10 German Words you Simply want to Know

Von Weltschmerz bis Ohrwurm - Interesting German words

Protection the Earth
We all feel the Weltschmerz. caracterdesign-Vetta@getty-images

You might have already noticed that German is a language with some more or less unique ways to express ones feelings or to tell exactly what you are trying to describe. The compound words make the difference here. The Germans are also said to be precise and accurate. That might be the reason why there are some words and expressions in the German language that you won't find in English or sometimes even in any other language.

Some of them describe "typical German" things, feelings or ways of life, some others are just idioms that are enrichments for your everyday life. That is why I will introduce some of the very special words to you that don't have a equivalent in English.


1. Weltschmerz

You might have heard from this one. Weltschmerz literally means "world pain" and is a very special emotion that the philosopher Jean Paul first described in 1823. It is that kind of pain and resignation that comes to your mind as you realize that the world and it opportunities can never satisfy your inner needs. It is a pain coming from the inadequacies of yourself and the world and the human race itself and often leads to a resigned, depressed or sometimes even cynical setting.


2. Erklärungsnot

Your boss catches you enjoying the sunny day during working times but instead you should be lying in bed 'ill'? Now you are in deep Erklärungsnot.

You don't know how to explain your situation, you can't find proper words and by trying, you're only making it worse. Just admit that you are caught in flagranti.


3. Backpfeifengesicht/Schellenbaum

A Backpfeife is a slap, Gesicht is ones face - enough said? A Backpfeifengesicht is a face worth slapped.

Not necessarily because it's ugly, but because of the words coming out of it or the things it expresses. You just want to punch that face hard. Near to this is the Schellenbaum, the slap tree. It is a special vegetative form existing in Germany. The fruits growing on it, the Schellen (slaps in English) might fall down on your face if you shake the Schellenbaum to hard or for a long time. The fruits are big and hurt a lot. So better don't shake the Schellenbaum to hard, my friend. Especially if you have a Backpfeifengesicht.


4. Lebenskünstler

An artist of living, a Lebenskünstler, is somebody who just manages to live his life more or less in a good manner without having a proper job, a regular income or anything else the modern society normally requires. He sneaks through life and usually doesn't have a big problem with his situation. He is that kind of person "normal" people would look at with some kind of appreciation what differs him from a hobo.


5. Ohrwurm

The ear-worm can be a really annoying guy. It sneaks into your ear and might stay there for hours. Luckily, the worm isn't a real insect and doesn't lay eggs into your head. It is more that kind of song or melody suddenly comes to your mind and doesn't disappear for a long time.

Especially songs with catchy hooks from the 80s are predestined for becoming an ear-worm. The good thing though is that sometimes you can manage to change the annoying Ohrwurm to a better one. But beware: It might get stuck in your ear the whole day long!


6. Frustsaufen

The cliché about the German drinking culture isn't very new. But this one is something you might find in every culture. Frustsaufen (frustration drinking) comes into place when you've lost your job or your girl- or boyfriend - sometimes even both. When nothing else seems to improve your miserable situation, you just get drunk to forget everything about it - just to wake up the next morning with all your problems plus a big hangover. Very near to the Frustsaufen is the Kummerspeck (grief bacon) which is the result of another way to deal with a breakup where eating instead of drinking is your weapon of choice.

The Kummerspeck will be the result of that one: You will gain weight by your overeating.


7. Fremdschämen

You probably have experienced the feeling of Fremdschämen, of being personally ashamed of somebody else's behavior. It describes not only feeling pitying for the other person but being ashamed by yourself even if you didn't do anything wrong. A very good example are the TV shows that you can watch in the afternoon. Dumb people saying dumb words to other dumb people acting dumb. When you can't stand watching this stuff anymore and have the deep desire to switch the channel because of the embarrassing performance, you have just witnessed the feeling of Fremdschämen.


8. Schnapsidee

A Schnapsidee or booze idea is that kind of genius ideas coming to your mind when you have had some beers or shots and tend to be less genius when you are sober again. Opening a bar with your friends might be the mother of all Schnapsideen because almost every man might have thought about that while having some beers. You can even have a long conversation and planning to go to the notary just the next day. But then you might realize that is was a Schnapsidee. Metaphorically, the Schnapsidee can also describe an idea so stupid that only a drunk person could have it.


9. Geborgenheit

Geborgenheit is a feeling of everything being good just as it is: You are feeling cozy, warm, safe and comfortable at the same time. Lying in bed on a cold icy winter day with a cup of tea with your beloved in your arms might describe exactly that feeling with no expression in the English language.


10. Doch

Number ten might seem a bit strange to you. Doch? What's so special about this little word? It is not only the variety of meanings. It can mean "but", "even so", "all the same", "anyway" or "after all". But these are not the expressions that make this little word so special with no English equivalent, it is its meaning as a contradictory. "There is no more coffee in the kitchen!" - "Doch!". It comes into place when a simple "yes" just isn't the right word to contradict somebody or something as you can see in the example above where it means "you are wrong, there is still coffee" in just one simple word - German efficiency at its best and already cult on youtube.

Here's a variant for US-Americans.