11 German words and phrases we've learned during the coronavirus outbreak

Sarah Magill
Sarah Magill - [email protected] • 12 May, 2020 Updated Tue 12 May 2020 17:42 CEST
11 German words and phrases we've learned during the coronavirus outbreak

The coronavirus pandemic has influenced every aspect of our lives, including our vocabulary. We take a look at some of the German words and phrases which have become part of everyday conversation since the coronavirus outbreak.


die soziale Distanzierung

This is the German translation of “social distancing” – the practice of keeping a distance between yourself and other people, which has become an integral part of our daily lives in the last few weeks.

In Germany, government guidelines have been to keep a distance (Abstand halten) of 1,5 metres from others outside and, in order to enforce soziale Distanzierung, all German states have formally introduced some form of Kontaktsperre (contact ban) which will be kept in place until at least May 3rd.

READ ALSO: Expert Q&A: Social distancing will be needed in Germany for a very long time


Hamstern is a colloquial verb meaning to hoard or to stockpile and is derived from the name of the furry little creatures which store an abundance of food in their cheeks to eat at a later date. As a noun, Germans also say Hamsterkauf (literally hamster buy).

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Der Hamsterkauf

The word has become widely used during the corona crisis as, unfortunately, many shoppers have been stockpiling essential items and leaving supermarket shelves bare.

The Chancellor herself used the word in her address to the nation back in March, calling it vollkommen unsolidarisch (showing a complete lack of solidarity). 

A shopper in NRW buying a lot of toilet rolls. Photo: DPA

die Weltwirtschaft

die Weltwirtschaft (global economy) is clearly not a phrase which is exclusive to the coronavirus crisis, but it has been widely discussed because of the part it has played in spreading the virus and the impact that the pandemic is having on it, in turn. 

The Ifo German Institute for Economic Research estimates that the economic damage as a result of the pandemic could amount to €50 billion in Germany alone, but the question of what global trade will look like after the corona pandemic is still very uncertain


die Kontaktverfolgung

Kontaktverfolgung (contact tracing) is the process of tracking down the people with whom Covid-19 positive patients have come into contact, alerting them and getting them to isolate, usually by means of special technology.

This method of virus containment has been used very effectively in countries such as South Korea, China and Singapore and the federal government is currently looking to implement something similar in Germany. 

Germany’s government is currently in the process of deciding amongst three potential contact tracing app concepts, but the idea of the project has been heavily criticized in the past few days as experts have warned of the risk of surveillance and data misuse.

Photo: DPA

die Kurzarbeit

Kurzarbeit, or short-term work is an unemployment insurance benefit which prevents companies from having to lay off their staff in the event of a temporary drop in orders or contracts. Employees usually have to accept cuts in their salaries for the duration of short-time work, and the loss of revenue is partially compensated by payments from the Federal Employment Agency.

READ ALSO: Kurzarbeit: Germany bets on tried and tested tool for coronavirus jobs crisis

Since the onset of the corona crisis, over 650 thousand companies in Germany have applied for Kurzabeit.


The word eindämmen means to contain or curb. This word has been used widely in recent months, as part of the repeated aim of the lockdown measures in Germany: namely to curb the spread of the virus (die Ausbreitung des Virus einzudämmen).

The word literally means to dam in, or in other words to build a dam around something.

die Schutzmaske

Schutzmaske (protective masks) have not only been talked about a lot recently but are now visible pretty much everywhere you go. As of last Wednesday evening, all 16 German states have made wearing protective masks compulsory – you can read our breakdown of requirements here.

A supermarket worker refills shelves in Bavaria. Photo: DPA


You can probably guess how this German adjective translates into English: system relevant. But over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, this word has been widely used to refer specifically to system relevant workers, or key workers. 

As in other countries across the world, the circumstances created by the Coronavirus outbreak have shone a spotlight on the jobs which are truly indispensable to society, which previously may not have been considered so. Such systemrelevant workers include supermarket workers, delivery drivers, cleaners and waste collectors. 

die Reproduktionszahl

Die Reproduktionszahl or reproduction number represents the average number of people which are infected by one Covid-positive patient. If the number is greater than one, then the Covid sufferer infects more than one person and the disease continues to spread. To curb the spread of a virus, the reproduction number must be less than one. 

Angela Merkel was widely praised for her clear explanation of this principle last week – when she spelled out why the reproduction number is the critical factor which will be observed by scientists and the government in deciding whether the lockdown measures can continue to be eased.

READ ALSO: 'The situation is fragile': Merkel urges Germans to stick to coronavirus restrictions

der Impfstoff

Impfstoff is a typical German compound noun, made up of two parts: Impf (from impfen, meaning to vaccinate) and stoff  - (der Stoff meaning substance) which together mean vaccinating substance or vaccine. 

In a global pandemic, the development of an Impfstoff is of critical importance and on Wednesday, the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut authorised the first clinical trial of a vaccine against Covd-19 in Germany.

An antibody test in South Korea. Photo: DPA

der Antikörpertest

Antikörper (antibody) tests are used to determine if someone has had the Coronavirus by detecting antibodies in the blood. Such tests have been available on the market in Germany since the beginning of March, with some providing results within twenty minutes.

In the case of Covid-19, these tests could be particularly useful, as some people do not experience any symptoms and therefore may not know if they have or have had the virus.

But some experts are concerned about the accuracy of the tests, as a false positive result could have deadly consequences. It also remains unknown if having had the disease means that you will be immune to it in the future.




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