‘Corona-dictator’ named one of Germany’s ugliest words of the year

Every year in January a jury of linguists picks the Un-word of the year. This year they had a surprise in store - they picked two.

'Corona-dictator' named one of Germany's ugliest words of the year
Photo: DPA

The five person jury behind the Unwort des Jahres announced on Monday that “Corona-Diktatur” und “Rückführungspatenschaften” have been chosen as the un-words of 2020.

Corona-dictator is a slogan that has been used by participants at the anti-lockdown demonstrations, the more radical members of which accuse Angela Merkel of using the pandemic to set up a dictatorship.

Rückführungspatenschaften (repatriation sponsorships) is a term coined by the European Commission to refer to when one member state takes over the responsibility of deporting someone whose asylum application has been rejected by another state. The jury said that the use of the word sponsorship attempted to put a positive spin on the practise of deportation.

The jury say that they picked the words to highlight how language can be used to denigrate democracy or human rights. Suggestions are sent in by the general public and winners are then selected by the jury.

This year 625 different words were suggested.

In 2020 the Unwort of the year was Klimahysterie (climate hysteria), a word used on the right to accuse the Friday’s for Future movement of exaggerating the threat posed by global warming.

The Unwort des Jahres is reported on by all the major German media outlets including the main Tagesschau evening news slot. Conservative critics accuse it of an illiberal tendency of attempting to make certain words unsayable.

Writing in die Welt, CDU politician Christina Schröder said that “Unwort” itself is a problematic use of language as it mirrors the Nazi word Un-Mensch.

Schröder said that the jury, who are not associated with the national association of linguists, failed to pick up on left-wing slogans like Umwelsau (environmental pig) or Alte weiße Männer (old white men) and encouraged media organisations to stop reporting on the event.

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Kätzchen and Büchlein: How to make German words smaller

German grammar is notoriously difficult. But the diminutive form – used to express a smaller version of the noun - is surprisingly straightforward.

Kätzchen and Büchlein: How to make German words smaller

Diminutives are forms of words that are used to express a smaller, younger or even cuter version of a noun. They are used a lot in German, so it’s definitely worth getting to know how they work.

In English, words often become diminutive by adding the suffix -let (e.g. drop becomes droplet, book becomes booklet). In German, the diminutive form (also called die Verkleinerungsform) is made by adding either -chen or -lein to the end of the word:

das Tier → das Tierchen

the animal → the little animal

der Stern → das Sternchen

the star → the little star

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to pick the right German language school for you

Nouns with a, o, and u change their vowel to ä, ö, and ü. The e at the end of the word is usually dropped.

die Katze → das Kätzchen

the cat → the kitten

die Torte → das Törtchen

the cake → the little cake

die Blume → das Blümchen

the flower → the little flower

A selection of little Törtchen on a table.

A selection of little Törtchen on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Catherine Waibel

The diminutive with -lein is used for words ending in -ch:

der Tisch → das Tischlein

the table →  the little table

das Buch → das Büchlein

the book → the little book

As you might have noticed, regardless of which gender the main noun is, the diminutive form is always neuter. See – told you it was simple!

Can you make any word a diminutive?

Pretty much. You can add the ending to any noun in German that is not itself a diminutive, e.g. Häschen (bunny) and Eichhörnchen (squirrel).

Common diminutives

There are many common German words that are diminutive, some of which you have probably been using without even realising it.

das Brötchen for example is the diminutive version of das Brot and means little bread.

das Mädchen, meaning girl, is actually a diminutive of the antiquated word die Magd meaning maid.

And lastly: Hallöchen! is a cute way to say hello there!