When I first moved to Germany, my knowledge of the German language didn’t go past kindergarten and gesundheit. While it has—thankfully!—dramatically improved, I still struggle with the language. The best part, though, is that I’m perpetually amazed at the new words I learn every day. While I won’t ever really know all the German words, there’s a certain charm to discovering new words, idioms and phrases—especially since many of them are surprisingly fun.
Whatever the feeling you’re trying to express or the thing you want to describe, more often than not, there’s a German word for it. And if not, you can pretty much make one up. But before you’re proficient enough to do so, here are some of my favorite German words I’ve learned so far.
15 German Words You Need To Know
To help come up with list of German words (some useful, some less-than-useful), I’ve collaborated with Berlin-based illustrator Clairikine and online language school Lingoda to help put it together.
Schafskälte is a meteorological phenomenon that happens around June 11 (or at least between June 4th and 20th), but not necessarily every year. When it does, temperatures drop suddenly by 5 to 10 degrees Celsius. It affects Central Europe but Germany is the country where it can be felt the most—hence the reason why the German language has a name for it but English doesn’t. Speaking of that word, “Schaf” means “sheep” while “kälte” refers to cold temperatures. And this phenomenon got its name from the fact that the Schafskälte would kick in after the sheep had been sheared, thus making them most vulnerable to the cold!
The verb fremdschämen could be the German cousin of face palm. It’s used to describe being vicariously embarrassed by the behavior of someone else. Common situations where you might have to fremdschämen include our best friend being too drunk in public, seeing a stranger trip and fall on the street or hearing someone proudly say something completely irrelevant during a meeting. #oops
Hüft means hip while gold means, er, gold—see, German really is fairly easy! However, guessing the meaning of this poetic word might be a bit trickier. Any idea? Hüftgold, it turns out, describes something slightly less glamorous, namely the extra fat people put on around the hips. But come on! It’s so much sweeter to tell a friend they’ve put on a bit of hip gold than, you know, fat.
On a side note. Hüftgold is also the name of a pretty cute café in Berlin! Check it out if you are ever in town.
Kummerspeck is used to describe the excess fat gained by emotional eating, especially in times of stress or sadness. Kummer means grief and Speck means bacon, which does make Kummerspeck an interesting word, don’t you think? By the way, Speck does not refer to actual bacon here, it’s just that Germans call any excess fat “Speck.” So if you manage to avoid putting on Kummerspeck, beware of Winterspeck, which is the weight people put on in winter. And believe me, winters in Germany are so long that there is more than enough time to get a little bit chubbier!
Let me have another shot at showing you that German is, indeed, a beautiful and romantic language. Ever heard of Zweisamkeit? This word describes the self-imposed isolation of a couple in love. Their togetherness creates a kind of loneliness around the two of them. It derives from Einsamkeit, meaning loneliness, but Zweisamkeit is obviously much more appealing…Two is better than one!
Geil is a funny word that shows German people are perhaps a tad dirtier than you’d think. This adjective is often used to describe something cool, awesome or exciting, but geil’s true meaning is that is describes being “horny,” “salacious” or “randy.” Therefore, avoid saying “ich bin geil” thinking it means “I’m awesome” as whoever you are talking to might think you’re blatantly asking for sex. Or, use it. Your call.
Überflutung means flooding, or overflow, and Reiz is the German word for stimulus. Therefore, Reizüberflutung is the somewhat familiar term that was coined to describe what occurs when someone is being over-stimulated by their environment. This happens more often in our societies than it used to, especially because of urbanization, mass media, advertising, technology, Twitter, etc. It can cause irritability, over-excitement, tension, and more, so this evocative expression makes all the sense in the world.
Probably among the cutest German words, Kopfkino is composed of Kino, which means cinema, and Kopf, which is German for head. Can you guess what Kopfkino means? Let’s say you’re about to fall asleep and you start thinking about that interaction you had with your crush earlier. Your mind starts drifting while you imagine how you could’ve kept the conversation going a bit longer, maybe you could’ve even asked them out? Letting this scenario unfold in your head is Kopfkino! Or that moment where your thoughts are acting like the director of your own private movie.
Na is among the most puzzling words for German learners, especially if you’re living in a German-speaking country. It’s not rare to be greeted with a loud Naaaa? by your flatmate upon coming home, and it turns out the only correct answer to that perplexing, monosyllabic question is to ask it in return! Na? is, in a way, the German equivalent to our beloved “What’s up?” Now you know!
No, Picobello is not an Italian word, although it does sound like one. Turns out it might be derived from the old German word piekfein, where fein was somehow replaced by Italian word bello. When something is picobello, it means it’s flawless, as in super clean for example, or that it’s looking good.
Feierabend itself is a cool German word as it describes the few hours that come once you get off work. It doesn’t matter whether they actually happen during the evening (“Abend”) or not, and regardless of whether a party (“Feier”) is in order. Add beer to the mix and you get one of my favorite German institutions: the Feierabendbier, or the beer you have upon finishing work. Some Germans take it a bit too seriously though, or at least that’s what I can’t help but think upon seeing construction workers open a bottle of cheap Pils at 10 am on any given day!
Pipapo is a another German word that doesn’t sound quite German and has unclear origins. It’s usually preceded by mit allem (“with all the”). The phrase Mit allem Pipapo means the same as the English expression “bells and whistles,” but you’ll have to admit that Pipapo just sounds way cuter!
Vokuhila doesn’t sound very German either, does it? That’s because it’s a made-up word created by taking the first two letters of four words, namely vorne kurz, hinten lang, meaning “short in the front, long in the back” and, well, I guess you know which horrendous haircut this refers to… Now that’s one trend I wish the German language hadn’t encouraged!
Frucht translates to fruit and Fleisch means meat. Combine these two words and you get another fun German word: Fruchtfleisch, which is what you’d call pulp in English. Actually, this word always makes me smile because I’ve realized that, in German, even vegans have a bit of Fleisch in their lives.
Tatendrang, or literally “action urge” is, hmm, the opposite of how you probably feel on Sundays or on Monday mornings. Tatendrang is used to describe a strong urge to get things done, take up new projects and accomplish everything on your to-do list. Though I do feel the Tatendrang sometimes, believe me when I say that, as a freelancer, I definitely wish this was my default mode!
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If you’re interested in learning German, check out the Lingoda.com website which offers online language lessons with qualified native-speaking teachers in online classrooms. At the moment, they’ve got courses for English, German, French and Spanish. You can even take a German language trial class for just 0.99€.