How did Germany’s 10 top ‘Youth Words of the Year’ originate?

Langenscheidt-Verlag, a large publishing house that issues German dictionaries, has awarded their annual “Jugendwort des Jahres” - plus a few runner’s up.

How did Germany's 10 top 'Youth Words of the Year' originate?
Annette Schwartzmanns, head of marketing at Langenscheidt, presents the 'Youth word of the year' on Friday.Photo: DPA

Users could vote on their website, which presented a pre-selection of 30 words, later shortlisted to 10.

On Friday, Langenscheidt then chose the top word of 2018, through feedback from readers' and scouring social media. The winning entry went to (drum roll please):

Ehrenmann or Ehrenfrau

The first word, meaning gentleman or honourable man, has already been a word for a long time in German, whereas its female equivalent only recently came into being. The word is used to describe someone who has done something special for you.

Here are the other nine runners-up:

Verbuggt: When something is “bugged” in German, it does not necessarily have to be a computer program. Anything which is full of mistakes is indeed “bugged”.

Glucose-haltig: Literally meaning ‘glucose containing’, this is reserved for foods which are really sweet. Maybe if we all thought of our deserts like this, we wouldn’t be so tempted to ask for a second helping.

Lauch: This word refers to somebody who is scrawny. So to use a German-minded example, think of David Hasselhoff in his Baywatch days – triumphantly running, with a tan and toned body – and think the opposite. Lauch also happens to refer to a leek, as in the vegetable Germans love to eat in soup.

Another beloved German vegetable which has been turned into an insult is a “Spargeltarzan” (asperagus tarzan). And it means the exact same thing: A very thin man who has never seen the inside of a gym.

SEE ALSO: Nerdy flowers to alcoholic birds: The 12 most colourful German insults

Auf dein Nacken! If you’re at a cafe with a friend, and they proclaim this phrase (literally meaning “On your neck”), it means that they want you to pay. Yes, this is incorrect German grammar as some of you might have noticed, since the correct phrase would be “Auf deinen Nacken”. The phrase is said to have originated largely from Turkish youth in Germany, and shared often on social media – explaining its imperfect use.

AF (as f#@ck): Yes, this is expressed as it is in English in order to emphasize when something is particularly special. Let’s say you win tickets to see your favourite band in concert, in which you can proclaim that something is cool 'AF'.

Sheeesh: Whereas in English this word would have an annoyed connotation similar to “Gosh” or “Oh my”, it’s used in Germany to mean “Really?” or question anything, be it good or bad. The word in German actually stems from the Turkish word “çüş”, which is uttered by Turkish and now German youths every time something rather unexpected happens. Still youths now write “sheesh” in chats whenever anything unexpected happens.

Küss dein Auge!: If someone tells you that they “kiss your eye” it means that they are really, really thankful for something that you’ve done for them – or that you are a true Ehemann or Ehefrau.

The saying also originated among Turkish youths, as it is a common saying in Turkey to express gratitude. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan even used the expression (“Gözünü öpüyorum!” in the original Turkish) to praise Mesut Özil when he departed from Turkey’s national football team.

SEE ALSO: 10 ways of speaking German you'll only ever pick up on the street

Snackosaurus: Do you arrive home from work or school and devour a huge bag of crisps? Then you’re safely a Snackosaurus, or as the name connotes, someone who can’t stop chomping down.

Lindnern: This word, meaning to simply not do anything at all rather than do it poorly, originated from FDP leader Christian Lindner. Famously, Lindner backed down from joining the so called Jamaica coalition between CDU/CSU, the Green Party and FDP after the 2017 general election. Back then he had said, “Es ist besser, nicht zu regieren als schlecht zu regieren.” (It’s better not to govern than to do it poorly). He was ridiculed after his stunt since the talks between the parties were already at an advanced stage before he pulled out at the last minute.

This marks the second time that traits of a top-level politician would have been turned into a verb as “merkeln” also meant something very similar: to never show initiative or take a side, but rather only act when you absolutely have to. On an international scale, “to merkel” even describes a diplomatic approach.


Member comments

  1. What should be noticed is that barely anyone ever uses these words in Germany; most people (especially youngsters) actually think they are stupid. I don’t actually know who sits in the jury, but I doubt that there are actually (enough) teens present.
    Good article with nice explanations though! 🙂

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


10 ways to express surprise in German

From woodland fairies to whistling pigs, the German language has a colourful variety of phrases to express surprise.

10 ways to express surprise in German

1. Alter Schwede!

You may recognise this phrase from the cheese aisle at the supermarket, but it’s also a popular expression in Germany for communicating surprise. 

The phrase, which means “old Swede” comes from the 17th century when King Frederick William enlisted the help of experienced Swedish soldiers to fight in the Thirty Years’ War.

Because of their outstanding performance in battle, the Swedish soldiers became popular and respected among the Prussians, and they were respectfully addressed as “Old Swede”. Over the last three hundred years, the phrase developed into one to convey awed astonishment. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day – Alter Schwede

2. Holla, die Waldfee!

This curious expression literally means “Holla, the wood fairy”. It can be used both as an exclamation of astonishment and to insinuate that something is ridiculous.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Mareike Graepel

There are various explanations as to how the forest fairy made it into the German lexicon. Some say that it comes from the Grimm’s fairy tale “Frau Holle,” while others say it comes from an old song called “Shoo, shoo, the forest fairy!”

READ ALSO: 10 words and phrases that will make you sound like a true German

3. Das ist ja ein dicker Hund!

Literally meaning “that is indeed a fat dog!” this expression of surprise presumably originates from a time in the past when German dogs were generally on the thinner side.

4. Ich glaube, ich spinne!

The origin of this expression is questionable, because the word “Spinne” means “spider” and also “I spin”. Either way, it’s used all over Germany to mean “I think I’m going crazy” as an expression of surprise.

5. Ich glaube, mein Schwein pfeift!

The idea of a pig whistling is pretty ridiculous, and that’s where the phrase  – meaning “I think my pig whistles” – comes from. Germans use this expression when they can’t believe or grasp something, or to express that they are extremely surprised.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

6. Meine Güte!

This straightforward phrase simply means “my goodness” and is a commonly used expression of astonishment.

7. Oha!

More of a sound than a word, this short exclamation will let the world know that you are shocked by something.

READ ALSO: Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

8. heilige Blechle!

Often when surprised or outraged, we might let slip an exclamation that refers to something sacred. This phrase fits into that bracket, as it means “holy tin box”. 

The peculiar expression comes from the Swabian dialect and refers to the cash box from which the poor were paid by the Church in the Middle Ages.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

9. ach du grüne Neune!

This slightly antiquated expression literally means “oh you green nine!”, or “oh, my goodness!” and is one you’re more likely to hear among the older generation of Germans.

The origin of the phrase is disputed. One explanation claims that it comes from the famous 19th century Berlin dance hall “Conventgarten” which, although it was located in Blumenstraße No. 9, had its main entrance in “Grüner Weg”. Therefore, the locals renamed it as “Grüne Neune” (Green Nine).

Another explanation is that the phrase comes from fairs where playing cards were used to read the future. In German card games, the “nine of spades” is called “green nine” – and pulling this card in a fortune telling is a bad omen.

10. Krass!

The word Krass in German is an adjective that means blatant or extreme, but when said on its own, it’s an expression of surprise. Popular among young Germans, it’s usually used in a positive way, to mean something like “awesome” or “badass”.