My two-year stint in Germany is almost over and I have learned a ton of new German words in that time. Some I can’t ever get quite right (what is the past perfect of verstehen?!), and some I learned in the first semester of German class then promptly forgot when I needed them because of stage fright (the word for “postage stamp” is Briefmarke). Some I trip over every time I try to say them (“Muss ich” always ends up sounding like “mush ish” or–worse because it sounds like a vulgar word–“mushee”).
Here are my favorite German words, all of which, with one exception (Kartoffeln), I learned in the last two years.
- Ausfahrt. It means: exit ramp. Why I like it: It sounds like “ows-fart.” Farts are funny, especially aus-farts.
- nördlich. It means: north, northern, northerly. Why I like it: It sounds almost like “nerd-ly.”
- Schnarchen. It means: snore. Why I like it: It sounds like a snore!
- Schmachtenhagen. It means: It’s the name of a town in the state of Brandenburg. Why I like it: Say it! My mother-in-law also says it “Schma-en-ha-en” to shorten it, and that’s funny too.
- Bälle. It means: balls. Why I like it: “Ball” sounds pretty much the same as the English word, but “balls” in German sounds like “Bell-uh.” And that tickles my funny bone. :)
- Kartoffeln. It means: potatoes. Why I like it: I really can’t explain why I like this word, but I always have, since I learned it from Jackie in German class in high school.
- Glühbirne. It means: light bulb. Why I like it: German has so many logical words, and this is only one of them. Literally, it means “glowing pear.” This is a little backwards, but if you saw a pear hangin from a tree and it was glowing, what would you say it looked like? A light bulb. Logisch.
There are so many logical words in German: Krankenhaus “sick house.” A house where sick people live. What does the word “hospital” mean? Who knows. Regenschirm “rain shield.” What shields you from the rain? Where the heck does “umbrella” come from?!
What other logical German words do you know? Share them in the comments!
Entire English Phrases in One German Word
- Absacke. It means: last drink of the night before the bar closes. Why I like it: I like the way it sounds and I love German words that mean an entire phrase or sentence in English.
- gondolieren. It means: to ride a gondola. Why I like it: In German, I can say “We gondola-d for on the night of our anniversary.” In English, I have to say “We took a gondola ride on the night of our anniversary.” Efficient, no?
- übernachten. It means: to stay overnight. Why I like it: In German, “We overnighted in Frankfurt.” In English, “We stayed overnight in Frankfurt.” Here, the English translation isn’t too many more words, but I just like having one word for this very frequent situation.
- Verschlimmbesserung. It means: an improvement that actually makes things worse (slang). Why I like it: This is another one of those words that means an entire sentence in English. It’s so efficient!
- mutterseelenallein. It means: Dictionaries will tell you that it means “all alone,” but when you know what the words themselves mean, you see the deeper meaning. “Mutter” means “mother.” “Seele” is “soul,” and “allein” is “alone.” Taken all together, it really means, as one of my students explains in her This I Believe essay*, “being left alone by everyone, even by the one thing you were always confident of: your mother’s soul.” Why I like it: Wow, do we even have words like that in English?
* Listen to “The Very Basic Rule of Energy” by Masja Raab.