It’s no small wonder that German boasts many unique, highly-specific words that have no literal English translation.
German learners have to slog through learning masculine and feminine words, challenging pronunciations, complex word order and curious vocabulary words.
It’s a lot of work.
Many German words have no close translation in English. One of the greatest things about learning languages is to discover words which exist in one language but don’t have any equivalent in your own – or any other for that matter.
It’s always fun when you can express something in one perfect word, while others require a whole darn sentence.
Other languages sometimes get word-envy when comparing themselves to German.
Many German words have found their way into the English language, think Schadenfreude and Wanderlust.
However, there are many more beyond those two.
Below you can find some of the most entertaining examples including their literal translation and what they really mean.
1. Ohrwurm (Ear worm)
Have you ever listened to a song on the radio while driving to work only to find yourself still humming the same tune by lunch time? Congratulations, you’ve had an ear worm. The beautiful German word Ohrwurm describes the fact of having a song stuck in your head as if it wriggled itself into your brain through your ear.
2. Fernweh (Distance pain)
This gem describes the feeling of wanting to be somewhere else. It’s kind of like a reverse homesickness (Heimweh in German), a longing for a place that isn’t where you are right now. Fernweh is also a frequent reason for people in Germany to go on holiday.
3. Kummerspeck (Grief bacon)
When a relationship ends or during other times of sadness, anger, or worry, it’s common to put on a few pounds of Kummerspeck. What it means is the excess weight put on by emotional overeating. So when you find yourself on the couch watching “Bridget Jones’ Diary” with a tub of ice cream, you are in fact feeding your grief bacon.
4. Innerer Schweinehund (Inner pig dog)
Can’t get up in the morning to be on time for work? Too lazy to go to the gym? Homework remains undone until the last minute? Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. The blame lies with your inner pig dog. That’s the tiny voice in the back of your head which is trying to convince you to live a life of inertia and which you will have to overcome to rid yourself of Kummerspeck.
5. Fremdschämen (Exterior shame)
For those of you who cringe in phantom pain when others make a fool of themselves, this is your word. It describes the feeling of shame when seeing someone else in an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation. It’s a real thing for the more empathetic folk and has kept more than one person from watching “the Office is the feeling of urgency to accomplish them before some imaginary gate closes and “it’s all too late.” It’s mostly used for those who sense their biological clock is running out and feel the need to settle with a partner or have children immediately.
7. Treppenwitz (Staircase joke)
Have you ever noticed how when you have a chance encounter with an attractive person of the opposite sex or get into an argument with someone, the best jokes, lines, and comebacks always occur to you afterwards? That’s the so-called Treppenwitz. It’s the joke that comes to your mind on the way down the stairs after talking to your neighbor in the hallway two floors up.
8. Lebensmüde (Life tired)
This word literally means being tired of life and was used to describe the dramatic and soul-crushing emotional agony of young Romantic poets (see also Weltschmerz and Weichei). Nowadays lebensmüde is what you call your friends when they are attempting something especially stupid and possibly life threatening. Most people in fail videos on YouTube suffer from latent Lebensmüdigkeit.
9. Weltschmerz (World pain)
The world isn’t perfect. More often than not it fails to live up to what we wish it was. Weltschmerz describes the pain we feel at this discrepancy. It can be one of the main drivers for Kummerspeck.