Silke Niggemeier

    “Allgemeinbildung” is common knowledge, not common sense. (Bildung=education)
    To use common sense would be “etwas mit Sinn und Verstand machen”.

    “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” doesn´t include struggle. It is merely the term used to come to terms with the past or understand and leave it behind. If one had trouble doing that you would say: ” Probleme die Vergangenheit zu bewältigen”.

    “Weltschmerz” actually means that someone is sad either for a reason or no reason, and seems to feel the weight of the whole world on their shoulders.

    Sometimes in combination with “Krokodilstränen” crocodile Tears. Big fat tears that run down a child´s face and the term is often used in a derogatory or belitteling manner.

    How about a “Hirnfurz”? A “brainfart”.. describing an idea that either is outrageous or senseless or totally out of the blue and has no connection to “reality”.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1576933264 Fredrica Rabina Thompson

      You misunderstand the meaning of crocodile tears. They are not “big tears” but rather the absence of tears indicating that one is feigning tears to get ones way and is not truly hurt or otherwise upset.

      • Sophie

        Actually, they are “big tears”. It’s referring to crocodiles crying while eating their prey and means pretending to be sad when one really is not.
        But I am actually quite sure the term “crocodile tears” does exist in english aswell.

      • Sophie

        Actually, they are “big tears”. It’s referring to crocodiles crying while eating their prey and means pretending to be sad when one really is not.
        But I am actually quite sure the term “crocodile tears” does exist in english aswell.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500180919 Sarah Meißner

      In English we use brainfart for when we have forgotten about something. “I had a brainfart. I forgot about my appointment today.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1401963139 Jonas DerJones Märte

    I AM german and I’ve never heard some of those words. Like “Treppenwitz”. Dafuq? 😀

    • nk

      Doch, Treppenwitz ist ein durchaus gebräuchliches Wort. Wenn auch heute i.d.R. in veränderter Bedeutung. Vgl. „Treppenwitz der Geschichte.“

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=673863252 Marleen Larik

    Kummerspeck has nothing to do with eating bacon. A more accurate translation would be “sorrow flab”. It’s the excess “bacon” on your own body after comforting yourself with food.

    Trust me, I know all about it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=507665584 Jackie Di Bartolomeo

    The beauty of a language composed of compound nouns.! I’ll definitely be using this list as inspiration for my next blog post. (sonntagswithjackie.jacquelinedib.com, shameless promotion). I’m particularly feeling the effects of Kummerspeck right now.

    P.S. Sorry to hear your study abroad session is at its end! Have you written about it anywhere?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1568019877 Barthel Zieba

      Those compound nouns are real fun :)

      “Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft” was the name of an organisation in Vienna before WWI and in the Guinness Book of Records as longest German word.

      “Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz” was the name of a law and longest word until the law was abolished. In English it means “Law regualting the transfer of duties concerning the monitoring of labeling of beef”. The short form was RkReÜAÜG 😀

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=549058274 Brooks Martin

    What? No schadenfreude?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=728825116 Lyndsy Richards

      I was just thinking the same thing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1535582431 Eric Zehnbauer

      Yeah, exactly! Any list like this that doesn’t include “schadenfreude” is woefully incomplete…

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