German word of the day: Die Lautmalerei

This poetic term is used when a word imitates the sound it represents.

German word of the day: Die Lautmalerei
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Known as ‘onomatopoeia’ in English, the German word ‘die Lautmalerei’ can be broken down into two parts. 

Firstly, ‘laut’, which is found both as the adjective ‘loud’ and as the noun ‘der Laut’ (sound), and ‘die Malerei’ (painting). 

This makes a lot of sense, as ‘painting with sound’ is essentially what onomatopoeia does – the word’s phonetics paint a picture of the sound in our minds when we hear it.

Common ‘Lautmalerei’ include animal noises, human sounds and weather sounds, and can be amusingly different across languages.

READ ALSO: Ten noises that sound very different in German  

Here are a few examples of German ‘Lautmalerei’ so you can sound like a true native when describing sounds:

rascheln – to rustle

schlucken – to gulp

klingeln – to ring

rutschen – to slip

platschen – to splash


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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.