A little while ago, I turned to the internet hive mind, curious about their favourite German words. German, you see, is something of a ‘Marmite’ language: there are those who love its reliance on compound nouns, its 42-letter describer for the captain of a Danube steamship (that’s Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän, for the curious) and its grammatical logic. Others, however, bemoan its ‘harsh’ sound, its seemingly infinite adjectival endings and its idiosyncratic word order rules, writing it off as too difficult or not ‘romantic’ enough compared to Italian and French.
Of course, as a German to English translator and editor, I’ve dedicated much of my life to this divisive tongue. To me, it’s not ‘harsh’ – it’s melodic, especially the soft and lilting accent of the Oberpfalz, where I spent a year teaching English. It’s not ‘idiosyncratic’ – it follows distinct and rational patterns, once you know how to find them. Its endlessly buildable vocabulary is like a self-replicating box of Lego: just keep piling noun on top of noun on top of noun. It’ll still make sense!
One of my favourite German words is Kummerspeck. ‘Kummer’ means ‘grief’ or ‘sorrow’, while ‘Speck’ is the German answer to bacon. So, while you might explain Kummerspeck as the weight gained due to emotional overeating, the literal translation is ‘grief bacon’!
Over on the Twittersphere, here’s what some of my German-loving comrades had to say…
I’m a bit of a fan of German words that don’t have a direct equivalent in English. Treppenwitz and Schnappsidee are particular favourites and ones that I seem to suffer from!
— Dave Green (@djg_translation) March 13, 2018
German learner here – Pinkelpause – onomatopoeic and adorable.
— Lisa (@notquitemillenn) March 12, 2018
Gemütlichkeit! Sometimes I feel that’s the only word that can perfectly sum up my feeling. There’s no exact equivalent in other languages which makes it even more special.
— Dixie Thamrin (@dixiezetha) March 13, 2018
I find the Fernweh/Heimweh combination just magical.
— Cherrie Kishazy (@CKishazy) March 13, 2018
You probably don’t mean Germans, but one of my favourites is ‘verliebt’ – it doesn’t have an equivalent that does it justice and describes a beautiful feeling at what’s hopefully the beginning of a relationship.
— Johanna J (@kirschplunder_) March 13, 2018
So, do you have a favourite German word? Do you like or loathe the Germanic language?