10 German words you need to know

Those who study or studied German in the past know that it is not an “impossible” language, but even an enjoyable challenge, as it tests us daily. Mark Twain, the American writer known for his troubled relationship with German, which he did not like, but found extremely stimulating, used to say, “My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years. It seems manifest, then, that the latter tongue ought to be trimmed down and repaired. If it is to remain as it is, it ought to be gently and reverently set aside among the dead languages, for only the dead have time to learn it.” Here we give you 10 German words that have no direct translation in English. It is thanks to these very words that we can better learn German culture. Every single word helps us not only to improve our vocabulary, but also to deepen our knowledge of a new world.

1. Sehnsucht
For those who study or studied literature and specifically German Romanticism this word has always been a subject of discussion. It comes from Old High German and it meant “sickness of the painful craving”. Nowadays it is sometimes translated with “nostalgia”, but in fact it is a nostalgia caused by the unknown something, the Romantic undefined. Nostalgia is the pain of going back, Sensucht instead can be both the pain caused by the craving for something in the future and towards something in the present.

2. Weltschmerz
Literally “the pain of the world”, Weltschmerz is that pain one feels when the real world cannot fulfill our expectations. The term was coined by German writer Jean Paul and instills a pessimistic world view.

3. Torschlusspanik
The literal translation of the term is “closed door panic” and it means that specific anxiety caused by a deadline and the knowledge of the passing of time and the need to act. The closed door is an opportunity and it stands for a missed chance that we could later regret.

4. Fernweh
How to translate this word? We could define this feeling as “nostalgia towards faraway lands”, in which this land is not our own birth land (in which case we would use Heimweh). Fernweh means the desire to pack and leave to discover faraway places to bring in your heart always.

5. Zweisamkeit
When one talks about loneliness, one thinks about a single person, isolated by others. Robert Musil in his “The Confusion of Young Törless” writes about coupledom and affirms that “to be in a couple is nothing more than a double loneliness”. Even spending most of the time with a partner, isolated from the rest of the world, means living in solitude. And yet, the two elements of the Zweisamkeit don’t complain because they feel complete.

6. Backpfeifengesicht
The meaning of this world is much more familiar than you would think. Do you know the kind of people you feel like slapping in the face just by looking at them? From today you can call them with the German term, instead of calling them “faces to slap”.

7. Feierabend
If you are ew in Germany and you just found a job, you will often hear your colleagues saying, “ich mache Feierabend” and you will wonder how come that they go partying every night without inviting you, while you go back home completely knackered. Feierabend in fact means that moment of the day when you can relax and dedicate yourself to something that is not work.

8. Reisefieber
Literally “travel fiever”, it means that anxiety that you feel before travelling, connected to packing and preparing the necessary documents. Not everybody suffers from this, but some will see themselves in the subject who suffers from Reisefieber and arrives at the airport three hours in advance after repeatedly weighing their luggage and checking their documents.

9. Vorfreude
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing said, “To look forward to pleasure is also a pleasure.” Vorfreude means exactly the foretaste of a pleasure that we are waiting for: it means to enjoy our dreams and expectations.

10. Waldeinsamkeit
Solitude of the forest”, it is that feeling you feel when you walk on your own through a forest. Waldeinsamkeit is a term very dear to the ascetic monastic and to German Romantic traditions that encouraged the reconciliation of man and nature.

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