16 Untranslatable German Words You Need to Know

By OptiLingo • 6 minute read

There are a lot of untranslatable german words out there

These German Words Have No English Equivalent

If you’re interested in learning German, but need a break from your traditional German language lessons, then you want to check out these 16 untranslatable german words. You may not see these words in your average language learning course, but people do use them.

In fact, people even throw these words in casual English conversations. Probably without even knowing realizing that they reflect German culture and thinking. Still, there is no English equivalent to these untranslatable German words. That means that you’ll need to commit them to memory. Luckily, that won’t be hard with how unique (and sometimes hilarious) they can be.

1. Torschlusspanik

This word combines “gate-shut-panic” to illustrate the feeling you get when you realize that you’re suddenly getting older, and you don’t have much time left. And it doesn’t have to slip in at old age either. It is the sudden realization that you need to do something with your life because it will not last forever. It’s quite similar to the “mid-life crisis.”

Don't worry, your time isn't running out to learn these untranslatable german words.

2. Sturmfrei

You’ve felt Sturmfrei the moment your parents or flatmates left you alone in your house. It describes the sense of freedom you get at having the place all to yourself. It comes from the combination of “storm” and “free.”

3. Ohrwurm

Have you ever heard a song that you can’t seem to shake? It plays in your head over and over again all day long and you find yourself humming it or singing the words out of the blue? That’s an Ohrwurm or “ear-worm.”

4. Weltschmerz

Have you ever felt disappointed after reading a sad news story? Or maybe you walked passed a homeless person begging for change and felt a sudden turn in your stomach? That feeling is Weltschmerz. It’s knowing that the world will always fail to meet your expectations because of the prevalence of pain existing throughout it.

5. Backpfeifengesicht

If you’ve ever heard someone being described as having a “punchable face” then you know exactly what Backpfeifengesicht is. Whether its a coworker or a politician, someone with Backpfeifengesicht brings a deep feeling of frustration to the surface when you see their face.

Backpfeifengesicht means a punchable face

6. Dreikäsehoch

Dreikäsehoch means “three-cheese high” or the height of three wheels of cheese stacked on top of each other. It refers to a child who’s very small. And it’s not a flattering term as it’s usually meant to tease someone or remind someone that they’re trying to do something they’re not quite old enough (or mature enough) to do.

7. Schadenfreude

Imagine working on a group assignment with several people and one person isn’t doing his share. Instead, he’s messing around and even making fun of you for doing all the work. But the teacher notices and fails him, forcing him to retake the course. The resulting smile that slips across your lips is Schadenfreude.

Coming from “Shaden” meaning damage and “freude” meaning joy, this word describes the feeling of pleasure at someone else’s pain. The word recently gained mainstream popularity even though it has been used quite regularly throughout artistic spheres.

8. Schwarmerei

Coming from “schwärmen,” meaning to swarm, this word refers to excessive excitement or enthusiasm. If you imagine bees swimming excitedly around a beehive, that’s the kind of excitement someone with schwärmen expresses.

9. Doppelgänger

Doppelgänger means someone who looks like you, and it's one of the untranslatable german words.

This loanword is quite popular in mystery and suspense novels. Imagine someone who looks nearly identical to you but isn’t related. There are many such cases, especially with celebrities, where people look very similar to one another. The origin of the word comes from German folklore and means “double goer.” It describes a spirit or ghost of yourself that exists in this world. Supposedly, when you meet your Doppelgänger, your death will soon follow. Spooky.

10. Kuddelmuddel

Have you ever looked at a situation and thought that it was a complete mess? Next time, call it a Kuddelmuddel. This word describes a chaotic situation or frustrating confusion that doesn’t make sense. It originally meant “dirty linen” in the Low German. While it may describe a messy situation, it does have a pretty clean rhyme.

11. Wanderlust

If you’re a frequent traveler or someone who wants to travel, then you know what Wanderlust is. It is the desire to leave your home and go out into the world, taking in the sites and culture all while filling up your Instagram feed.

wanderlust is one of the best untranslatable german words

12. Kindergarten

Everyone’s favorite year in school turns out to be a loanword from German as well. The word comes from two words: “Kinder” meaning child and “Garten” meaning garden. Therefore, a kindergarten is basically a garden for children.

Initially invented by Friedrich Froebel in 1817, the idea of a Kindergarten was controversial. Froebel took a naturalist and philosophical approach to educating children, who up until that time, were left out of schools until the age of seven.

Froebel left out scripture and put boys and girls together (a controversial practice at the time) to learn and interact with the world. While it wasn’t until 1837 when the idea began to take off fully, Kindergartens are a widespread and common practice today. This word has become so common that it’s hard to see it as a loanword.

13. Poltergeist

The title to one of the most terrifying films created in the 1980s by Steven Spielberg comes from a German word. “Poltern” means “to rattle or knock” and “Geist,” which has many meanings, but a common one is “ghost.” The word dates all the way back to the 1500s and reflects the actions of a mischievous spirit.

Poltergeist

14. Innerer Schweinehund

Do you ever feel extremely lazy even though you have assignments, workouts, and projects to complete? Then you’re experiencing the effects of your Inner Schweinehund which translates to “inner pig dog.”

15. Kummerspeck

Many times in life we experience struggle, heartache, and despair. Sometimes we work hard to overcome it. Sometimes we ignore it. And other times, we order a double cheeseburger with bacon, fries, and a milkshake to distract us from our problems. Kummerspeck is grief bacon and it refers to emotional eating and the excess weight we tend to put on when life throws problems our way.

Kummerspeck means eating bacon in the untranslatable german words.

16. Treppenwitz

Have you ever went toe to toe with wit against an opponent and stumbled to fire off a curt reply, missing your opportunity, and only thinking of a reply much later on? That feeling of finally coming up with a comeback is a Treppenwitz or a “staircase joke.”

How to Learn More Untranslatable German Words

These words are only a few of the many untranslatable German words you’ll discover in your language program. They illustrate how developing an understanding of other languages changes your world perspective. If you’re interested in learning more, then you should check out language learning with Optilingo for an effective way to become fluent in record time.