German word of the day: Die Rabenmutter

This disdainful term, mentioned as early as 1530 in German texts, refers to an unloving or neglectful mother.

German word of the day: Die Rabenmutter
Credit: Depositphotos

The word is an animal metaphor based on the observation that raven fledglings are left alone by their parents seemingly early.

Even though scientists later found out that ravens are, indeed, “good” parents, feeding and protecting their little ones, the metaphor was unstoppable in German culture.

SEE ALSO: Nerdy flowers to alcoholic birds: 12 of the most colourful insults in German

Many people today avoid using the word, because they perceive it not only as derogatory, but also as part of an old-fashioned idea of leaving not only children, but mothers alone – with an unfair share of responsibility for family matters.

Still, the concept seems to bubble back up when things get emotional, for example during conversations about women giving their children up for adoption.

There is no real equivalence for a bad father – the term “Rabenvater” is still a mere neologism.

Interestingly, in Mexico the literal translation “Mama Cuervo” means a mother who is regarded as too loving and having an unrealistically high opinion of their children.


Ich hasse Elternabende – aber ich gehe immer hin, damit mich niemand für eine Rabenmutter hält.

I hate parents' evening, but I always go there so that no one thinks I'm a bad mother.

Wie kann man die Kinder so lange allein lassen? Sie ist eine richtige Rabenmutter!

How can the children be left alone for so long? She is really a bad mother!

Er hat mich Rabenmutter genannt, weil ich mal ohne ihn und die Kinder verreisen wollte.

He called me a bad mother because I wanted to travel without him and the children.

Member comments

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


German word of the day: Umstritten

Not everyone agrees on everything - and there are some things almost nobody can agree on. If you find yourself dealing with the latter, you may need to make use of this German word.

German word of the day: Umstritten

Why do I need to know umstritten?

Because umstritten is a handy word that can be applied to multiple situations, but is especially useful when chatting about current affairs or the big social issues of our day. 

You’ll likely come across it while reading articles in German newspapers, or hear your German friends use it while setting the world to rights in the pub. 

What does it mean?

Umstritten is best translated as “controversial” or “disputed” in English. As usual in German, you can easily work out – and remember – what it means by breaking it down into smaller components. 

The first is the prefix um, which tends to mean “around”. Think of German words like umkehren, which means to turn around or reverse, or umarmen, which means to put your arms around someone (or hug them in other words!). 

The second component is the verb streiten, which means to argue. So something that’s umstritten is something that there are lots of arguments around, like a controversial new law, a social debate or a public figure. 

Use it like this: 

Die Pläne der Regierung waren hoch umstritten.

The government’s plans were highly controversial. 

Sein Erbe als Fußballtrainer ist immer noch umstritten.

His legacy as football manager is still disputed today.