Monday August 21, 2006

My Favorite German Words

Since we're going to be spending ten weeks in Germany this fall, The Wife and I took six weeks of intensive German classes this summer.  Before the classes, I knew almost no German, except for a few phrases from comic books (i.e. Nightcrawler) and WWII movies.  Now, I know enough German to realize that there's way too much grammar in German.  (Whose idea was grammatical gender, anyway?  Could I take a pass on that?)  Anyway, over the course of the class I kept track of German words that I thought were, well, funny-sounding.  [If you're German, you might want to bail out now before I make fun of your language.]

The top five:

  1. Kleiderschrank 'wardrobe, armoire' (lit. 'clothes-closet')
    This one's just fun to say, especially if you really lay into the uvular /r/.  Try it with me: Ja, das ist ein Kleiderschrrrrrank.  I like it because it sounds very German, and it feels like it could mean anything.  Now, whenever I find myself reaching for a word and failing to find it, I substitute Kleiderschrank.

  2. Flugzeug 'airplane' (lit. 'fly-thing')
    A fine example of the formation of a technical term by compounding basic German vocabulary instead of borrowing from Latin or Greek.  Why say something vaguely foreign-sounding like aero-plane when you can say fly-thing?

  3. Krankenschwester 'nurse' (lit. 'sick-sister')
    This one is self-explanatory.  It would never have occurred to me to call a nurse a sick sister—thanks, Germans!  I asked our teacher what they call a male nurse in Germany, thinking it might be Krankenbruder, but no such luck.  Apparently, the non-gender-specific term is Krankenwärter.

  4. Mannschaft 'team'
    OK, I know this is juvenile, but I think this word is awesome.  That mannschaft is very strong.  It is my favorite mannschaft.  See?  That never gets old.  Best of all, it also has the meaning 'crew' in the nautical sense, which means there's a chance it might be possible to translate the pun in my favorite joke about submarines—you know, the one whose punchline is "long and hard and full of seamen".

  5. Brustwarze 'nipples'
    A Spaniard, a Frenchman, and a German are arguing about which of their native tongues is the most beautiful.  The Spaniard say, "Spanish is the most beautiful.  Think of the Spanish word for butterfly: mariposa."  The Frenchman says, "Ah, but what about ze French word: papillon.  Surely French is ze most beautiful!"  The German says, "OK, you got me, the German word for butterfly is schmetterling, which I admit is lame—but that's not the half of it.  I swear to God, we call nipples 'breast-warts'.  Seriously!  German is full of stuff like that.  You have no idea."

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Hihi, it's always funny to hear what others think of German or Germany ...

But actually, there is no non-gender-specific term for nurse*.

Female nurses are called "Krankenschwester", male nurses are called "Krankenpfleger". But I think that recently, the - official - name for the profession of female nurses is "Krankenpflegerin". "-in" is the generic female suffix for people.

Greetings from Germany :-)

* that's always complicated with job titles: the word "Lehrer" (teacher) is a male word. The corresponding female term is "Lehrerin". So, in order to speak correctly, when you mean every teacher, you have to say "Lehrerinnen und Lehrer" (plural). But since this is very long and uncomfortable, some people write "LehrerInnen" as abbreviation. Some other people say, that "Lehrer" just means both, the female and male teachers ... Well ... complicated ;-)

Posted by: nils at Aug 21, 2006 2:33:06 AM

mairposa should be mariposa, of course.

Posted by: Der Typografischerrorkorrektionsmann at Aug 21, 2006 10:55:31 AM

Furthermore, with 'Krankenschwester' u.s.w., the genitive plural article 'der' of 'Kranken' is implied (i.e. 'Schwester der Kranken'); this sounds pretty straightforward to me.

Posted by: Stefan at Aug 21, 2006 12:20:00 PM

Tensor, since you mention Nightcrawler: Foreign languages in American comics are more often than not spotty affairs, and I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of Nightcrawler's German utterings are taking huge liberties with the language - Nightcrawler's howlers, so to speak (smile).

There are also a couple of issues of Alan Moore's Tom Strong where erratic German is used. (Tom Strong battles - in this series' ironic spirit - Nazi villains.)

