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German word of the day: Patchworkfamilie

Rachel Loxton
Rachel Loxton - [email protected]
German word of the day: Patchworkfamilie
Image: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

This German word combines a touch of English to produce an evocative expression for modern family life.

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Why do I need to know Patchworkfamilie?

Because you're likely to see it or hear it in German media reports  - and it's a heart-warming way to describe modern families. 

What does it mean?

Combining the English word 'patchwork' with the German word for 'family', die Patchworkfamilie, which sounds like this, is used to describe non-traditional family set-ups.

This is the case, for instance, when parents get divorced and re-married or live with a new partner and one or both partners have a child or children from the former relationship. 

The English word for this is 'step-family' or 'blended family'. 

Germans do also use Stieffamilie, the word for 'step-family', but you'll often hear Patchworkfamilie instead.

What is lovely is that Germans take inspiration from a patchwork quilt to describe these kinds of family arrangements. A patchwork quilt includes bits of different materials, colours and textures sewn together to create a new item - which sums up rather evocatively a non-traditional family coming together. 

A cat sleeps on a patchwork quilt.

A cat sleeps on a patchwork quilt. Image by Alex from Pixabay

The word, which sometimes is written with a dash (ie Patchwork-Familie) is increasingly used in German media, by politicians and policymakers, reflecting modern times. 

For instance, this week at the Christian Democrats' party conference, politicians made a point of taking into account "social changes".

In the party programme, conservatives emphasised that marriage and family should continue to be a "guiding principle" in German society. But they broadened out the term 'family' to include all long-term relationships including same-sex marriages, single parents and "Patchworkfamilien" or patchwork families. 

"Every family is unique," said the CDU in its policy programme.

READ ALSO: Tax cuts and military service: How the CDU wants to change Germany

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Use it like this:

Meine Nachbarin hat nach ihrer Scheidung wieder geheiratet und hat jetzt eine Patchworkfamilie.

My neighbour got re-married after her divorce and now has a patchwork family.

Ich habe nicht wirklich eine traditionelle Familie, sondern eine Patchwork-Familie.

I don't really have a traditional family, I have a patchwork family.

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