Some words are just better in German. Today I’m going to teach you my personal list of the most awesome German words and explain why you should love them, too. If you would like to have a PDF copy of the video script, an mp3 version of the video and a worksheet with answer key to go with this video, you can get that via this link. The worksheet focuses on the formation of compound nouns in German. You practice breaking apart long German words and making your own compound nouns.
Awesome German Compound Nouns That are Greater than the Sum of Their Parts.
die Nacktschnecke – slug: This is literally a “naked snail”. I always considered the shell of a snail to be like carrying its home on its back. Germans apparently see it more as clothing. Take away the clothes and you have a “naked snail”, “Nacktschnecke”.
der Zungenbrecher – tongue twister: In German tongue twisters don’t just twist your tongue. They break it. A “Zungenbrecher” is a “tongue breaker”.
das Luftschloss – a dream that will likely never come true: Literally this is an “air castle”. There is a relatively close English word “pipe dream”.
das Kopfkino – playing a scenario out in your mind: This one comes with a revolving door of an image. Literally this is a “head cinema”. It is like watching the scenario in your head. Now that you know what it is, you can imagine the “Kopfkino”. You now have a “Kopfkino” of a “Kopfkino”.
das Drachenfutter – a gift given to a loved one as an apology: This word turns your loved-ones into dragons. It literally translates as “dragon feed”. It is the thing you give to the dragon to tame them.
das Hüftgold – extra fat around the midsection: We have a ton of words for this in English. A pair tire, muffin top or love handles are just a few options. The German, however, call this “hip gold”, which I find to be much more pleasant.
Diseases and Illnesses
die Tollwut – rabies, great rage: The “Toll” in “Tollwut” doesn’t mean great, but “crazy”. “Toll” is a old word for “verrückt”. “Tollwut” therefore is “crazy rage”.
die französische Krankheit – syphilis: The English language has a few alternate names for the French disease, but they aren’t nearly as much fun. In German you can call it “the French disease”.
die Windpocken – chicken pox: When coming up with the name for this illness in English, people thought it looked like someone was pecked by a chicken. The Germans, however, seem to think it comes from the wind, which is why they call them “wind pox”.
der Durchfall – diarrhea: This one is definitely the grossest one on my list. It literally translates as “through fall”. How’s that for a bit of “Kopfkino”?
The “I bet you can’t come up with a one word translation for this” category
der Ohrwurm – ear worm: When a song gets stuck in your head, it crawls around in there all day. The Germans take this a bit literally and call it a worm.
der Kummerspeck – grief/sadness fat: Many people on the internet think this translates as “grief bacon”, but they are stretching the meaning a bit. It is more closely related to the word “fat”, as other translations for “Speck” include “fat” and “lard”. It is still the word for excess weight gain from emotional eating.
das Fremdschämen – shame for something someone else has done: When your friend starts talking about a girl they see. They keep going on and on about how beautiful she is. Then your other friend turns to them and says “Dude, that’s my sister.” The feeling you have is “Fremdschämen”. Either that or “Schadenfreude“, but that’s a different lesson.
der Kevinismus (Chantalismus) – being dumb, because you are called “Kevin” or “Chantal”: This is a person who is perceived to be of lower intelligence, have behavioral problems, or otherwise be unsuccessful, because their parents gave them an un-Germanic sounding name. It ends with -ismus, because it is supposed to be an illness. Bonus Word: “Alpha-Kevin” is someone who is especially dumb.
Bad Ideas & Failures
die Schnapsidee – an idea that you have when you are drunk: The German word “Schnaps” is commonly used in English, but is usually spelled with two P’s. This word is literally a “schnapps idea”. In English we use an entire phrase for this. “Hold my beer.”
verschlimmbessern – to make things worse while trying to make them better: If this word is a bit difficult to say, there is a reason for that. It is a combination of “verbessern” (to make better) and “verschlimmern” (to make worse, exacerbate). This is usually what happens when I try to fix any plumbing related problems in my house.
der Treppenwitz – a joke you come up with when you are walking away from an argument: Have you ever had a situation when you wanted to say something to someone, but you didn’t come up with it until you go to the stairs on your way out? Well, that is exactly what a “Treppenwitz” is.
Awesome German Words for Feelings
das Fernweh – the opposite of homesickness: When you have an insatiable desire to travel, it becomes “Fernweh”. The word “Fern” means far. “Weh” is pain. This makes it pain caused by wanting to go far away. I just call it “Itchy Feet“.
die Ostalgie – being nostalgic for those things that you had in East Germany: This word is a combination of the words “Ost” (east) and “Nostalgie” (nostalgia).
der Weltschmerz – the melancholic pain you feel when you watch the world and its state: I think a lot of people have this nowadays. This word is a combination of the words “Welt” (world) and “Schmerz” (pain). It is pain caused by the world around you.
die Torschlusspanik – gate closing panic: This word derived from the times where cities had walls and gates, at a certain time gates were closed for the night. If you came too late, you had to spend the night outside of the city. Nowadays “Torschlusspanik” describes the fear to miss something important, like marriage or having children.
German words that sound like English words that the German word is not.
der Rahmen – frame: I just think it sounds like the noodles predominantly eaten by poor college students in the United States. I’m waiting on someone to make a picture frame out of ramen noodles. I would buy a ramen Rahmen.
der Muckefuck – a coffee substitute: There is no such thing as a coffee substitute. There is coffee and not coffee. There is no substitute. If you are in the unfortunate situation of being served such a disgraceful drink, you may find yourself also saying “Muckefuck”.
die Fahrt – trip: Tee hee. He said fart. This is also the “ihr” form of the verb “fahren” (to drive). You can even say “Fahrt schnell!” (Drive fast/quickly.) I giggle every time.
der Fuchs – fox: What kind of an animal is that? A “Fuchs”?
das Fach – compartment, container, subject: It means compartment or container, but is used to refer to subjects or disciplines in education as a figurative version of the word. I just like it, because it sounds like an English word that it clearly isn’t. Sometimes when I stub my toe, I say the German word for “subject”.
das Schließfach – locker: If you add any word that starts with an “S” to the beginning of a word that sounds like “Fach”, it is objectively funny.
die Schießbude – shooting gallery: “Schießen” means “to shoot”, but “Bude” sounds like “Buddha”. Why are they shooting Buddha? It is actually a carnival game. I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse.
Words that are fun if you know their origin
pendeln – to commute: It comes from the noun “Pendel”, which is a pendulum. This verb literally is like swaying back and forth, but translates as “commute” or “to travel back and forth from place to place”.
die Notlüge – white lie: Combined from the words “Not” (emergency) and “Lüge” (lie) is literally an “emergency lie”. It is generally translated as a “white lie” or a lie that doesn’t really do any harm, but is born of necessity.
das Fettnäpfchen – fat saucer: The word “Fett” means “fat”. A “Napf” is a container that is usually used to feed animals. A “Näpfchen” is a small version. Therefore a “Näpfchen” is a saucer. It is a saucer of fat. It is used in a colloquialism “ins Fettnäpfchen treten” (to step into the fat saucer). This comes from a time when there was a saucer of fat that was kept near the stove. If you accidentally stepped in it, it would be an awkward encounter the next time you saw the house wife or maid. This phrase, therefore, is used to describe a situation that makes it awkward for the next time you see that person. It is like ruining a relationship.
Ok, maybe I lied. Some of these nouns aren’t all that impressive. If you want to know why some German nouns aren’t that great, check out this post.