In Joe Casey's amusing "Godland" one of the main protagonists' name was spelled "Freidrich Nickelhead" for nearly 10 issues. Meanwhile the correct spelling "Friedrich" is being used.

Posted by: FrF at Aug 21, 2006 4:26:17 PM

I thought "a submarine" was the punchline.

Posted by: Neal Whitman at Aug 21, 2006 7:11:24 PM

If you like Flugzeug, you might also like Fahrzeug (vehicle), Spielzeug (toy), and Werkzeug (tool).

Posted by: Andrew at Aug 22, 2006 9:13:13 PM

I was thinking of using Spielzeug until I remembered plaything, which kind of takes the wind out of its sails.

Posted by: The Tensor at Aug 22, 2006 10:46:48 PM

I like Wolfsschlucht for its incredible concatenation of consonants.

Posted by: theophylact at Aug 25, 2006 5:48:07 PM


Posted by: David Moles at Aug 28, 2006 10:20:53 AM

did you just say concatenation?

Posted by: Eavan at Aug 30, 2006 4:17:08 PM

My favorite -zeug word is Schlagzeug (hit thing)
for percussion instruments.

My favorite string of consonants was in a word
I saw on a sign for cherries that you picked
yourself off the trees: selbstpflücken.

Posted by: Tom Ace at Sep 9, 2006 10:21:57 AM

lol, u lot r funny

Posted by: i'drathernot at Mar 19, 2007 11:47:57 AM

whoever said kleiderschrank was a gd word for replacing others, i find that verbesserung is better

Posted by: lkfidfugbskla at Mar 19, 2007 11:51:04 AM

my favorite word is

Kreuzschlitzschraubenzieher (Philip's screw driver, lit. cross-slit-screw-puller)

seriously.. it rocks

Posted by: at Jun 24, 2007 1:44:19 AM

flesh (fleisch) for meat.
schnellzeug (fastthing) for express-train

Posted by: paperpusher at Jun 24, 2007 2:55:27 AM

@everyone: I hate to spoil the fun, but Zeug does NOT mean "thing". If anything, it means something like "stuff", but even that is a fairly recent development. It originally meant something like "equipment", which accounts for most of the uses you mention here (you can still see this use in the word Zeugmeister, which refers to someone in charge of equipment).

@paperpusher: the word for "express train" is Schnellzug, where Zug means "train". The word Schnellzeug does not exist, nor would it be a possible coinage, since all words ending in -zeug take a verb stem or a noun stem as their first constituent.

Posted by: Frank at Jul 1, 2007 11:54:49 PM

When I studied German in high school, we used the word Eichhörnchen (squirrel) to replace words we couldn't remember. Try saying it repeatedly on a fast pace - what could be more fun?

Posted by: Marjut at Aug 14, 2007 4:19:55 PM

My favorite was always funkelnagelneu(r) -- 'brand spanking new' Rolls right off the tongue.

Posted by: Barzotti at Aug 31, 2007 2:14:52 PM

My favorite was always funkelnagelneu(r) -- 'brand spanking new' Rolls right off the tongue.

Posted by: Barzotti at Aug 31, 2007 2:15:09 PM

I think the best one has got to be 'winkelmesser' or protractor in English

Posted by: paul at Nov 4, 2007 2:31:39 PM

Flugzeug 'airplane' (lit. 'fly-thing')

Flight-stuff. ("Equipment" is not a meaning that people are aware of. And somewhere along the Rhine Zeug means "clothes".)

Furthermore, with 'Krankenschwester' u.s.w., the genitive plural article 'der' of 'Kranken' is implied (i.e. 'Schwester der Kranken'); this sounds pretty straightforward to me.

Yes, this is historically correct, but only linguists ever notice. That's because for most such compound words it's not straightforward anymore. Take Sonnenschein "sunshine": it once was der Sonnen Schein "the sun's shine" (incidentally, this word order is purely poetic today), but nowadays, der Sonnen would be interpreted as "the suns'", plural, because the -n has been reanalyzed as a plural marker. The genitive singular today is der Sonne. So, what the naive native speaker knows about making compound nouns is that the first noun has to be turned into a prefix by adding nothing, -n or -s in an unpredictable fashion.

