German language For Members

10 German words that English should adopt

Sarah Magill
Sarah Magill - [email protected] • 11 Sep, 2022 Updated Sun 11 Sep 2022 08:54 CEST
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A man lies daydreaming beside a lake. Photo: Jonathan Mabey/Unsplash

The German language has the ability to describe feelings or experiences in ways that simply isn't possible in English. Here are 10 linguistic gems we think should be adopted into English immediately.

1. (das) Kopfkino

Finding your thoughts drifting to a romantic scenario with a colleague? Imagining what it would be like to win the lottery? 

This German word explains this situation perfectly. Literally meaning "head cinema" it describes the mental images we have when we let our thoughts run wild. 

It's much more descriptive than the nearest English equivalent "daydream" as it expresses how vividly we can picture made-up scenarios in our minds. 

2. (der) Ohrwurm

This German noun is a prime candidate for direct adoption into the English language.

German singer Helene Fischer, whose 2013 song "Atemlos" is still stuck in many people's heads. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Willnow

Meaning literally “ear worm” the word vividly describes the sometimes-unpleasant situation of having a tune stuck in your head - as if a musical worm has crawled in your ear.

3. (die) Erklärungsnot

When you have to explain something but don't know how to, you can find yourself in an Erklärungsnot – clumsily translated as “explanation difficulty”.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The German versions of famous English sayings

For example, when your child asks why Santa Claus looks so much like his uncle, or when your boss wants to know how far you are with the report you haven’t started yet.

This is not exactly a desirable state, but one that everyone experiences at some point, which is why we think it deserves a place in the English language. 

Example:

Wegen der Gasumlage kommt die Bundesregierung immer mehr in Erklärungsnot.

Because of the gas levy, the federal government is increasingly in need of explanation.

4. (der) Warmduscher

A man washes his hair in a warm shower. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Monique Wüstenhagen

With tough energy-saving measures on the horizon this winter – this insult is a particularly topical one at the moment.

Meaning “warm showerer” this term perfectly describes someone who is afraid to leave their comfort zone in a tongue-in-cheek way. 

5. (die) Mitfarhrgelegenheit

If ever you wanted to demonstrate the beautiful simplicity of German compound nouns, use this example.

Literally translated to “opportunity to drive with” the word can mean carpooling or simply giving someone a lift. It's particular advantage over its English equivalents is how it can be used to ask politely if you might be able to get a lift from someone. Instead of saying "Can I get a ride", you can say "gibt es vielleicht eine Mitfahrgelegenheit?" 

You'll charm your way to the backseat every time. 

Examples:

Ich suche eine Mitfahrgelegenheit von Berlin nach Haldern für das Festival.

I'm looking to share a ride from Berlin to Haldern for the festival.

Vergleiche Züge, Busse und Mitfahrgelegenheit in einer Suche.
Compare trains, buses and carpooling in one search.

6. unsolidarisch

Most people will probably be able to guess what this adjective means just by looking at it but will have difficulty translating it into English exactly.

Unsolidarisch means not having solidarity with someone or with a cause. It was famously used by the former Chancellor Angela Merkel when she addressed the nation at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, calling panic buying vollkommen unsolidarisch (completely lacking solidarity).

READ ALSO: 10 ways to express surprise in German

There's no direct equivalent of this adjective in English and the sentiment instead requires a few extra words to really get its meaning across, whereas in German you only need one.

7. (der) Hoffnungsträger

This word, which literally means “carrier of hope” is most commonly translated into English as “beacon of hope” or “hopeful”.  But neither of these quite equal the image of someone being the carrier of hope that the German word evokes. 

Example:

Heute ist die Windkraft der größte Hoffnungsträger für den nachhaltigen Umbau der Energieerzeugung.

Today, wind power has become the greatest beacon of hope for the conversion to sustainable energy generation.

8. Übergangsjacke

For that time of the year when it’s not quite hot and not quite cold outside, you need a jacket that can fit both temperatures – and a word to describe it.

In German, that word is Übergangsjacke meaning literally “transition jacket” or more accurately: "in-between-seasons jacket".

9. (das) Fernweh

A Lufthansa airline plane takes off from Frankfurt Airport on a rain-soaked runway. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

While homesickness (Heimweh in German) is a concept we're all familiar with, in German, Fernweh describes the exact opposite.

Literally translated it means “distance-pain,” and, more figuratively: "A longing for distant places". 

Given the notoriously rainy climate of the UK, it's surprising that there's no English word to describe this feeling which is why we suggest adopting the German one.

10. Verabredet 

Last but by no means least is one of the most quintessentially German words. Verabredet sein means to have an agreed appointment with someone and is used widely in German for informal meetings with friends and for formal appointments.

It's an extremely useful word as it concisely conveys the fact that there is a meeting with a strong sense of commitment: Ich bin mit Sonia verabredet suggests a more solid arrangement than how it might be translated into English ("I'm meeting Sonia") and with it, a suggestion that the appointment can't easily be cancelled without a good explanation. 

Examples:
Wir waren doch verabredet!
But we had an appointment!

Du bist zehn Minuten später, als verabredet.

You’re 10 minutes later than agreed.

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Sarah Magill 2022/09/11 08:54

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