Weird German Words15+ Eccentric Words That Don't Exist in English

Some German words are weirdly specific, describing particular situations or feelings. To a native English speaker, they may sound rather strange, words like: 'cable salad', or 'sadness fat'. Here's a list of some of the strangest examples of these special German words.

There are a ton of funny German words that seem straight-up weird. This is because in German, words can be combined very easily in order to form new ones. Those kinds of words are called compound words. Those made up German words can seem really funny, because they often sound so very artificial to learners, or people not used to the language.

I’m sure you will, or already have, come across some of these expressive little jewels of the German language as you continue learning, which you can use yourself to decorate your sentences, just as a native speaker might.

If that’s something that may interest you, here is a list of such words and phrases, with example sentences and audio, to give you something to start off with!

Der Kummerspeck

You know that friend that just broke up with his girlfriend and has done nothing but eat donuts and nutella from the jar for the past two weeks, whilst watching The Notebook on loop?

Well the weight that he may have gained during this time is called “Kummerspeck”, in German. “Kummerspeck” is used to refer to extra kilos put on due to any type of emotional eating brought on by stress, whether from a break up, stress at work or at home.

Wenn du Tom siehst, mach du bitte keine Bemerkungen über seine Gewichtszunahme. Er hat sich vor einem Monat von Alice getrennt, und in dieser Zeit hat er ein bisschen Kummerspeck zugelegt.

When you see Tom, please don't make any comments about his weight gain. He broke up with Alice a month ago, and in that time he's put on a little bit of weight.
Mein Neujahrsvorsatz ist es, ins Fitnessstudio zu gehen, um den Kummerspeck zu verlieren, den ich durch den Stress der Corona-Pandemie bekommen habe!

My New Year's resolution is to go to the gym to lose the weight I put on, due to the stress of the Corona pandemic!

Sich Fremdschämen

Have you ever gone to a bar with friends, and watched one of them make a fool out of himself whilst trying to flirt with somebody, which made you squirm with discomfort, as if you were experiencing the same feeling of embarrassment your friend did? There’s a name for that feeling in German, and it’s “sich Fremdschämen” - the feeling of cringe-y shame one may feel for another in the middle of an awkward or embarrassing situation (as perceived by the viewer). Often, the expression is used to describe situations in which the embarrassing person doesn’t seem to think they are being embarrassing themselves, but can also be used in situations where both the doer and the viewer feel shame.

Sobald er die Ballade zu singen begann, fühlte ich mich fremdschämen. Er hatte den Raum nicht richtig gelesen. Die Stimmung war lebhaft und aggressiv, nicht süß und emotional! Der Arme wurde nach einer Minute Gesang von der Bühne gebuht.

As soon as he started singing the ballad, I felt embarrassed. He hadn't read the room properly. The mood was lively and aggressive, not sweet and emotional! The poor guy was booed off the stage after a minute of singing.
Wie kannst du ihr das ins Gesicht sagen? Schämst du dich nicht für dich selbst? Ich für meinen Teil fühle mich so fremdschämen.

How can you say that to her face? Aren't you ashamed of yourself? I, for one, feel so ashamed on your behalf.

Der Kabelsalat

This term is a pretty specific one, that is used for the messy, tangled nest of laptop, printer, telephone and coffee machine cables that you may kick behind the office tables, in order to hide from plain sight and escape the wrath of your organised and tidy business partner. In other words, “Kabelsalat” is a rather poetic word for a deeply unromantic knot of multiple cables.

Stören Sie sich nicht an dem Kabelsalat im hinteren Teil des Büros. Wir bewahren dort alle unsere Drucker und einen Haufen anderer elektrischer Geräte auf und haben noch keine Zeit gehabt, die Kabel ordentlich zu ordnen.

Don't mind the cable clutter in the back of the office. We keep all our printers and a bunch of other electrical equipment there, and we haven't had time to sort out the cables yet.
Bevor wir damit beginnen, die Computer aus dem Gebäude zu tragen, müssen wir diesen Kabelsalat beseitigen.

Before we start carrying the computers out of the building, we have to sort out this tangle of cables.
Ich kann den Blick auf den Kabelsalat unter dem Schreibtisch nicht ertragen. Es ist so unordentlich, es ist furchtbar!

I can't bear to look at the tangle of cables under the desk. It's so messy, it's awful!

