The language can say a lot about the people. And it’s a hard work to make a collection of a language’s unique words which could define the people’s soul. This is what Vanna Vannuccini and Francesca Pedrazzi did, both journalists and Germany experts in the book Piccolo viaggio nell’anima tedesca (Little journey in the German soul).
The two journalists consider German language as “difficult but with sharp subtleties and an incredible detail” and they mde a list of untranslatable German words (only for conceptual reasons). And through these terms they develop a wonderful portrait of the German people that somehow goes beyond the usual stereotypes but also explains them. Trying to answer the question “Who are these European cousins once soldier of the most terrible military tragedy and now absolute pacifist?”.
Here are the 15 words. But you can well understand their meanings only if you read the book which makes an actual reconstruction of the socio-political history of this country and a tour throughout its culture.
- WeltanschauungThis term, probably very famous in philosophy, has not real translation. The correct translation would be “vision/view of the world”. This word contains three others: God, Man and World. There is no there world, at least In Europe which has a similar word.
- Nestbeschmutzer: “The one who makes the nest dirty” is a person who messes up the environment where he/she belongs (family, church, party, homeland…). It’s an outrageous behavior which even animals would not have.
- Querdenker: The adjective “quer” means transverse/croooked with a negative sense. When compounded to “Denker” (thinker) leads to a negative consideration of a person. But in 1991 the Duden (the German dictionary) chose it as “term of the year”, claiming that thinking with your own mind can actually be a virtue.
- Schadenfreude: Maybe one of the most famous untranslatable German words… “the joy of others‘ misfortune”. Since only Germans have this word, they could wonder “So are we the only ones who are happy for someone else’s disgarce?”. No, in this case it’s just honesty of German language.
- Zweisamkeit: Literally “loneliness for two”. It refers to when a couple is not interested to go out with other people. Something that we all know.
- Vergangenheitsbewältigung: It’s not a surprise that German has this word: probably no other country needs a “confront with the past” more than Germany.
- Männerfreundschaft_ Men’s friendship is different from women’s friendship. For this reason, German needed to create a term to specify a relationship made of few words but also esteem and sharing.
- Zweckgemeinschaft: The substantive “Zweck” means goal and when compounded, it often means something done for a certain reason. The Zweckgemeinschaft is the coalition for benefit, like two people that meet for sharing a hobby but “outside” they are not friends.
- Mitläufer: This is a beautiful example of Wortbildung (blending two words to make one, typical of German). “Läufer” is the one who walk, with “mit” (with) means a person who walks with others. It also means someone who adapts very easily in every situation.
- Feierabend: A nice word which means all the time and all the things done after work. Time that is important and sacred for Germans.
- Rechthaber: Stubborn, stoic and incapable of compromises: the Rechthaber is who always wants to be right. Maybe a bit common through Germans?
- Quotenfrauen: Gender equality is taken for granted in Germany but when a women is considered as “Quotenfrau” it is not a positive thing. It means when a woman is hired at job “only because she is a woman”. More because it’s a obligatory and not because she deserved it.
- Wanderweg: The verb “wandern” means “to go hiking”. With the word “weg” (path, small street), it means a path to do by feet. A real German passion for hikes…
- Unwort: What is the “not-word”? It’s the most hated word from Germans. Decided by the Gesellschaft für Deutsche Sprache (the academy of German language).
- Zeitgeist:Very famous but difficult to translate, it’s the “spirit of time”. But what do Germans really mean?