This is the German youth word of the year for 2020

Young people in Germany have spoken: this English word has become the Youth Word of the Year for 2020. But how is the winner chosen, and why do so many slang words come from English?

This is the German youth word of the year for 2020
Young people enjoy using English phrases as part of their everyday vocabulary. Photo: DPA

Every year since 2008, young people in Germany have been asked to vote for their favourite word or expression.

The Langenscheidt publishing agency founded the competition to showcase teenagers’ creative relationship with everyday language, but since 2019 the competition has been run by the Pons publishing house. 

This year, ‘lost’ triumphed over the other finalists ‘cringe’ and ‘wyld/wild’ with 48 percent of the votes to win the title, a spokeswoman for Pons announced on Thursday. 

READ ALSO: How did Germany's 10 top 'Youth Words of the Year' originate?

The word translates literally into German as verloren, but it is used to describe being unsure or unable to understand something.

Young people were asked to send in their ideas online, and a list of the ten most popular suggestions was compiled by a jury before the winner was decided. Over a million votes have been cast since the competition started in June.

Previous winners include the newly coined word ‘Smombie’ – a hybrid of ‘smartphone’ and ‘zombie’, and phrases such as läuft bei dir (often meaning ‘you have what it takes’ or ‘you’re doing something right’).

Ehrenmann/Ehrenfrau, words used to describe someone who does something nice for someone else, were the winners in 2018.

READ ALSO: German words of the day: Der Ehrenmann, Die Ehrenfrau 

English comes out on top

‘Lost’ is a quick and easy way to say that you or someone else is clueless or doesn’t know what to do. 

“I’ve heard ‘lost’ a lot in day to day conversations”, said Artemis Alexiadou, a philologist at Humboldt University in Berlin.

“I’ve been using it more often recently when I don’t understand something, especially because so much is confusing and unexpected at the moment.”

Another word that made it to the final, ‘cringe’, came in second place with 28 percent of the vote and is used to describe something awkward or embarrassing. It can also be used to express a sense of second hand embarrassment.

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

‘Wyld’ or ‘wild’, which came in third place, is used by young people to describe something amazing or extraordinary. 

The influence of social media 

All three finalists this year, and many of the winners from previous competitions, have come from the English language. 

“Young people often add distinctive words or phrases to their spoken language to distance themselves from the older generation. In that respect it makes sense to use English”, explains Alexiadou.

Young people often spend a lot of time on social media, where the main language is English. “These words are seen as trendy and in fashion”, added Alexiadou. 

Translated by Eve Bennett. 

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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”.