Der Weltschmerz

You may, throughout your life, have experienced a feeling of melancholy or weariness whilst thinking about the suffering and pain brought about in the world. For example: for many people, thinking about the effects of climate change can be overwhelming and quite depressing. This type of sadness is referred to, in German, as “Weltschmerz”, and may even be used to describe a general feeling of weariness in life.

Letzte Woche wurde ich gebeten, ein Referat über die Armut in der Welt zu halten, und seit ich mit meinen Recherchen begonnen habe, habe ich immer mehr mit Weltschmerz zu tun.

Last week I was asked to give a presentation on world poverty, and since I started my research I have been dealing more and more with world-weariness.
Sarah ist so pessimistisch, wenn es um ihre Ansichten über die Welt geht. Sie ist voll bis zum Rand mit Weltschmerz.

Sarah is so pessimistic, when it comes to her views on the world. She is full to the brim with world-weariness.

Die Torschlusspanik

In order to avoid “Torschlusspanik”, make sure to actually organise and carry out the plans you make when moving to a new country. If you decide to leave one day and haven’t done all the things you wanted to, you may end up frantically pressing all those plans into the last few weeks you’re there, before leaving forever. This state of panic is characterised by quick decisions and courses of action urgently made to combat the feeling of “being too late”, as one figuratively watches a door close in one’s life. Somebody marrying quickly because they feel, for whatever reason, they are running out of options, is an example of a decision driven by “Torschlusspanik”. Another may be hurriedly deciding to have children once realising that one is nearing an age where conceiving children becomes significantly more difficult.

Ich weiß nicht, warum ich Jacob geheiratet habe. Damals dachte ich wohl, dass sich niemand sonst für mich interessieren würde, und geriet in Torschlusspanik. Ich habe mich einfach niedergelassen.

I don't know why I married Jacob. At the time, I guess I thought no one else would be interested in me, and I panicked. I just settled down.
Ich geriet in Torschlusspanik, als mir klar wurde, dass wir Damaskus in den nächsten Jahren wahrscheinlich nicht besuchen würden, und machte Pläne mit den Kindern, all die Sehenswürdigkeiten und Museen zu besuchen.

I panicked when I realised that we probably wouldn't visit Damascus for the next few years and made plans with the children to visit all the sights and museums.

Das Fernweh

Due to the corona pandemic, many haven’t been able to (or felt confident to) travel over the last couple of years. For those who love to travel, the yearning desire to be somewhere other than home; in some distant and curious place, ready to be explored, can be referred to, in German, as “Fernweh”.

The best remedy for wanderlust is a one-way ticket to a country on the other side of the world. Go and discover something new, David! You've been longing for an adventure for far too long.
Ich bin schon viel zu lange in diesem Haus eingesperrt, und ich habe so viel Fernweh.

I have been cooped up in this house for far too long, and I have so much wanderlust.
Ein starkes Fernweh war der Grund, warum ich nach Jamaika in den Urlaub gefahren bin. Ich wollte einfach an einen neuen und anderen Ort.

A strong wanderlust was the reason why I went on holiday to Jamaica. I just wanted to go to a new and different place.

Das Reisefieber

Whilst the word “Reisefieber” can be used to refer to the yearning to travel, as is the case with the word “Fernweh”, it can also be used to describe the nervous excitement one may feel just before travelling. So next time you catch yourself repacking your suitcase for the third time, the night before your flight, giddy with excitement but worried you might forget something your fabulous holiday just can’t miss, you now know that you are experiencing Reisefieber!

Example use cases:

Danni befindet sich gerade in einem ernsthaften Reisefieber. Es ist drei Uhr morgens und sie kann nicht einschlafen, weil sie so nervös und aufgeregt ist, weil der Urlaub beginnt.

Danni is experiencing serious holiday fever right now. It's three in the morning and she can't fall asleep, because she's so nervous and excited about the holiday starting.
Ich habe den ganzen Tag damit verbracht, völlig unnötige Besorgungen für unsere Reise nach Bali zu machen, aus purem Reisefieber. Ich habe fünf verschiedene Arten von Sonnencreme gekauft.

I spent the whole day running completely unnecessary errands for our trip to Bali, out of pure holiday fever. I bought five different types of sunscreen.
Da ich am Tag vor dem Flug Reisefieber hatte und vor lauter nervöser Aufregung die ganze Nacht nicht schlafen konnte, habe ich meinen ersten Urlaubstag schlafend im Hotel verbracht.

Since I had holiday fever the day before the flight and couldn't sleep all night from nervous excitement, I spent my first day of the holiday sleeping in the hotel.

