What are the most fascinating German words that no longer exist?

What are the most fascinating German words that no longer exist?
Vegetables were once called Zugemüse in German. Photo: DPA
Which terms can no longer be found in Germany’s Duden dictionary, and when were they removed? Author Peter Graf’s book looks not at new words, but rather at ones that no longer exist.

Achtsamkeitsübung (mindfulness exercise), Datingplattform (dating platform) and Insektensterben (insect population decline) are just some of the additions to the latest edition of the Duden dictionary, which was published on August 12th.

READ ALSO: From Lockdown to Influencer: Which words have been added to the German Dictionary in 2020?

Words such as Hackenporsche (a humorous term for a pull-along shopping trolley) and Vorführdame (model), on the other hand, were removed.

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An updated and expanded version of the 2018 book “Was nicht mehr im Duden steht” (Words you’ll no longer find in the Duden dictionary) was released just in time for the publishing of the 28th edition of the Duden. The Duden dictionary is widely regarded as the predominant authority on the German language, setting the standard on questions of spelling and grammar.

The book outlines when terms were removed from the Duden dictionary and takes the reader on a journey through the highs and lows of the German language.

Outdated words

Many of the removed words can still be found as veraltet (outdated) entries in the online version of the Duden dictionary.

Words are removed from the physical dictionary, however, when they fall into misuse or when they are outright replaced by other words. Such was the case when Tollwut replaced Hundswut as the word for ‘rabies’ in 1991. 

According to Peter Graf, author of “Was nicht mehr im Duden steht”, some of the “nicest” words long since removed from the printed Duden dictionary include schabernackisch (removed from the West German edition in 1961, and the East German edition in 1967), fuchsschwänzeln (meaning to flatter someone, removed in 1991), and verschimpfieren (meaning to disparage, removed in 2009).

The author combs through the history of words in a series of chapters focussing on various topics. Readers also learn that the original Duden dictionary (published in 1800) already had around 27,000 entries. In the edition published this year, however, the number of entries has soared to 148,000.

Peter Graf's book, “Was nicht mehr im Duden Steht”, was first published in 2018. Photo: DPA

In the chapter on “Fashion and Textiles”, readers discover that the word Überschwupper – a half-joking German version of “pullover” – disappeared in 1941. However, the German version of “sweater”, Schwitzer, was not removed until 1957 in East Germany, and remained West German edition until 1967.

The word Agrumen, used as a collective term for citrus fruits, was removed in 1980 in West Germany and five years later in East Germany. The word Zugemüse, used to refer to vegetables, was only removed in 2000. 

There used to be remarkably compact words for terms such as alt werden (getting old) or Obst ernten (harvesting fruit) in the Duden dictionary: namely älteln (removed in 1961 in West Germany, 1985 in East Germany) and obsten (removed in 1961 in the West, 1967 in the East).

Vocabulary in Nazi times

The years of Nazi rule were also dark times for the Duden dictionary. Graf explains that a great deal of Nazi-related vocabulary could be found in the 1934 edition and that even more was added to the edition published in 1941.

The Germanist (German philologist) Otto Basler, who was in charge of editing the 11th and 12th editions and was able to continue his career as a university professor after the Second World War, put up no resistance to the regime. 

“Or, as the linguist Wolfgang Werner Sauer put it in his 1989 essay ‘The Duden in the Third Reich’: by 1933 he had already manipulated the new issue in such a way that there was no need for the Nazis to force the dictionary into conformity.” The Duden institution adapted to National Socialism “with remarkable speed”.

Many words were then swiftly removed in 1947, including, of course, Hitlergruß (Nazi salute), kriegsbereit (ready for war), Verjudung (judification), Kraft durch Freude (Strength through joy), fremdrassig (belonging to a foreign race) and Untermensch (subhuman). 

According to Wolfgang Werner Sauer’s estimates, around five percent of all dictionary entries were affected. 

The first post-war edition was published in Leipzig (in former East Germany) in 1947 and was subsequently licensed to be sold in the three western-occupied zones that would soon become the Federal Republic of Germany (or West Germany).

READ ALSO: Are these the 10 most German words you can find? 

From the 50s onward, separate editions were published at the same time for West and East Germany. 

“In West Germany, the Mannheim headquarters published six overall [editions], whilst in East Germany, the Leipzig headquarters published five. 

“Whilst there were little to no differences as far as spelling was concerned, the two published editions definitely differed in terms of vocabulary”, it says in the book. 

A unified dictionary

The era of two separate editions came to an end with the publishing of the 20th edition in 1991, otherwise known as the Einheitsduden (unified Duden dictionary).

Terms used in the GDR (German Democratic Republic, or East Germany) such as Kaderakte (personal file) and Namensweihe (a non-Christian alternative to a christening) were subsequently removed. 

Interestingly, however, it was the Federal Republic of Germany that lagged behind the GDR in terms of some social developments. 

The word Volksverräter (meaning traitor, a pejorative term for someone who betrays or deceives their own people), which made its way into the German language in the 1930s and was closely linked with fascist ideology, was removed from the East German edition in 1951, but remained in the West German edition until 1973.

READ ALSO: 10 surprising uses of English in former East Germany

The word has since been re-added to the dictionary – but only due to its reappearance in recent years. 

In 2016, it was declared as the Unwort (non-word) of the year by a jury in Darmstadt. At the very back of the Duden dictionary, you’ll find a list of every German “non-word” of the year dating back to1991.

The word “Duden” always refers to the yellow Duden, the first in the twelve-volume Duden series. This particular spell-checking dictionary does not contain every word in the German vocabulary, nor does it provide information on the origin and meaning of each word.


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