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:
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.
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?
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.
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".
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."