Das Backpfeifengesicht

Do you know anyone who has a face just ready to be slapped silly, with two large fish? Someone who really deserves it? In German, you may say that such a person has a “Backpfeifengesicht”. Of course, you would only use this expression to suggest that somebody, in theory, is deserving of a slap. You wouldn’t use this term before actually slapping somebody. Violence is not the answer.

Example use cases:

Der Kerl ist so arrogant und total selbstverliebt. Er macht sich nicht einmal die Mühe, von seinen Büchern aufzuschauen, wenn ich mit ihm rede. Er hat wirklich ein Backpfeifengesicht.

The guy is so arrogant and totally self-absorbed. He doesn't even bother to look up from his books whenever I talk to him. He really has a punchable face.
Was ich von Ihrem Chef halte? Nun, lass mich dir etwas sagen. Ich glaube, Ihr Chef hat ein Backpfeifengesicht. Du solltest dich nicht von ihm so behandeln lassen.

What do I think of your boss? Well, let me tell you something. I think your boss has a punchable face. You shouldn't let him treat you like that.
Während Sie Ihre schreckliche Rede hielten, konnte ich nur daran denken, was für ein Backpfeifengesicht Sie haben.

While you were giving your terrible speech, all I could think about was what a punchable face you have.

Der Ohrwurm

Imagine that you are studying at the library. Everyone sitting around you is silently getting on with their work… everyone except that one guy behind you, who is humming “Jingle Bells”. He’s been humming it for the last twenty minutes. By the end of it, you’ve never hated the jolly song so much in your life. What that guy had is called an “Ohrwurm”, in German - when a song gets stuck on loop in someone’s head, sometimes resulting in a lot of annoying humming or singing. The term can also be used to describe a particularly catchy song.

Example use cases:

Seit wir den neuen Taylor Swift-Song im Radio hören, geht er mir nicht mehr aus dem Kopf. Ich habe schon seit Stunden einen Ohrwurm.

Ever since we've heard the new Taylor Swift song on the radio, I can't get it out of my head. I've had an earworm for hours.
Kathrine hat ihren neuesten Song zusammen mit ihrer Band fertig produziert, und der ist ein echter Ohrwurm.

Kathrine has finished producing her latest song with her band, and it's a real catchy tune.
Wie kann ich diesen Ohrwurm loswerden, Paul? Ich kann nicht anders, als ihn immer und immer wieder zu singen!

How can I get rid of this earworm, Paul? I can't help singing it over and over again!

Der Innere Schweinehund

When we give in to our “Innere Schweinehund”, or “Inner pig dog”, we choose to be defeated by a lack of willpower to accomplish something. When we decide to procrastinate rather than work hard on our final school projects, when we hit snooze on the alarm until the last minute before running to work, when we give up on a craft project before ever really beginning it… we give in to our “Innere Schweinehund”. In order to overcome it, we must be driven by our motivation and self-discipline. So next time you see a friend slowing down on a project and want to give some encouragement, you may say: “Komm schon, Nicole! Überwinde deinen inneren Schweinehund! Du schaffst es!”

Example use cases:

Komm schon Veronica, du musst nur noch zehn Runden um den Pool drehen. Gib jetzt nicht auf, überwinde deinen Inneren Schweinehund!

Come on Veronica, you only have to do ten more laps around the pool. Don't give up now, overcome your weaker self!
Mein Innerer Schweinehund ist der Grund, warum ich gestern nicht ins Fitnessstudio gegangen bin, um für den Wettkampf zu trainieren, wenn ich ganz ehrlich bin. Am Ende habe ich ausgeschlafen. Das ist mir allerdings peinlich und ich werde es nicht wieder tun.

My weaker self is the reason why I didn't go to the gym yesterday to train for the competition, if I'm completely honest. In the end, I slept in. I'm embarrassed about it though, and I won't do it again.
Ich fürchte, mein Innerer Schweinehund hat mich im Moment im Griff. Ich habe die ganze Woche nichts gemacht, außer fernzusehen, und alle meine Termine abgesagt.

I'm afraid my weaker self has me in its grip at the moment. I have done nothing all week except watch TV, and have cancelled all my appointments.

