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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German words you need to know: Die Streicheleinheit

You can show your pets - or your German friends - some TLC with this word.

German words you need to know: Die Streicheleinheit
A woman scratches her dog in Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp Schulze

This feminine noun is made up of the verb ‘streicheln’, meaning ‘to stroke’ or ‘to pet’ – usually referring to an animal – and ‘Einheit’, meaning a single unit or, more accurately in this context, a session. 

Put together, ‘Streicheleinheit’ means ‘a session of stroking or petting’. It refers mostly to a physical act, but can imply any display of affection, including words of affirmation and endearment.

Imagine coming home after a long day at work, setting your cat on your lap, and stroking along its head and back as it purrs quietly. This activity helps to produce stress releasing hormones and makes you feel more relaxed and at ease – and your cat is likely to be practically ecstatic too. This is the archetypal image of Streicheleinheit

Although it is usually used in the context of animals, particularly household pets, you can also deal out a session of stroking to your human friends. Here it means something analogous to TLC – tender loving care – the perfect remedy to a stressful day and a great way to show care to the people closest to you. 

READ ALSO: German words you need to know: Der Stubentiger

You might be more used to hugging or kissing your loved ones when you greet them than stroking them, but if your friend tells you they are in need of a few Streicheleinheiten, in practice that generally means slowly stroking them up the arm or on the back. 

This kind of physical affection is proved to be effective at relieving stress for both the giver and receiver: it reduces secretion of cortisol, the stress hormone, and increases levels of oxytocin, which helps to maintain emotional and mental wellbeing.

However, it also doesn’t have to be a solely physical activity – you can also experience a Streicheleinheit für die Seele’ (for the soul) by treating yourself to something, for instance a holiday or a spa trip, which will make you feel better: just as in English we might refer to a vacation or time with family as ‘good for the soul’. 

But the main purpose of a Streicheleinheit is that it is given as an expression of love and care – it isn’t something that can be paid for, but is something freely bestowed. It might be reciprocated, but it is not conditional. 

Examples:

Jeder braucht hin und wieder seine Streicheleinheiten. 

Everyone needs some TLC every now and again.

Von wahren Freunden kann man viele Streicheleinheiten erwarten.

From true friends you can expect a lot of TLC.

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German word of the day: Los

This tiny German word has a huge range of meanings.

German word of the day: Los

Why do I need to know los?

Because it’s a very common word in spoken German which crops up everywhere, from yoga classes to unemployment offices. We explain how it’s used below. 

What does it mean?

The word los has a wide variety of uses in the German language – it can be a noun, adjective, adverb, interjection, as well as a prefix and a suffix.

As an adjective it means “loose” in English and is used to describe something not firmly or tightly fixed in place. This is the kind of los you’re most likely to encounter in everyday life. If a German friend asks you why you’re looking a bit down, for example, they’ll probably say:

Was ist mit dir los?

This literally means “what’s loose with you?” but is used to mean “what’s up”?

Similarly, if there’s some commotion on the street outside your office, a German colleague might ask:

Was ist da los?

What’s up there?

Los is also commonly used as an exclamation, meaning “Go!”

Riders hold their grips on the steering wheel at the start of the second stage of the Tour de France in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/BELGA | Pool

At the start of a race, for example, instead of “On your marks – get set – Go!” you’ll hear auf die Plätze – fertig – Los!

You’ll also hear this type of los as a general encouragement or as an order to someone to make a move:

Worauf wartest du? Los!

What are you waiting for? Go!

Los as a prefix and suffix

When it appears at the beginning of a verb, los expresses the idea of starting or going. The verb losgehen, for example, means “to get going”, while loslassen  – a favourite of German yoga teachers – means “to let go”.

When it appears at the end of a word, however, -los has a similar meaning to the English suffix “-less,” such as nutzlos (useless), harmlos (harmless) and arbeitslos (jobless).

Los as a noun

As a noun, das Los has a very different definition and means “fate” or “lot”. Stemming from this meaning, das Los is also a common word for “lottery ticket” in German.

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