German Words We Need in English

Many German words don’t have direct 1:1 translations in English – and in some cases, these words describe scenarios, emotions, concepts, and objects that would necessitate an entire sentence in English! Some of these words come together to form larger, more self-explanatory compound words, while others are a bit more subtle or indirect.

Charles V once famously said, “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.” Since all languages are shaped by their respective cultures, and every culture is different, all languages give speakers the opportunity to express new ideas or sentiments that might be trickier to describe in another language. German is a logical language that allows for a great deal of precision, which is why it’s one of the main languages of philosophy, science, engineering, and mathematics. (It also has a certain strength to it, as Charles V’s horse quotation exemplifies.)

Without further ado, here are eight German words we wish we had in English:

(Die) Torschlusspanik

literally translates to “gate-close-panic.” It refers to the fear of not having enough time remaining to reach your goals. The idea is that once you come to the end of your youth or your life, the gates will shut. Don’t let those gates close before you’ve attempted to reach your dreams!

(Das) Fernweh

, or “distance pain,” describes the same kind of longing as does the more romantic word (die) Wanderlust (which also exists in English as a German loan word). It’s the feeling you get when you’re stuck at home and wish you could be out seeing the world.

(Der) Treppenwitz

, or “staircase joke” (because you only think of it once you’re out the door and on your way down the stairs) describes all the witty retorts you wish you’d come up with when you were in the middle of a heated conversation or argument.

(Das) Luftschloss

describes an unrealistic or impossible dream. Its literal translation is “air castle.”

(Der) Weltschmerz

, or “world pain,” refers to melancholy that develops in response to the bad state of the world.

(Das) Kopfkino

literally means “head cinema,” but as you might have already guessed, it refers to imagining the many ways in which a scenario might play out. It can also be used to describe fantasizing.

(Das) Drachenfutter

, which literally means “dragon food,” refers to a gift or action used to appease or apologize to one’s spouse or significant other. For example, if your girlfriend gets mad at you and you buy her a gift or clean the kitchen for her, it’s considered Drachenfutter.

(Der) Kummerspeck

refers to the weight you might gain when experiencing an emotional hardship and taking comfort in food. It literally means “grief bacon.”

It’s not always easy to find appropriate scenarios for using these words, but that’s part of what makes them so unique and beautiful. Just the fact that specific words exist to describe such intricate emotions says a lot about the German mentality. And that’s one of the best things about learning German or any language: acquiring the ability to express feelings you’d never really been able to put into words.

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  1. Pingback: The Fascinating Etymology of German Words - Yabla German Blog

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