Die Erklärungsnot

There’s a feeling of panic one experiences specifically when caught red handed or in a suspicious situation - a certain panic and pressure to explain oneself. It rises up when your friend suddenly finds out that you’ve been lying to her for months, when you are caught in bed with the postman, or when your Dad questions the crumbs on your cheeks after the last cookie meant for Grandma has gone missing. That initial red-hot stress and flustered hurrying to think up a reasonable explanation is called “Erklärungsnot”, in German.

Example use cases:

Ich sah, wie Robert eine Halskette kaufte, und nahm an, dass es ein Weihnachtsgeschenk für mich sein würde. Als ich in Wirklichkeit eine Schachtel Pralinen erhielt, stellte ich ihn zur Rede. Er geriet schnell in Erklärungsnot und machte sich auf der Suche nach einer Ausrede lächerlich.

I saw Robert buying a necklace, and assumed it would be a Christmas present for me. When, in reality, I received a box of chocolates, I confronted him. He panicked trying to explain the situation, and made a fool of himself.
Nachdem ich das Geschenk unter ihrem Kopfkissen versteckt hatte, kam meine Schwester herein und fragte mich völlig überrascht, was ich in ihrem Zimmer zu suchen hätte. Ich bekam Erklärungsnot und erklärte schnell, dass ich einen Bleistift suchen würde, bevor ich hinauslief.

After I had hidden the gift under her pillow, my sister came in and asked me, completely surprised, what I was doing in her room. I panicked, and quickly explained that I was looking for a pencil before running out.
Als die Polizei feststellte, dass sie am Tatort gewesen war, fragten sie sie, warum sie das nicht vorher gesagt hatte, und sie bekam Erklärungsnot.

When the police realised that she had been at the scene of the crime, they asked her why she had not said that before and she panicked trying to explain herself.

Der Zungenbrecher

On your German-learning journey, you may find it helpful to learn a few German tongue twisters. In order to clearly and quickly say them, one must practice clear enunciation, which may help to improve your ability to skip through words with ease and develop a smooth flow whilst conversing. The German word for tongue twister is a little more brutal - “Zungenbrecher”, or “Tongue Breaker”. If you haven’t had a go at one yet, how about trying this one out: Der froschforschende Froschforscher forscht in der froschforschenden Froschforschung.

Example use cases:

Hallo Simon! Hast du Lust, mit mir einen Zungenbrecher zu lernen? Er geht so: Die Katzen kratzen im Katzenkasten, im Katzenkasten kratzen Katzen.

Hello Simon! Would you like to learn a tongue twister with me? It goes like this: Die Katzen kratzen im Katzenkasten, im Katzenkasten kratzen Katzen.
Als Hausaufgabe möchte ich, dass ihr heute Abend drei Zungenbrecher auswendig lernt und sie morgen früh vor der Klasse vorträgt.

For your homework, I want you to memorise three tongue twisters tonight and recite them in front of the class tomorrow morning.
Das war wirklich der schwierigste Zungenbrecher, den ich je zu sagen versucht habe. Meine Zunge ist tatsächlich wund von der Anstrengung!

That really was the most difficult tongue twister I have ever tried to say. My tongue is actually sore from the effort!

Das Kopfkino

You’re sitting in class, staring out the window in search of any form of entertainment - be it a busy squirrel, or a bag rolling in the wind - literally anything to stimulate your mind beyond the monotone speech Mr. Smith is giving about the new school year, when the new boy walks through the door. You cannot believe your eyes. He is… g.o.r.g.e.o.u.s. Instantly, you lose yourself in a daydream, imagining him introducing himself to you nervously, holding hands, telling him there’s no milk left in the fridge with your second born child on your hip. You’re completely lost in the fantasy. Well, in German, there is a fitting term for these sudden and intense daydreams - “Kopfkino”.

Example use cases:

Als George mir sagte, er wolle aus dem Haus ausziehen und eine eigene Wohnung in der Stadt beziehen, hatte ich Kopfkino. Ich konnte nicht anders, als mir sofort vorzustellen, wie er sich in der Stadt verirrt, von Schlägern verprügelt und von Monsterratten gefressen wird.

When George told me he wanted to move out of the house and get his own place in the city, I imagined the worst. I couldn't help but immediately imagine him getting lost in the city, being beaten up by thugs and eaten by monster rats.

Der Treppenwitz

Have you ever had the opportunity to make a witty joke, but thought of it a moment too late, because the conversation has already moved on, for example, or because you have already passed the person on the stairs? Or have you ever been shouted at by a drunk on the bus, and, frozen in shell-shock, only thought of a scathing reaction to his rudeness once he’d already gone? Well, this type of situation has a name in German: “Treppenwitz”.

