German words you need to know: Das Tohuwabohu

Although perhaps not known for being messy or chaotic, Germans still have a great word for when a situation like this occurs.

German words you need to know: Das Tohuwabohu
This kids' room is definitely a "Tohuwabohu". Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Mascha Brichta

A particularly satisfying word to use, Tohuwabohu translates to a complete ruckus, hubbub, hullabaloo or chaos. The word comes from the Biblical Hebrew tohû wạ vohû. Originally meaning ‘desolate and empty’, this phrase can be found in the Old Testament in the First Book of Moses to describe the beginning of the world before Genesis. 

German and Hebrew may seem like very different languages. However, many Jewish people in Central and Eastern Europe used to speak Yiddish, a Germanic language, which contains Hebrew among other linguistic influences.

This has led to the integration of some Hebrew words, like Tohuwabohu, into German. Other examples include the adjective meschugge (‘crazy’ or ‘bonkers’) and the noun Tacheles (‘sense’), which can be used in the phrase Tacheles reden (‘to talk straight’). Similarly, German words have filtered through to Hebrew, through German immigrants entering Israel in the last century. 

In German, the word Tohuwabohu is typically used to refer to a space being too full of things, rather than desolate, as in the original meaning. It’s also been used in political settings, in which the opposing side may attack the other as chaotic, or complete Tohuwabohu! 

A Kindergarten in Weiden in der Oberpfalz, Bavaria, even names itself Tohuwabohu, perhaps in honour of the typical mess caused by young children.

READ ALSO: How Yiddish survives in Europe through German


In diesem Zimmer herrscht ein totales Tohuwabohu!

This room is a complete mess!

Was ist das für ein Tohuwabohu?

What’s all this ruckus? 

Die zahllosen Kinder und das ganze Tohuwabohu waren ein bisschen viel aufs Mal.

The countless children and the whole hubbub was a bit much.

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German word of the day: Umgangssprache

This is a good word to be aware of when you're looking out for phrases to add to your everyday vocabulary in Germany.

German word of the day: Umgangssprache

Why do I need to know Umgangssprache?

We may be getting a little meta here, but we think it’s worth knowing this word so you can listen out for the words around it (or know when not to use this type of language).

What does it mean?

Umgangssprache, which sounds like this, means ‘colloquial language’ or ‘slang’. These are the kinds of words and phrases you might not find in a textbook, but they are heard in everyday life.

By using slang vocabulary, you’ll be able to bring your sentences to life and sound like a true local.

The term is said to have been introduced into the German language by the writer and linguist Joachim Heinrich Campe at the beginning of the 19th century.

Umgangssprache is shaped by the world around it, whether its regional factors or social circumstances of the time. 

Here are a few examples of colloquial phrases and words:

Geil means horny in German, but it is also used colloquially to describe anything you think is cool. In English, you might use the word ‘sick’ or ‘awesome’ in the same context.

Krass is another colloquial word that can mean lots of things. It is usually used to intensify the meaning of something very bad or something very good depending on the tone and context. So something disgusting is krass, and something amazing can also be krass

Das ist mir Wurst translates to ‘that’s sausage to me’, and means you don’t give a toss. 

Das ist doch Käse translates to ‘that’s cheese’ and expresses that you mean something is absolute nonsense. 

And a ruder one is: Das ist am Arsch der Welt. It means ‘that’s the arse of the world’ and refers to a place that is far away or very difficult to reach. In English you might say ‘back of beyond’. 

You would hear these kinds of phrases in relaxed conversations in cafes and bars, but they aren’t so common in formal situations. 

Use it like this:

Ist das Umgangssprache oder kann ich das bei meinem Chef benutzen?

Is that colloquial language or can I use it with my boss?

Mir gefällt die umgangssprachliche Floskel: auf dein Nacken!

I really like the colloquial phrase ‘this is on you!’