Word Nerd: German, the original hashtag language

4 Dec

You know how hashtags work. A hashtag is a hash sign followed by a word. Sometimes a phrase is compounded into a single word. People can intuitively understand its meaning from either the word itself or the context. Sometimes, though, it’s possible to take it #TooFar #BeyondAllReason #DoesItEvenMakeAnySenseAnyMore #ICantEven.

Well, if you thought this was some Twitter-era madness, think again. German speakers have been compounding words for centuries. Sometimes it works great. After all, where would English be without German words like zeitgeist (Zeit = time, Geist = spirit, so zeitgeist means the defining mood or spirit of an era). But at other times, the German love of compounding just seems out of control. Check out our list and let us know which words you think are reasonable and useful, and which ones are absurd.

1. Schadenfreude

Pronounced ‘sha-den-FROY-duh’, this word refers to the pleasure someone derives from someone else’s misfortune. In German, Schaden means harm or damage, and Freude means joy.


2. Schlafgespräch

This word is pronounced SHLAF-ge-sprech (the ‘ch’ at the end is a peculiarly German sound, not ‘kh’ but not quite ‘sh’ either). Schlafen means to sleep, and Gespräch is a conversation. So a Schlafgespräch is a conversation about sleeping. How often do we engage in such a conversation that we need a word for it? Ask a doctor who specializes in treating stress-related illnesses.


3. Muskelpaket

In German, Muskel (pronounced MOO-skel) means muscle, and Paket (pa-KAYT) means – you guessed it – packet. Very reasonable, then, that Muskelpaket means a bulging muscle.


4. Weltschmerz

Welt means world, and Schmerz means pain. So Weltschmerz, pronounced VELT-shmairts, refers to a feeling of weariness stemming from the belief that the physical world can never satisfy the demands of the mind.


5. Kummerspeck

This unfortunate phenomenon can strike anyone. The word, pronounced COOM-mer-shpek, consists of Kummer, meaning grief, and Speck, meaning bacon. When a relationship ends, for example, one may overeat as a result of emotional turmoil. Kummerspeck refers to the weight you gain from overeating due to any sort of stress.


6. Fernweh

This is a familiar feeling for anyone who is away from home for a long time. It refers to a wish to be in a faraway place. Fern (pronounced ‘fairn’) means distant or far, and Weh means ache or pain. When the holiday season comes along and all the German students leave campus to go home to their families, many international students who remain behind suffer from Fernweh. The word should not be confused with Heimweh, which literally means home-pain (Heim = home).


7. Weihnachtenheimaterholungsurlaub

OK, you won’t find this word in a dictionary, but it was used in earnest by a Bavarian student who lived away from home and was planning to go home during the Christmas break. Weihnachten means Christmas, Heimat means home town or home country, Erholung means relaxation, and Urlaub means vacation. Anyone with even a basic knowledge of German would understand the word and know how to pronounce it. And if you’re a novice at German, good luck saying that word!


By: BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer

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