'Refugees' is German Word of the Year for 2015

DPA/The Local
DPA/The Local - [email protected] • 11 Dec, 2015 Updated Fri 11 Dec 2015 10:55 CEST
image alt text

The Society for the German Language (GfdS) placed "refugees" at the top of its list of the ten most important words of 2015 released on Friday.


"What's decisive in choosing the Word of the Year isn't how often it's used, but much more its significance and popularity," the GfdS said in its announcement.

"The list hits the linguistic nerve of the year as it nears its end and is a contribution to contemporary history."

The Local looks at the top ten words that defined 2015, according to the GfdS.

1. Flüchtlinge

Given those criteria, nothing could have defined the year as much as the word "refugees" for Germany, which recently passed the one-million-arrivals mark.

A soldier registering refugees. Photo: DPA

The enormous number of people arriving in the country from crisis zones in the Middle East and Africa, travelling through Turkey, Greece and the Balkans or making the dangerous crossing over the Mediterranean, have dominated headlines, politics and conversation.

And it was a big part of the reasoning behind TIME magazine's decision to name Angela Merkel "person of the year" for her decision to allow refugees into Germany from Hungary in August.

2. Je suis Charlie

Coming in at number two is "Je suis Charlie", the French phrase that became an expression of solidarity with the people of Paris from social media users worldwide after the January attacks on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket.

3. Grexit

In third place is the portmanteau of "Greek exit" that was all the rage in the first six months of the year as Europe wrangled with the Hellenic Republic's new radical-left Syriza government.

A poster with the picture of Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in Athens over the word "no" in Greek. Photo: DPA

MPs in the Bundestag (German parliament) voted through a third bailout package for the troubled country in August - but there are rumblings that the Greeks' moment at Europe's centre-stage may not be over.

4. Selektorenliste

But Germany had its own domestic scandals this year too, borne out in entry four on the list.

The "Selektorenliste" ("list of selectors") has been the focus of the scandal around Germany's own foreign intelligence service, the BND, helping the US National Security Agency (NSA) spy on German and European citizens, businesses and governments.

Foreign intelligence service (BND) boss Gerhard Schindler faces the NSA inquiry in May. Photo: DPA

Germany's top spy, Gerhard Schindler, effectively admitted that the US spies could ask anything they wanted of the BND as he was "dependent" on the NSA for vital intelligence.

Selectors are identifying information, such as email addresses, phone numbers, usernames or even often-used passwords that the spooks use to track internet traffic of people under surveillance.

MPs in the NSA Investigation Committee of the Bundestag have been fighting for the right to access the full list of selectors passed to the BND by the NSA throughout the year in the face of government delaying tactics.

5. Mogel-Motor

Shame is the motivating factor behind choice number five, "cheating motor", referring to the scandal at German industrial icon Volkswagen after its diesel-powered cars were revealed to be cheating on emissions tests.

VW built software into its motors that detected when they were being run under test conditions, activating a system to limit the car's emissions that was later de-activated once it was back on the road.

Despite a long battle, the revelations ultimately cost VW boss Martin Winterkorn his job.

Volkswagen CEO Michael Müller at a factory. Photo: DPA

Huge amounts of gases harmful to the environment and human health were released – all in the name of a drive to sell more diesel cars in the USA and push the car-maker to the global top spot ahead of Toyota.

The company has lost billions and continues its investigation to find someone to take the fall for the scandal, with new CEO Michael Müller saying on Thursday that he had suspended eight people and is still investigating.

6. Durchwinken

Refugees get a second look-in at number six, this time with a critical expression.

"Durchwinken" means simply "to wave through" or "to rubber-stamp" – something critics accuse Chancellor Merkel of doing for hundreds of thousands of refugees with no thought about the consequences.

7. Selfie-Stab

The German word for "selfie stick" should need no explanation for why it's on the list – 2015 has been the year when the irritating tourist accessories have gone from curiosity to worldwide phenomenon.

8. Schummel-WM

Yet another scandal comes in at number seven, with the allegations of bribery surrounding Germany's bid for the 2006 World Cup ("Schummel-Weltmeisterschaft" or "fudged World Cup").

Wolfgang Niersbach (r),w ho has  now stepped down as head of the German Football Association (DFB), was a key member of the 2006 World Cup bid committee. Photo: DPA
It's been a particularly painful couple of months for German football, as one of its brightest moments of recent years, the "summer fairytale" (Sommermärchen) of winning the Jules Rimet trophy at home, has been tainted with the stink of dirty money.

The scandal has already cost the head of the German Football Association (DFB) his job and may yet claim more scalps.

9. Flexitarier

It's back to trends with entry number eight with "flexitarian" – someone who occasionally eats meat but is mostly vegetarian.

10. "Wir schaffen das"

Merkel's famous declaration of confidence and challenge to her fellow Germans that "we can do this" in the refugee crisis has become her motto this year.

Chancellor Angela Merkel taking a selfie with a refugee in September. Photo: DPA

It's something that has been thrown back in the Chancellor's face whenever something goes wrong in refugee policy.

But she's nailed her colours to the mast over refugee policy, making it the leitmotif of her defence of all her government's policies to MPs in September.



DPA/The Local 2015/12/11 10:55

Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also