German has way too few different endings for its grammar! Everything is -e, -en or -n...

I'm Austrian, BTW.

Posted by: David Marjanović at Sep 4, 2008 4:32:50 PM

I think the best one has got to be 'winkelmesser' or protractor in English

"Angle measurer".

Posted by: David Marjanović at Sep 4, 2008 4:34:43 PM

These are some of my favorites:
Bürgermeister- mayor
Pampelmuse- grapefruit
Doof- stupid
Schlange- snake
Schlampe- slut
Moin moin!- a Fischkopf (northern German) greeting meaning hello
Kreuzspinne- spider

Posted by: Di at Dec 24, 2008 4:51:05 PM

Machig which means mushy is the best word. It enhances any sentence instantly!

Posted by: Ellen at Apr 7, 2009 9:18:17 PM

My favourite is regenbogen (ray-gen-bow-gen). It means rainbow :)

Posted by: zzz at May 31, 2009 7:21:56 PM

Two I like.

1) Glove = der Handschuh

2) birth control pill = die Antibabypille

Posted by: Octopus Grigori at Jun 9, 2009 2:08:57 PM

Top dirty sounding German words

hell - bright
damit - with it
dick - fat
Fuchs - fox
Schlange - snake
Fahrt - (noun)drive or ride
Mannschaft - team
sich entpuppen - nope, not "to poop yourself", rather to turn out to be something unexpected
bekannt - well known

Posted by: Günther Leichengau at Sep 3, 2009 2:44:57 PM

My favourite German words:

1. Schildkroete
shield - creature aka a tortoise!

2. Luftkissenfahrzeug
air - pillow - travel - thing aka a hovercraft!

Love it. Am using the Kreuzschlitzschraubenzieher as the word of the week for my year 7 German class tomorrow!

Posted by: jennifer liebchen at Dec 8, 2009 8:22:24 AM

grosse lange hose schlange ;)

Posted by: ricky at Jan 4, 2010 1:19:25 PM

Did you ever try to pronounce that one: "Streichholzschächtelchen"
It is a belittlement of the word of "Streichholzschachtel" (= match box).

I looove to make Americans saying that word :)

Posted by: Cornelia at Jan 8, 2010 9:24:39 AM

I haven't spoken much German since I left school 10 years ago, but I've never forgotten Ausgebauten Dachgeschoss (attic conversion). I memorised it for an exam. I still enjoy saying it to myself under my breath.

Posted by: Aoife at Mar 23, 2010 1:45:42 PM

Schnauzbart = mustache
Schlafsack = sleeping bag
Augenbraugen = Eyebrows
Ellenbogen = Elbows


Posted by: Nelly at Sep 15, 2010 7:56:38 AM

try this: Schilddrüsenüberfunktion

it means "thyroid hyperfunction". i'm german and it's my favourite word ^^
but i know another nice term for something you don't remember: Dingenskirchen. "ding(ens)" means thing, and "kirchen" is a popular ending for a town, such as "ville" in english

Posted by: Simon at Dec 17, 2010 12:28:07 PM

The German word for a male nurse is Krankenpfleger (Krank meaning sick and Pfleger, from the German verb pflegen, meaning one who tends to things).

Posted by: Lloydster9000 at May 19, 2011 5:52:42 AM

Danke schoen fuer deine information. I lived in Germany from 1980-1988 and myself and one of my coworkers (he took German in high school for three years, and actually speaks quite well, considering it was in fact high school
German, and he has recently turned 20, asked me today the German word for nurse. I told him Krankenschwester, he then asked what was a male nurse called and I was stunned. I did not know. I consider myself to be fairly fluent in the language but had never heard the word for a male nurse. I don't get to speak German much anymore but I also love the way that they name things what they are no matter how long the actual word itself becomes, such as the word Strassenbahnhaltestelle. A 23 letter long word that means streetcar stop. There are only 26 letters in the entire alphabet. Ich liebe deutsch, tschuess!

Posted by: Danielle at Aug 24, 2012 6:21:21 PM