16 Uniquely German Words with No English Translation

By optilingo

These Words Provide Unique Insight into German Culture

If you’re interested in learning German but need a break from your language learning program or German language book and want to learn a few words that may not appear in your traditional text, then you should have a look at the list below.

These words are thrown around in casual English conversations, describing feelings and ideas that reflect German culture and thinking. However, no direct translation exists. There is no English equivalent. Instead, you’ll have to reflect on your experiences to understand what these words mean.

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.

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.

Dreikäsehoch

Not everyone in this world has coordination. Some people are incredibly clumsy, seeming to fall over themselves all the time. This is Dreikäsehoch, which means “three cheese high” or three wheels of cheese stacked on top of each other. If you imagine trying to move around with this wobbly tower, you can picture someone who is Dreikäsehoch.

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.

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.

Doppelgänger

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 to follow. Spooky.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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 German Words

These words are only a few of the many unique German words you’ll discover in your German 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.