The Germans are famous for using long words used to describe hyper-specific, complex sentiments. For instance, the 26-letter word
describes the inability to cope with the past. And, of course, schadenfreude reflects the happiness you derive from somebody else’s pain.
In honour of Oktoberfest, which wraps up this weekend in Münich, we have entmystifiziert, or “demystified,” our favourite German expressions that have no clear English meaning.
Here are “acht” (eight) of our favourite German words:
A typical German vacation, which can last anywhere from three to six weeks in July through August, is referred to as the Sauregurkenzeit. This literally translates to “pickle time,” possibly because cucumbers come into season in the summer. This is the “off-season” where nothing happens because everyone is away. Washington, D.C. experiences a Sauregurkenzeit during Congress’ five-week summer recess.
Imagine that all your friends are getting married, moving to the suburbs, and having children while your love life consists of matches on Tinder. That brutal feeling of “anyone will do at this point cause I’m not getting any younger” is torschlusspanik.
This 18-letter word is used to describe a general sense of weariness in the springtime, specifically between mid-March through mid-April. In German, the word Frühj
ahr means “springtime,” and Müdigkeit means “tiredness.” Conjoined, Frühjahrsmüdigkeit is “springtime lethargy.”
Anyone who’s obsessed with details and a bit of a control freak would be referred to as an Erbsenzähler
. The word Erbsen means “peas” and Zähler means “tally.” Therefore, an Erbsenzähler literally describes a person who counts their peas.
By dissecting this word, you have “horse-shaped honey cake.” Literally, it means having a giant dorky grin on your face. If your mum embarrasses you in front of your friends, you’re probably going to have a honigkuchenpferd-looking smile. German dictionaries translate this word as the action of “grinning like a Cheshire cat” given the wide-sweeping smile from the Cheshire cat in “Alice and Wonderland.”
This word essentially means “a face that is begging to be punched.” The word Backpfeife means either “punch or slap” and Gesicht means “face.” The German punk bank, Die Ärzte, named one of its songs Backpfeifengesicht since the lyrics mention a person who’s apparently wearing a stupid look that frustrates the singer.
The feeling you get when sitting near a warm fire, while wrapped in a blanket, when it’s cold and rainy outside is geborgenheit. The word describes a sense of security, coziness, and comfort.
A man who may act tough in front of his friends but can’t stand up for himself against his wife is what Germans call a Pantoffelheld or a “slipper hero.” The first part of the word, Pantoffel means “slipper” and the latter, Held means “hero.” The closest English reference would be someone who is “whipped” by an overbearing partner.
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