German words you need to know: Das Tohuwabohu

German words you need to know: Das Tohuwabohu
This kids' room is definitely a "Tohuwabohu". Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Mascha Brichta
Although perhaps not known for being messy or chaotic, Germans still have a great word for when a situation like this occurs.

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. 

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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

Examples:

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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