Updated: Jun 16
Many German words have no obvious translation in English.
One of the best things about learning languages is discovering words that exist in one language but have no equivalent in your own - or in another language, for that matter.
Here we look at 18 wonderfully strange German words you've probably never heard of!
1. Der Ohrwurm - "Earworm"
Have you ever heard a song on the radio on your way to work that you still hum to yourself during your lunch break? Congratulations, you had an Ohrwurm. The beautiful German word Ohrwurm describes the fact that a song gets stuck in your head, as if it had wormed its way through your ear and into your brain.
2. Das Fernweh - "Wanderlust"
This gem describes the feeling of wanting to be somewhere else. It is a kind of reverse homesickness, a longing for a place that is not where you are. Fernweh is also a common reason for people in Germany to go on vacation.
3. Kummerspeck - "grief bacon"
After the end of a relationship or in other times of sadness, anger or worry, it is common to gain a few pounds of Kummerspeck. This refers to the excess weight that comes from emotional overeating. So when you're sitting on the couch watching "Bridget Jones' Diary" with a cup of ice cream, you're actually feeding your Kummerspeck.
4. Innerer Schweinehund - "Inner Pig dog"
Can't get up in the morning to get to work on time? Too lazy to go to the gym? Homework left undone until the last minute? Don't worry, it's not your fault. Blame it on your Innerer Schweinehund. That's the little voice in the back of your head that's trying to convince you to live a life of inertia, and that you need to overcome in order to get rid of Kummerspeck.
5. Fremdschämen - "Extraneous shame"
For those of you who wince with phantom pain when others make fools of themselves, Fremdschämen is your word. It describes the feeling of shame when you see someone else in an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation. For the more empathetic people, it's a real thing and has stopped more than one person from watching "The Office."
6. Torschlusspanik - "Closing-Gate-Panic"
As people age, some worry about paths they haven't taken or milestones they wanted to reach by a certain age but haven't. Torschlusspanik is the sense of urgency to reach these goals before an imaginary gate closes and "it's all too late." It is most commonly used for those who feel that their biological clock is running out and who feel the need to settle down with a partner or have children immediately.
7. Treppenwitz "staircase joke"
Have you ever noticed that when you have a chance encounter with an attractive person of the opposite gender or have an argument with someone, you always come up with the best jokes, sayings and counters? This is what is known as the Treppenwitz. This is the joke that comes to your mind on your way down the stairs after talking to your neighbour in the hallway two floors up.
8. Lebensmüde - "Life tired"
This word literally means "tired of life" and was used to describe the dramatic and mental anguish of the young Romantic poets. Nowadays, people call their friends lebensmüde when they attempt something particularly stupid and possibly life-threatening. Most people in fail videos on YouTube suffer from being lebensmüde.
9. Weltschmerz - "world pain"
The world is not perfect. Most of the time, it doesn't live up to what we want it to be. Weltschmerz describes the pain we feel in the face of this discrepancy. It can be one of the main causes of Kummerspeck.
10. Weichei - "soft egg"
No, Weichei is not what you order in a hotel when you want a three-minute egg for breakfast. In fact, the waiter might look at you slightly irritated because you call him a Weichei. A Weichei in German means someone who is weak and cowardly. The same is expressed by calling someone a sausage, the diminutive form of sausage. Apparently, Germans like to name sissies after food.
11. Backpfeifengesicht - "Slap Face"
Have you ever heard the joke, "Some people just need a slap in the face - with a chair?" Backpfeifengesicht is along the same lines. It describes someone you feel needs a slap in the face. Disclaimer: We are telling you this for informational purposes only and are in no way advocating violence.
12. Erklärungsnot - "lack of explanation"
Erklärungsnot is a condition shared equally by cheating spouses, lying politicians, and students without homework. It is the state of being cornered without sufficient explanation or excuse for something you have done or failed to do. It is most often used in the form of being in need of explanation or being in need of explanation.
13. Sitzfleisch - "sitting meat"
As much as it sounds, Sitzfleisch is not a German housewives' recipe for tenderizing meat by placing it under the buttocks. Rather, it describes a character trait. If you have a lot of Sitzfleisch, you are able to sit through and get through something incredibly hard or boring. It's like carrying around your own personal seat cushion.
14. Purzelbaum - "somersault"
Purzelbaum is so common in Germany that every child knows it. But if you want to get out your big botanical dictionary now, let me interrupt you at this point. Despite its name, the Purzelbaum does not belong to the realm of plants. Instead, it describes a somersault on the ground, a favorite way for children to get their clothes dirty.
15. Dreikäsehoch - "Three Cheese High"
This sounds like it would be a great name for a pizza. However, it describes a person who is vertically challenged, meaning that he or she is only as tall as Dreikäsehoch three cheeses placed on top of each other. Normally, this name is reserved for small children.
16. Zungenbrecher - "tongue twister"
Although it sounds like a medieval instrument of torture, the Zungenbrecher is actually much less cruel. It is the German equivalent of the tongue twister, an expression that is very difficult to pronounce even for native speakers because of its sequence of letters. A very common Zungenbrecher in German is Blaukraut bleibt Blaukraut and Brautkleid bleibt Brautkleid. Yes, practice that for a while and say it 10 times fast.
17. Schattenparker - "shadow parker"
This word is part of a series of swear words for men accusing them of unmanly behaviour. In this case, parking their car in the shade so as not to heat up the interior. This kind of expletive was something of a meme a few years ago, and there are whole lists of them on the Internet. Alternatives include Warmduscher (someone who showers with warm water), or Turnbeutelvergesser (someone who forgot his gym bag in cardio class)...
18. Kuddelmuddel (idk)
I know, it's a brilliant word, isn't it? Don't even get me started on guessing the English meaning. German Kuddelmuddel describes an unstructured mess, chaos, or hodgepodge. Alternatives that are just as brilliant are Tohuwabohu, Wirrwarr, Mischmasch and Kladderadatsch.
If you have trouble understanding a German word, though, you can see or hear the meaning much more clearly if you have it in use. Immersing yourself in German content can really help you learn the context of any word.