'Traitor of the people' is Germany's worst word of 2016: Here's why

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'Traitor of the people' is Germany's worst word of 2016: Here's why
Pegida demonstrators in Duisburg, holding a sign reading "traitor of the people" - most likely directed at Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA.

Each year, German linguists elect one word as the 'Unwort' (non-word) of the year. For 2016, the winner was a term meaning 'traitor' which has strong Nazi connotations.


A jury of language experts selected their annual 'Unwort' of the year, choosing Volksverräter on Tuesday as the worst word of 2016.

The jury, made up of four linguists and one journalist, said in a statement that the noun had been selected "because it is a typical legacy of dictatorships".

Volksverräter literally means "traitor of the people" and is used to denote someone guilty of treason - but it also has strong connotations of the Nazi era.

Along with other words and slogans linked to Adolf Hitler's regime, the word has seen a resurgence among far-right groups.

READ MORE: How Nazi terminology is creeping back into German politics

Jury spokesperson Nina Janich said that members of Germany's far-right movements - including anti-Islam group Pegida and the political party Alternative for Germany (AfD) - use the term to describe politicians in an "undifferentiated and defamatory way".

This usage "strangles serious discussion and, in doing so, the discussions necessary for a democratic society", she added.

Hecklers have hurled the word at Chancellor Angela Merkel during public appearances, for example in August during a visit to a refugee centre hit by far-right violence.

Last year's winner was Gutmensch or "do-gooder", an expression the jury claimed "blocks democratic exchange and substantial debate" by linking tolerance with naivety or even moral imperialism.

Previous winners have included Lügenpresse, another term used by Pegida to denote the "lying media', and Döner-Morde (Döner Murders), a phrase used by police and German media to describe the murders of eight ethnic Turkish and one Greek victims, which turned out to be the work of terrorist neo-Nazis.

Before that, some of Germany's worst words were notleidende Banken (needy banks) and Gotteskrieger (warrior for god), often used to refer to Islamic militants.

Each year since 1991, the jury has selected the most offensive, new or newly popularized phrase in order to "promote awareness and sensitivity of language". For 2016, 1,064 votes for 594 different words were submitted.

The word of the year and the non-word of the year were originally both announced by the German Language Society (GFDS), but the Unwort jury split to become independent in 1994.

This year's choice for 'word of the year' was postfaktisch (post-factual).


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