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12 brilliant German words you won't find in English

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12 brilliant German words you won't find in English
A man takes a nap after a few beers in Cologne. Photo: DPA
16:29 CEST+02:00
Unfortunately English let you down when you were trying to think of these things to say.

1. Verabredet

A woman writes in her caldendar. Photo: DPA

Germans don't just agree to meet up at 2pm, and then rely on their mobile phones to explain why they're late. They make utterly clear, unambiguous appointments. And then they describe themselves as "verabredet."

"You are late. We were verabredet. I am simply not understanding this." It's an adjective that defines a whole culture.

2. Fahne

A man takes a nap after a few too many beers in Cologne. Photo: DPA

This does not just mean flag. It's also the special type of flag that flutters in your face and stings your eyes when a drunkard tells you he always loved her, you know, honestly, really loved her, despite how it looks. "Please wave that Fahne somewhere else."

3. Drachenfutter

Roses. Photo: DPA

You've stayed out late and you weren't supposed to. Your wife has put the kids to bed, made your dinner, and given it to the dog. What you need is Drachenfutter - a gift that will, literally, feed the dragon, outmoded sexist interpretations of gender roles notwithstanding.

"Oh no, I hope the late-night shop is open. I'm absolutely off my face and I need some Drachenfutter."

4. Kummerspeck

Photo: DPA

The English have "comfort food," but the ever-thorough Germans have taken that concept to its obvious biological conclusion. Kummerspeck, literally "sorrow bacon," is the extra bulges that develop once you've consumed too much comfort.

"Is that Kummerspeck, or are you just pleased to see me?"

5. Fremdschämen

PFile photo: DPA

This is a truly vital word, missing from English, and indeed every language in the world (probably) - except German. It means to be ashamed FOR someone else. How often have you wanted to express that feeling in one neat, perfect word?

"Yes, I was very fremdgeschämt when Donald Trump got the date of the US election wrong."

6. Rabenmutter

A T.V. show depicting a mother who pushes her children into show-business. Photo: DPA/ARTE

In keeping with their 19th century image of family roles, Germans have a special word for a bad mum. It literally means "raven mother". Apparently baby ravens in the wild eat nothing but ketchup and are allowed to play with scissors.

"Look, that child has not got a hat on and it's below 20 degrees Celsius. What a Rabenmutter."

7. Pechvogel/Glückspilz

Mushrooms Photo: DPA

In the Germans' skewed image of the universe, the bird, soaring free through the sky, is an unlucky beast, but to be a mushroom is a fate associated with good fortune. It's fun to be a fungi.

"Oh no, my fungi has ceased to grow. I am such a Pechvogel." 

Pech means bad luck and Glück is good luck. See if you can work the rest out yourselves.

8. Quergebäude

Photo: DPA

Germans, it turns out, have specific names for different parts of a building, largely because of the structure of blocks of flats in Germany. There's a Vorderhaus (front bit), a Seitenflügel (side bit), a Hinterhof (back bit) and something called a Quergebäude, which is, erm, the across bit. Quer means across, and can also be used as in the wonderfully literal term querlegen - to obstruct.

9. Handschuhschneeballwerfer

A glove-wearing snowball thrower in Gelsenkirchen, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: DPA

Everyone hates the coward willing to criticize and abuse from a safe distance. The Germans equate that person with the lowest of the low: the one who wears gloves when throwing snowballs. As far as they're concerned, a snowball fight is not a snowball fight until someone gets frostbite.

10. Treppenwitz

Stairs in the foyer of the Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg. Photo: DPA

Another wonderful German word, for a bittersweet situation familiar to everyone on the planet. The Treppenwitz, literally "stair-joke," is the brilliant comeback you think of when you're already out of the door and halfway down the stairs.

"And you, sir, are a prick! Ach! If only I'd thought of that at the time!"

11. Verschlimmbessern

Photo: DPA

There's being ham-fisted, or putting your foot in it, or there's just plain clumsiness, but in German there's the very specific act of verschlimmbessern, which is when you make something worse in the very act of trying to improve it.

"Oh no, that extra piece of cheesecake, far from being nutritious, has just verschlimmbessert my digestive tract."

12. Radfahrer

Cyclists in Göttingen, Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

This is a deceptively simple word that weirdly hints at Germans' darkest perversion. It just means cyclist, but in some German circles it refers to an employee who sucks up to his superiors while treading on his inferiors, thus imitating the posture of a cyclist. Not literally. That would be truly horrid.

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