5 untranslatable German words demystified

While German is often considered one of the toughest languages to learn, you’ll be relieved to know that both German and English are more closely linked than you might think.

Both languages share common West Germanic roots and therefore a great deal of vocabulary (around 60% of the German lexicon).

Nevertheless, there are and always will be confusing moments along your learning journey. You’re in luck – the Gymglish team is here to add to the confusion with our series “Lost in translation”: a guide to unique German terms with no direct English equivalent. 

Feast your eyes on some one-of-a-kind German terms and try to casually slip them into your next conversation with legendary German director Werner Herzog. 

Waldeinsamkeit

Waldeinsamkeit helps describe one’s feeling of wandering alone in the woods and feeling deeply connected to nature. The word stems from a blend of the word Wald (forest or woods) and Einsamkeit which describes “a feeling of solitude or loneliness.”

As the term refers to a very specific experience, it reflects the value that German society places on nature. Goethe, Mozart and Heidegger were well known for appreciating a good Waldeinsamkeit.

Schadenfreude 

A classic of the genre. Consider your most hated coworker getting formally reprimanded for being a douche, or that ill-mannered driver who cut you off getting pulled over for reckless driving. Your smug sense of self-satisfaction at their comeuppance has a name: Schadenfreude.

In German, Schadenfreude – from Schaden (“damage”) and Freude (“joy”) refers to the sensation of taking pleasure in somebody else’s pain or misfortune. A feeling we all know too well but are sadly unable to express in English.

Feierabend

From Feier meaning “party”, and Abend meaning “evening”, the 16th-century term Feierabend refers to the end of a workday. It describes a specific moment of the day associated with resting and unwinding after a hard day’s work at the office – a concept deeply rooted in German culture. The term doesn’t describe the time you would spend going to the cinema or hitting the gym, Feierabend is rather associated with resting, and doing basically nothing. Truly the Germans have got it all figured out.

Fernweh

Some languages are better than others at crisply naming very specific states and emotions – German might be the absolute best in this regard.  While Heimweh refers to a feeling of “homesickness, its direct opposite – Fernweh – refers to a longing for faraway places, a yearning to leave one’s familiar surroundings and see the world. It is the contraction of the word Fern (“far”), and Weh (“pain”). At the end of the day, Fernweh is something we’ve all experienced: after countless hours spent sitting at our desks, daydreaming about the sandy beaches of Norway, if there is indeed such a thing.

Torschlusspanik

Literally “gate-closed panic”, the compound noun Torschlusspanik describes the anxiety one experiences when approaching a key deadline or the feeling that time is running out. It expresses the very healthy sense of dread that accompanies said deadline.

The etymology of the word is thought to go back to the Middle Ages, when city gates would shut at nightfall for safety reasons, which left latecomers no other choice than to stay on the other side, thereby exposing them to danger – namely bandits and wild animals.

The closest equivalent in English would be “a midlife crisis,” which is typically the time when we fall victim to bandits and wild animals as well.

Bonus: Wanderlust

The word wanderlust is a combination of the word wandern, meaning to “wander”, and lust, meaning “desire” and yes, “lust”. It describes a strong desire to travel and to abandon the comfort of your own home, travel and see the world.

Want to learn all the uber specific German expressions? Try our online German course Wunderbla: short, fun and personalized lessons to kickstart your German learning.



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2 thoughts on “5 untranslatable German words demystified

  1. foxdoc

    Wir benützen weder “Wanderlust” noch “Waldeinsamkeit in der modernen deutschen Sprache. Dies sind vielleicht Begriffe aus der Zeit der deutschen Romantik (liegt schon 200 Jahre zurück). „Wanderlust“ – ein Wort, mit dem ich erstmalig in einem Lied von Björk konfrontiert wurde, klingt etwas antiquiert. Es gibt allerdings ein Volkslied: „Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust“, da kommt es noch vor, allerdings nicht als zusammengesetztes Substantiv. Die anderen Wörter treffen zu und sind sehr fein recherchiert, es fehlt noch: „Gemütlichkeit“ 😊

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