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GERMAN LANGUAGE

10 German words that English should adopt

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.

10 German words that English should adopt
A man lies daydreaming beside a lake. Photo: Jonathan Mabey/Unsplash

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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GERMAN LANGUAGE

‘6 German words I now use in English’

One of the consequences of learning a foreign language is that some words end up slipping into your everyday English. Sarah Magill explains why she uses these German words more often than their English equivalents.

'6 German words I now use in English'

Getting to a stage where I feel comfortable using the German language has been a long, arduous process which has taken me nearly eight years.

But one thing I didn’t expect about becoming a German speaker, was that I would find myself using German words in my everyday English, too.

READ ALSO: 10 German words that English should adopt

Sometimes due to laziness, sometimes for conciseness, or sometimes just because I like the sound of the word, I often use these words now amongst German-speaking friends instead of their English equivalents. 

(die) Bescheinigung

I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I love this word. Be-schein-i-gung. It’s got a nice, bouncy ring to it, even though it means something pretty dull.

Bescheinigung is a German word for “certificate” or and is used for all kinds of formal certifications.

Sick notes lie on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Büttner

It’s often stuck to the end of other words too, to mean a specific type of certificate, for example – Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung (sick note) or Anmeldebescheinigung (registration certificate).

I often find myself saying things like “But I don’t have the right Bescheinigung” or “do I need a Bescheinigung for that?”

anmelden

The frequency with which you have to anmelden in Germany, may explain why this word is so firmly rooted in my everyday vocabulary.

Anmelden is a verb which can mean “to register”, “to enrol” and “to login”, and it’s a word I encounter on a daily basis, as it appears on most websites, as well as in front of Covid test centres or at reception areas in medical and government buildings. 

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

I’m ashamed to admit that I have also corrupted this word slightly for my own convenience and sometimes say things like “oh I need to anmeld myself” which is of course, very, very wrong.

(die) Kupplung

If you don’t drive or only drive automatic cars, this isn’t a word you generally need to know. But for me, the German word for “clutch” is forever seared into my brain after having it shouted at me by an enraged German driving teacher on numerous occasions.

The interior of a Skoda Octavia TS 1200, with the clutch and brake pedals visible. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/SMB | Skoda Auto Deutschland GmbH

Kupplung is a very nice German word in that it describes what the mechanical elements of a clutch do – they connect and disconnect two rotating shafts, or “couple” them.

I can sometimes be heard saying things like: “Oh I took my foot off the Kupplung too quickly”.

Leider

Whereas the English equivalent – “unfortunately” – can sound a bit clunky and overly formal, leider is a nice little word which you can use to add a touch of polite regret in all kinds of circumstances in German.

The sign above a shop door reads “sadly closed”. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Nicolas Armer

Thanks to its brevity and the way it can be stuck quite easily into a sentence, this word has crept into my everyday English, and into phrases such as “we are going to have to wait, leider”.

(der) Feierabend

This is just one of the many German words that we don’t have in English, so it’s perhaps more forgivable that I use this in English conversations quite a lot. 

Literally meaning “celebration evening” the word Feierabend is used for the free time after work and it invariably gets a nice response when you tell colleagues or shop assistants schönen Feierabend! (have a nice free evening!).

(die) Kasse

I like to use this German word a lot because – surprisingly – it’s actually easier than having to find the right equivalent word in English.  

A notice reading “No free choice of seats – please register at the entrance” hangs on the outside wall of an inn in Freiburg’s old town. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp von Ditfurth

For example, in English we have separate words for “checkout”, “till”, “paypoint”, “ticket office” and “cash register”, but in German, the word Kasse covers them all. 

So it’s a rare example of a German word being less specific than English, and it’s also short and easy to say. 

READ ALSO: 7 ways to talk about money like a German

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