German word of the day: Der Teufelskreis

Looking for the German version of ‘Catch-22’? This powerful compound word sums up a situation in which you feel stuck whichever way you turn. 

German word of the day: Der Teufelskreis
Symbol photo shows members of the Cirk La Putyka ensemble in Prague dressed as angels, devils and Father Christmas for a performance in December 2020. Photo: DPA

Der Teufelskreis literally means devil’s circle and describes a seemingly hopeless situation that is created by a chain of unpleasant, mutually dependent events. 

We have a version of this in English, a vicious circle, but the Germans go one step further with the expression. Getting locked in an inescapable cycle can be immensely frustrating, so the Germans suggest the devil must have some influence in this chain reaction.

The German word, like the English, has its origins in the latin circulus vitiosus. Though vitiosus is usually translated to vicious, it can also mean wicked or malicious, so the Germans choose to translate it to devil, the embodiment of evil. 

Unfortunately, a Teufelskreis can be quite common. Most of us are familiar with being so worried about a work presentation or school exam that we spend more of our time being anxious than actually preparing for it. 

The below tweet reads: “Motivation to learn for the Abitur (up), anxiety because I haven’t learned anything for the Abitur (down). It’s just a vicious circle.”

You may also encounter a common Teufelskreis when learning a new language. If you find you are nervous to make mistakes and don’t push yourself to speak the language with locals, you will not improve as quickly and so are more likely to make basic mistakes, building upon the initial anxiety. This is a Teufelskreis; a sequence of events that worsens your initial situation. 

READ ALSO: How to overcome five of the biggest stumbling blocks when learning German

Der Teufelskreis is a fairly everyday term and often appears in popular culture. In 2008, the German rapper and hip hop artist Alligatoah released his hit track Teufelskreis, which explores the vicious circle of violence. 

The word Teufel, meaning devil or demon, actually crops up in German colloquialisms more than you might expect. Examples include der Teufelsgeiger, meaning a passionate virtuoso violinist, and die Teufelskunst, or black magic. 


Es handelt sich um einen Teufelskreis.

It is a vicious circle.

Er konnte aus dem Teufelskreis von Hass ausbrechen.

He was able to escape the vicious circle of hate.

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German word of the day: Kladderadatsch

Whether it’s a pile of clothes on the floor or even the downfall of a political system, this is a German word for all things messy and chaotic.

German word of the day: Kladderadatsch

The German language is full of wonderful words that don’t have a true English translation: a personal favourite is Verschlimmbessern, which means to try and improve a situation only to end up making it worse. Der Kladderadatsch is another word which defies simple translation, meaning something like “unholy mess” or “clutter”, but also “chaos”,  “collapse”, or “crash”.

The reason for this slightly strange combination of meanings is that Kladderadatsch is onomatopoeic: it describes the sound that disorganised things make. When the word is used to describe a crash, an English onomatopoeic equivalent would probably be “kerblam!” or something similar. When you’re explaining that your bedroom is a mess, however, you’re most likely instead hoping to convey the idea of clutter – not that your laundry is making a “kerblam” noise! 

In a political sense, Kladderadatsch can also mean a particularly messy scandal.

Although Kladderadatsch can most likely trace its origin back to early 19th century Berlin, the word only became particularly popular following the first publication of a satirical magazine called Kladderadatsch in 1848. This magazine, published weekly from 1848 until 1944, was born out of the radical student protests of the time, which many believed were the signs of the old political system collapsing. 

According to legend, the founders of the magazine – Albert Hofmann and David Kalisch – came up with the name after watching a dog jump up onto a tavern table, knocking over bottles and glasses alike. Watching the chaos before them, they recognised the parallels with their political times, and so Kladderadatsch was christened.


Ich habe den ganzen Kladderadatsch in den Müll geschmissen.

I threw the whole mess into the rubbish

In unserer Stadt gab es deswegen einen großen Kladderadatsch

There was a big scandal in our town because of it

Seine Geschäfte endeten mit einem großen Kladderadatsch

His businesses ended in a big ‘crash!’