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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Ten words that sound prettier in German than in English

German doesn’t have much of a reputation for beauty. But the language of Goethe and Schiller can’t be all bad. We’ll even go out on a limb and say there are some words that are nicer in German than in English. Read on to see if you agree.

Cotton or Baumwolle in German.
Cotton or Baumwolle in German. Photo: Bgabel/Wikicommons

Ok, ok. Everyone knows that German isn’t viewed as the most attractive European language.

But really, look around you, German speakers. Smell the Blümchen. There are some beauties hiding out in plain sight. Here are some lovely German words that we think trump the English versions every time.

1.(die) Umarmung – hug/embrace

Take this lovely, cozy word for starters. The German noun for “hug” sounds as friendly as its meaning. And as with all of the best German words, it does what it says on the tin. Literally, “around-arming.”

2. (die) Glühbirne – light bulb

This word just shows that sometimes, German really does have it all. A smooth, padded kind of sound and a cute image to go along with it. We’re sure you’ll agree with us that “glowing pear” is a million times more romantic than “light bulb.”

Lightbulbs om a table.
Lightbulbs or glowing pears. Almost poetic. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Florian Schuh

3. (der) Himmel – sky

As in Gott im…This pleasing sing-song word has more than one meaning. It can mean “sky” but is also closely related to the English “heaven.” This in turn gives rise to the pretty himmelblau, which we think is much nicer and poetic-sounding than plain old sky blue.

4. (das) Kuddelmuddel – mess

This endearing word not only trips off the tongue in a satisfying rhythm but even has an internal rhyme to boot. We also think it hides a visual clue to its messed up, mixed up meaning.

5. liebäugeln – to flirt/consider/ogle

One pretty German word, many English meanings. Literally, it means to love with the eyes, whether you are using it to refer to your crush or a new car.

'I love you cookies' hang up at a stall in Heidelberg.
‘I love you cookies’ hang up at a stall in Heidelberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

6. (die) Baumwolle – cotton

Nice rhythm, soft sounds, ’nuff said. And, come on, “tree wool,” you’ve got to love that kind of logic, even though Baumwolle or cotton comes from a bush and not an actual tree.   

7. zauberhaft – magical

We like this word. A lot. Maybe it’s the legacy of all of those z sounds from magical childhood favourite, The Wizard of Oz – or maybe it’s do with our affinity with pizza – but somehow the z in the German just makes it sound more dazzling than the English.

8. bärenstark – very strong

We like the mix of hard and soft sounds in this much more visual version of the English. And we’re of the school of thought that, if you can express something using a passing reference to a bear, then you should. We hear that the bärenstärksten (strongest) people live in Berlin, which has a fearsome bear as its mascot on its flag.

Statues of Berlin bears outside the Olympic Stadium in the capital.
Statues of Berlin bears outside the Olympic Stadium in the capital. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Gora

9. gegenüberliegend – opposite/opposing

Come on, you’ve got to admit it, this is a great word. This higgledy-piggledy adjective may have a pretty dull meaning, but hearing the announcer saying our train is leaving from the “gegenüberliegenden Gleis” (opposite platform) always puts a smile on our faces. It’s like jazz, man. Have you heard such a melodic announcement anywhere else?

10.  (der) Föhn – hair dryer

And lastly, just to show that German can also be short, sweet and cuter than the English. We think this word makes a mundane everyday item – the humble hair dryer – just that little bit more adorable. It’s not, ehm, as dry of a word as it sounds.

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GERMAN LANGUAGE

Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

Denglisch - a hybrid of Deutsch and English - can refer to the half-and-half way Germans and foreigners speak to each other. But Germans use plenty of English words amongst themselves - although they don’t always mean the same thing.

Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

English speakers are no stranger to using certain German words when speaking English—schadenfreude and kindergarten being perhaps the most obvious. The process is possibly even more advanced in reverse.

Many Germans are proud of being able to speak English well, and the Berlin Wall’s fall in 1989 only accelerated the process, as a redefined international community – with English as the main global language – beckoned.

Now English words are found in all parts of German life. Many Germans don’t even necessarily understand why. English-language cultural influence is certainly a part of German life, but the dubbing of television shows, to use just one example, remains far more widespread in Germany than in many smaller European countries, which use original audio with subtitles.

Here’s a selection of anglicisms that Germans use with each other. 

READ ALSO: Could Denglisch one day kill of English?

‘Coffee-To-Go’ or ‘Takeaway’

‘Ein Kaffee zum mitnehmen’ is correct and your coffee shop owner will definitely understand what you want if you ask for it. But plenty of Germans will ask for a ‘Coffee-To-Go,’ even when speaking German to a German barista. This seems to only apply to coffee ordered on the move, however. If you’re sitting down at a table, expect to order the German Kaffee.

Getting a coffee-to-go in Berlin.

Getting a Coffee-To-Go in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Human Resources, ‘Soft Skills’ and ‘Manager’

‘Personalabteilung’ is still used to describe a human resources department. But plenty of German companies—whether international or mostly German will use Human Resources even in German-language communication. Although ‘Leiter’ and ‘Leiterin,’ meaning ‘leader’ are used, even German job titles will use “Manager.” The word ‘Manager’ has even been adapted to accommodate German noun genders. A female manager, may be referred to as a ‘Managerin’.

READ ALSO: How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

The world of work in Germany is also notable for importing another contemporary English term. ‘Soft Skills’ is used in German when recruiters are looking to see if a candidate might fit culturally into a particular workplace. The words actually describing these skills, like ‘Führungskompetenz’ or ‘leadership ability,’ often sound unmistakably German though. But there are exceptions. ‘Multitasking’ is used in German as well.

‘Clicken,’ ‘Uploaden,’ ‘Downloaden’ and ‘Home Office’

As technology that came of age relatively recently, German has imported many English terms related to technology and the Internet. While web browsers might use ‘Herunterladen’ instead of ‘download’ or ‘hochladen’ instead of ‘upload,’ Germans are just as likely to use the slightly Germanized version of the English word, hence ‘downloaden’.

READ ALSO: Seven English words Germans get delightfully wrong

Even before ‘Home Office’ appeared on German tax returns, to calculate what credit workers could get from remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘Home Office’ was still widely used in German to describe, well, working from home. It can be confusing for English speakers, though, especially those from the UK, because the Home Office is a department in the British government. 

English words that have slightly different meanings in German – ‘Shitstorm’ and ‘Public Viewing’

There are English words Germans use that don’t always mean quite the same thing to a native English speaker. An English speaker from the UK or Ireland, for example, might associate a ‘public viewing’ with an open casket funeral. Germans, however, tends to use “public viewing” almost exclusively to mean a large screening, usually of an event, that many people can gather to watch for free. Placing a large television at the Brandenburg Gate for German Football Team matches is perhaps the most immediately recognisable example of a ‘public viewing’.

Then there’s what, at least to native English speakers, might sound outright bizarre. But former Chancellor Angela Merkel herself used “Shitstorm” more than once while in office. In German though, it can refer specifically to a social media backlash involving heated online comments.

Another typical English-sounding word used in German differently is ‘Handy’ – meaning cellphone (well, it does fit in your hand). It can sound a bit strange to English speakers, though. 

Other words, however, more or less mean what you think they do – such as when one German newspaper referred to Brexit as a ‘Clusterfuck’.

READ ALSO: Shitstorm ‘best English gift to German language’

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