Best of Youth Language 2015

Who is Alpha-Kevin?

Spotlight shining on man covering face with hoody
German Slang is always changing pretty fast. Neil Webb-IkonImages@gettyimages.de

First off, “Alpha-Kevin” will sadly not join the ranks of “Youth Word of the Year.” The term was deemed discriminating for people called Kevin. Why that is and what “Alpha-Kevin” is actually supposed to mean—we’ll get to that in a bit.

Langenscheidt, a dictionary publisher, has Germans vote annually for the “Youth Word of the Year,” coinciding with the release of its “Youth Language” dictionary. The vote is evolved to an annual tradition and draws major attention from the media year after year.

For adults, the “Youth Language” dictionaries and the “Word of the Year” serve as a recurring reminder that youth goes by pretty quickly. Even people in their early twenties often wonder what those weird words, terms, and combinations are supposed to mean. The winners of prior “Youth Word of the Year” votes were terms such as: 

 

The Candidates for the German Word of the Year Award

"Läuft bei dir" (2014) – This term  translates roughly to “you’re cool.” or “way to go.”

“Babo" (2013) – “Babo” directly relates to the Bosnian word for father, but, among young Germans is used with the meaning of boss or leader. It came to wide recognition through a song by the rapper “Haftbefehl”.

“YOLO" (2012) – An acronym for “You Only Live Once” – one of the many “Anglicisms” that migrated into the German language via the internet.

“Swag" (2011) – Another urban slang word that was adopted from English. “Swag” refers to a laid-back or cool appeal.

The last years and the rise of social media have shown that the winning word of the Langenscheidt contest will make its way deep into German pop culture, going way past youth language. That of course means we are very excited about this year’s vote.

Here’s a short list of the highest ranking words in the 2015 poll:

merkeln”—Leading the vote up to now, “merkeln” is, of course, an allusion to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political style. She is known for often hesitating to take clear positions, to make decisions, or to even comment on current public issues. Furthermore, “merkeln” translates to “doing nothing”. What German youth call “merkeln”, German intellectuals and newspapers call Merkelismus” (basically merkelism). Perhaps because it’s not only younger Germans who identify with “merkeln” that explains the term’s lead in the popular vote. “Merkeln” is actually not the only term that has been derived from politicians’ names, e.g., the former Minister of Defence Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg’s name has morphed into “guttenbergen,” which means “to plagiarize” or “to copy”—referring to Guttenberg’s plagiarism scandal. Former Federal President Christian Wulff, forced to resign for corrupt practices, is another famous politician mocked for his mishaps. In the midst of a corruption scandal, Wulff called the editor of Bild, a very popular German tabloid, to persuade him not to publish the story about Wulff’s involvement, but reached the editor’s voice mail instead, so he left a voice mail. Wulff’s voice mail was leaked to the media.

Everyone had a laugh and to “wulffen” means to leave such a voice mail. 

rumoxidieren”—Translated as “to chill”, this word derives from the chemical process of oxidizing. Imagine old stranded ships turned to rust. 

“Earthporn” —Another English term, in this case one out of a long line of “porns” that were created in social media. From “bookporn,” being about looking at beautiful pictures of books

and bookshelves, to “cabin porn”, centering around pictures of scenic remote cabins and huts, there is, as always, nothing that doesn’t exist on the internet. In this sense, “porn” is basically a word for looking at delightful images of variations of the same topic. “Earthporn,” equal to “Nature Porn”, refers to charming landscapes. 

“Smombie—This one is the combination of the words “Smartphone” and “Zombie.” It refers to people who walk the streets without watching where they’re going, because they look only at their phone’s screen.

 

Tinderella”—This slightly sexist term describes a girl or woman who excessively uses dating-apps or platforms such as Tinder.

Even though I very much enjoy “merkeln,” my favorite word is “swaggetarier.” It depicts people who are vegetarians only for image reasons, “swaggetarians” so to speak.

 

The Influence of the English Language

The numerous words in our youth’s speech that originate in English certainly mirror the Anglo- American influence on Germany. The history of Germany, the USA, and the UK being so closely intertwined, especially since World War II, is a possible explanation for the huge influence of the English language on German culture and particularly pop culture. It really is remarkable how many loan words and “denglish” mash-up terms make it into urban German and diverse sociolects.

 

Does Slang have to be Politically Correct?

Well, what about “Alpha-Kevin”? The meaning of the term is something along the lines of “the stupidest of them all”. In Germany, the name Kevin is mostly associated with kids from social milieus with less access to education than the “average” German or with people from the former GDR. You can see why the Langenscheidt-Jury thought it discriminating, even though they withdrew it from the competition only after being heavily criticized for including it in the first place. But, since “Alpha-Kevin” led the vote, there was quite a lot of protest in the social media, including an online petition aiming to reinstate the term. Without its strongest contender, it looks like “merkeln” is going to be awarded the title of “Youth Word 2015”.

Now it’s up to us to wait to see what Chancellor Angela Merkel has to say about that outcome or if she’s going to “merkel” her way out of it.