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10 German words with hilarious literal translations

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10 German words with hilarious literal translations
A donkey on the cliffs of Etretat, France. Photo: Ansgar Scheffold/Unsplash

German has a lot of specific words for a lot of silly things, which sound ridiculous when translated literally into English. Here are ten of the best.


1. Kummerspeck

Ever eaten a whole tub of ice cream after a break-up, or a kilo of cheese after bombing in a job interview?

Then you may have fallen victim to the dreaded Kummerspeck – literally “grief bacon” - afterwards.

That’s what the Germans call the excess fat gained from emotional overeating. Yes, there's a word specifically for that. 

2. Brustwarze

The German language doesn’t mess around when it comes to body parts. Brustwarze literally translates as “breast wart”, and yes, it means nipple.

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

It may seem weird to name such a sensuous part of the body after a viral growth, and if you can’t bring yourself to say it, the word Nippel is also now a viable alternative.

And it's not the only term for a body part that sounds a little grim. Zahnfleisch (tooth-meat) means gums.

3. Liebfraumilch

While we're on the subject of breasts, this German wine appears to be a slightly blasphemous reference to the teat of the Virgin Mary.

Liebfraumilch is a semi-sweet white German wine that dates back to the mid-1700s. Translated into English, the name means ”Beloved Lady’s Milk” - the beloved lady being the Virgin Mary. 

Bottles of white wine. Photo: Sandra Grünewald/Unsplash

The name was initially given to the wine produced from the vineyards of the Liebfrauenkirche or “Church of our Lady” in Germany’s Rhine region but nowadays Liebfraumilch is produced mainly for export. 

4. Backpfeifegesicht

We all know someone we’d love to just slap in the face.

This seems to be true for most Germans, too, as they have a hilarious word for such a person.

Made up of Backe (cheek), Pfeife (whistle) and Gesicht (face), the literal translation of "cheek whistle face" doesn't give much of a hint about its meaning at first.


But a Backpfeife actually is a term meaning "slap in the face", so a Backpfeifengesicht is a face that really deserves to be slapped.

It’s not generally used for people who just have a particularly slappable face, rather, it’s applied to people who are annoying.

5. Handschuhe 

As we've seen so far in this article, the Germans have a specific word for pretty much everything.

A row of gloves on display in a shop. Photo: Philippe Jausions/Unsplash

But it seems they couldn't be bothered to come up with one for "gloves". So they just called them Handschuhe - "hand shoes".

6. Durchfall

A scatological one now, which leaves little to the imagination. It means diarrhoea, and translates as “through-fall”.

You might recoil in disgust, but then what does “diarrhoea” literally mean? It comes from the Greek, and it also means to “through-flow”. So we Anglophones aren’t much better, but we just don’t know our own language very well.  

Meanwhile, the German verb durchfallen means "to fail" or "to flop" and actually doesn't have anything to do with unfortunate toilet issues. But then again, no one feels like a winner when they've got diarrhoea. 

7. Klobrille

We've all been there. That first house meeting with our German flatmates when the topic of cleaning comes up. How many of you were left wracking your brains at what on earth these dirty Klobrille (toilet glasses) could be?

An open toilet seat. Or "Klobrille". Photo: Giorgio Trovato/Unsplash

While you might at first guess that this is some strange device Germans use to help inspect every inch of the toilet bowl, it actually just means "toilet seat". 


8. Wildpinkler

The fact that German has a word for this is concerning. Literally a “wild-pee-er”, a Wildpinkler is someone who likes to relieve themselves outside. And often, it's not just "in the wild", but on the street in broad daylight (if you live in Berlin anyway). 

READ ALSO: Six German words I now use in English

You’ll no doubt be delighted to learn that Wildpinkler is not the only German word for a specific type of urinater.

A man poses in a peeing position on the wall of the Ulm Cathedral in Ulm. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Felix Kästle

Sitzpinkler is a term for a much more refined class of gentlemen who prefer to take a seat whilst passing water.

9. Drahtesel

Do you ride your wire donkey to work? Or do you just use it at the weekend?

Knowing that “Draht” means wire and “Esel” means donkey doesn’t really help you understand what “der Drahtesel” is supposed to be. In German, you would actually use this word to talk about a bike.

10. Eselsbrücke

Another donkey-based one here. The German word "Eselsbrücke" (literally, "donkey bridge") is used to refer to a mnemonic device or memory aid that helps someone remember information more easily.

Just as a donkey bridge helps a donkey cross a river, an Eselsbrücke helps someone "cross over" from not knowing the information to remembering it. 

What's not clear, however, is why Germans love donkeys so much.


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