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Four fascinating German words with no English equivalent

By Natalie Hall | November 25, 2020 | Word Geek

Four fascinating German words with no English equivalent

Word Geek has cultivated a new etymological enthusiasm – travelling the world in search of wonderful foreign words that have no direct translation in English. This week she has found herself in Germany, home to great beer, tempting Christmas markets and some fantastic phrases.

The German language has many quirks. It has three genders, capitalises nouns and has a unique letter – the ß or “Eszett”. It is also known for its endlessly long words, one of the longest being … “Grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung”. This 67-letter word means the regulation on the delegation of authority concerning land conveyance permissions! These peculiarities and more are always at the forefront of TLF translators’ minds when working with our clients to translate into German. Our native speakers use their expertise to ensure that translations are not only accurate and authentic, but also don’t exceed space limits, not always easy with such long words!

Check out Word Geek’s four favourite German words which could get lost in translation due to their lack of a direct English equivalent.

The Coronavirus has left a lot of us with this particular feeling and Word Geek is no exception. This term describes the feeling of wanting to be somewhere else. Fernweh, from “fern” meaning “far” and “weh” meaning “pain,” “misery” or “woe” conveys a “longing for far-off places”, especially those you’ve not yet visited. Word Geek is keeping her fingers crossed that sufferers will be more able to satisfy this need in 2021.

Word Geek is not keen to admit that sometimes she finds herself unable to call upon exactly the right term, sentence or witty retort exactly when needed. However, it happens to the best of us from time to time. We all know what it feels like to come up with the perfect snappy comeback after a conversation is over. This common phenomenon is referred to as Treppenwitz in German, which literally means staircase joke, because what do you know, the right one liner usually hits you in the stairwell on your way out. Of course, by then it’s already too late to use it!

For those of you who are neat, tidy and orderly, Word Geek has a fantastically alliterative word for you: Kuddelmuddel. Originally meaning “dirty linen” in Low German, it describes a situation of frustrating confusion or chaos that doesn’t make sense. I think we can all agree that Coronvirus has created a global Kuddelmuddel!

Winter is upon us and Word Geek is hoping for a white Christmas, which has influenced her final choice. Handschuhschneeballwerfer is the term for someone who wears gloves when throwing snowballs. There is a deeper meaning to this specific term, referring to someone who is only willing to criticise from a safe distance, rather than taking a more direct approach.