German word of the day: Totsparen

Fed up with politicians making silly financial decisions? Then this German word could soon be your best friend.

German word of the day
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Why do I need to know Totsparen?

Because it’s a helpful word to know both in the corporate world and the world of politics, and you’ll definitely impress your German friends if you use it in a debate or a discussion about current affairs. 

What does it mean?

If you know the words Tot (dead or death) and sparen (to save money), it shouldn’t be too tricky to guess what Totsparen means. Used mostly in the context of government spending, it refers to the phenomenon of cutting budgets so much that things start to fall apart – in other words, saving to death. 

It’s a criticism that’s often levelled at previous German governments who slashed funding for the Bundeswehr (army) to such an extent that many believe it’s currently unfit for purpose.

Totsparen also cropped up frequently when countries were putting austerity policies in place after the financial crisis. One Deutschlandfunk headline in 2015 read: “Griechenland: Gesundschrumpfen oder Totsparen?” (Greece: Shrinking healthily or saving to death?), referring to the strict spending rules that the country was placed under following a bailout from the European Central Back and the International Monetary Fund. 

Less often, the word is also used to describe over-zealous budget cuts in other contexts, such as a business laying off so many staff that they can no longer operate properly. 

In true German style, the word is basically a snappy neologism based on the phrase: “etwas zu Tode sparen” (to save/economise something to death). It’s not clear when the idiom first started being used as a verb, but it’s a classic example of how simple it can be to create new words in the German language.

Use it like this:

Ich befürchte, dass die Bund die Digitalisierung totsparen wird.

I’m concerned that the federal government is going to economise digitalisation to death.

Der Chef hat unser Projekt noch wieder zu Tode gespart.  

The boss has economised our project into the ground yet again. 

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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.