Example use cases:

Ich wünschte, ich würde nicht so langsam auf freche Begegnungen auf der Straße reagieren. Ich denke bei Antworten immer als Treppenwitze.

I wish I wasn't so slow to react to cheeky encounters on the street. react. I always think of responses too late.

Die Schadenfreude

Have you ever watched an old man fall over and giggle to yourself at how funny it is? Hopefully not. Hopefully you’re not an asshole. However! Many of us are guilty of experiencing secret (or not) joy at the misfortune of others in some way. For example, watching the class bully finally get caught red handed by a teacher, or beating your long-time rival at table tennis. Schadenfreude can be associated with feelings of ‘justice served’ or of superiority, and may be either reasonable, or a sign of envy or insecurity.

Example use cases:

Als Tom den Malwettbewerb verlor, konnte man an seinem Lächeln erkennen, dass Samuel Schadenfreude empfand, ihn verlieren zu sehen.

When Tom lost the painting competition, you could tell from his smile that Samuel gloated on his loss.
Ich konnte nicht anders, als Schadenfreude zu empfinden, als Izzy von der Lehrerin zurechtgewiesen wurde. Sie hatte wochenlang auf meinem Freund James herumgehackt, und endlich hatte Mrs. Schmidt es bemerkt.

I couldn't help gloat when Izzy was reprimanded by the teacher. She had been picking on my friend James for weeks and finally Mrs Schmidt had noticed.

Die Schnapsidee

Have you ever had a genius idea during a boozy night out with friends, only to admit the next morning that it was, in fact, quite terrible? Here’s an example of such an idea: thinking it would be fantastic to ring up your ex boyfriend in the middle of the night, to tell him that he’s still an idiot, your slurred words interspersed with champagne bubble burps, only to regret it the next day. Well this sort of idea is called a “Schnapsidee” in German - a seemingly brilliant idea concocted under the influence of something confidence-boosting, such as alcohol or drugs, that ends up being quite the opposite.

Example use cases:

Willst du jetzt schwimmen gehen? Es ist mitten im Winter, Sadie! Was ist das für eine Schnapsidee! Du hast zu viel Wein getrunken!

Do you want to go swimming now? It's the middle of winter, Sadie! What kind of a drunken stupidity is this! You've had too much wine!
Gestern Abend war ich total besoffen und hatte die Schnapsidee, Julia ihr Hochzeitskleid als mein Geschenk für ihre Hochzeit zu machen.

Last night I was totally wasted, and had the drunken idea to make Julia her wedding dress as my gift for her wedding.

Der Katzensprung

When something is just a stone throw away; a short distance away, then it is just a “Katzensprung” away. You may use this expression when describing a literal distance, such as that between your home and the next corner shop (“der Späti ist nur einen Katzensprung entfernt”), or figuratively, such as that between where you are now and what you have to do to achieve a goal (“Sie sind nur noch einen Katzensprung davon entfernt, Ihr Ziel, nach New York City zu ziehen, zu erreichen, Sandra!”).

Example use cases:

Könntest du schnell in den Supermarkt gehen und etwas Fleisch für uns holen, Hamed? Es ist nur einen Katzensprung entfernt.

Could you quickly go to the supermarket and get some meat for us, Hamed? It's only a stone's throw away.
Endlich bin ich nur noch einen Katzensprung davon entfernt, aus dem Flugzeug zu steigen und in die Arme meines geliebten Mannes zu fallen!

Finally, I am just a stone's throw away from getting off the plane and falling into the arms of my beloved husband!

Eine Extrawurst bekommen

Imagine this scenario: you’re sitting at the table with your siblings and parents. Your mum is whipping up a feast of sausages and potatoes. Everybody gets a sausage each. Everybody except one of your siblings, who is offered two. How unfair! Why should that sibling be given special attention? In Germany, when somebody receives an extra sausage, or “eine Extrawurst bekommt”, it means that somebody is being given special treatment. It is usually used in order to criticise somebody’s unfair behaviour towards others, or someone expecting to receive special treatment.

Example use cases:

Erwarte nicht, dass du eine Extrawurst bekommst, wenn du in diesem Bootcamp trainierst. Es ist wirklich zermürbend und anspruchsvoll, und niemand bekommt besondere Aufmerksamkeit!

Don't expect to get any special treatment when you train in this bootcamp. It's really gruelling and demanding, and no one gets any special attention!


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