My 10 favorite German words

I recently returned to Germany for the first time since moving and it felt as if I never left. I was speaking German, indulging myself in good food, and surrounded by familiar brands and sights. Even though I haven’t missed speaking German, it felt good to know I could still carry a conversation in a foreign language – especially since my command of Dutch is non-existent. To honor what Mark Twain eloquently described as “the awful German language,” here are my 10 favorite words (in no particular order):

1. Fernweh literally translates to “far sickness.” It’s a little different from wanderlust since fernweh means you are often sad or depressed when you aren’t traveling or away. At the moment, this is my favorite German word because I’m suffering from this.

looking back
Photo courtesty of Jo W.

2. Fremdschämen means to be embarrassed for others. I first learned this word when I couldn’t figure out why no one wanted to watch Bauer Sucht Frau (Farmer Searches Wife) with me. It’s because they were too embarrassed for the people on the show. Thankfully, I wasn’t and this show was my comedic relief.

3.  I learned about Schadenfreude from Avenue Q, when I was still in the U.S. It means happiness at the misery of others. Basically, if you fall, I will laugh. You should also check out the play if you haven’t and the song associated with the word.

Photo courtesy of Anna W.

4. Jein is a combination of “ja” and “nein,” this word literally means yes/no. I sometimes use it in English because I find it to be the perfect answer to a question.

5. Gemütlichkeit is an awesome feeling and requires the perfect balance of good food, company, location, and atmosphere. It’s so much more than good times really. I hope you all get to experience Gemütlichkeit.

6. I first heard Zugzwang on Criminal Minds, because I watch too much TV. It’s commonly associated with chess and other games when a player is placed at a disadvantage and each move continues to screw that player over. Also known as the game of life consistently one upping me.

Game of life
Photo courtesy of Anna W.

7. Geil now means cool (das is geil – that’s cool – is a phrase I used to say a lot). But this word originally meant horny. Germans – go figure :)

8. For all those nights (or days) when Ben & Jerry’s  was your best friend, and then suddenly your jeans are a bit too tight, there’s Kummerspeck, which is weight gained from emotional eating. Whatever, it was worth it.

Best friend

9. You know a song or tune that gets stuck in your head and doesn’t go away (and can be an annoying one – gives Carly Rae Jepsen the side eye)? That’s an Ohrwurm, which literally translates to an ear worm. Imagine THAT in your head now.

10. Torschlusspanik literally means “fear of gate closing,” describing the Middle Ages when peasants had to rush back to the inside of the castle’s protective walls. I can’t imagine the panic those stuck outside the castle must have felt. Nowadays, this word is better suited for the sinking feeling in your gut when you ask yourself “What have a done with my life?” as one ages gracefully and opportunities or life deadlines seem to disappear. YOLO, people.

So tell me, what are your favorite German words? You’d be surprised how many German words are now a part of the English language!


Reused by Young Germany with permission.

Linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at


6 thoughts on “My 10 favorite German words

  • October 21, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    What about entschuligung the words Germans never say as they rudely bump into you or walk in front of you lol

    • October 21, 2014 at 9:45 pm

      LOL, Dutch people are the same way. I guess my sense of manners has been warped over the years, cause I don’t think I apologized when I bumped into people back home either 😉

  • November 1, 2014 at 8:01 am

    Great post! My husband loves the German language. We have some dear friends who sometimes visit us here in the UK and we love learning German words. #MyGlobalLife

    • November 1, 2014 at 11:21 am

      Thanks Meghan! I hope this list helps you impress your German friends 😉

  • November 3, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    I love German! I remember learning jein and using it all the time, probably too often. And I was so happy the day I could finally say geil correctly (with a German “l” instead of an American “l”). I haven’t ever thought about my favorite German words but there are about 5 words that ALWAYS come to me in German first, even though I never speak German anymore. Your post makes me miss speaking German!

    Thanks for participating in the #MyGlobalLife Link-Up!

    • November 5, 2014 at 10:32 pm

      Hi Cate! I’m so curious now… what are the 5 words? I always say “genau” when I agree with someone in English – it just rolls right out of my mouth! Thanks for the #MyGlobalLife link-up – always great to read the other blogs as well.


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