Language is always adapting to give us adequate range to describe our lived experience. So in a year where literally everything got turned upside down, it comes as no surprise that our vocabulary expanded to acknowledge the very 2020-specific phenomenon of Zoom exhaustion, nose exhibitionists and public health ignoramuses (better known as covidiots). But of all the languages to come up with niche COVID words, German was perhaps the most prolific.
A list compiled by the Leibniz Institute for the German Language documents more than 1,200 new German words that arose over the last year to describe our new reality. In comparison, an average year tends to produce around 200.
“When new things happen in the world [we] look for a name,” Dr. Christine Möhrs, who compiled some of the words, told The Guardian. “Things that do not have a name can cause people to feel fear and insecurity. However, if we can talk about things and name them, then we can communicate with each other. Especially in times of crisis, this is important.”
To be sure, German has always had a quirky reputation for its tendency to produce weird new words through compound noun formation. Basically, this means you can create an endless array of new words by simply combining two or more existing nouns. None of that explains why there couldn’t be a simple, straightforward word for “glove” that wasn’t “hand shoe” (der Handschuh), but you get the point.
Though many of these new German COVID words are relatively clinical, straightforward terms like ansteckungshotspot (contagion hotspot), kontaktnachverfolgung (contact tracking) and corona-verordnung (corona ordinance), some of them are very resonant — almost entertaining, if you can call it that.
Here are the best of the bunch.
The Best New German COVID Words
Abstandsbier — You may not be able to have up-close beers, but you can have a “distance beer.”
Abstandsnudel — A “distance noodle” is a pool noodle used to maintain a minimum distance between people.
Abstandssommer — The record will show that the sequel to 2019’s Hot Girl Summer was the “Summer of Distance.”
Alltagsheld — The German equivalent to “essential worker” more directly translates to “everyday hero,” which is an interesting discrepancy. In this case, the word doesn’t highlight someone’s status as a mere laborer, but as a person with agency and conviction.
Babyelefant — A “baby elephant” is an alternative unit of distance used to maintain public health boundaries.
Balkonklatscher — This is a usually disparaging term for “balcony clapper,” or someone who goes outside to cheer for essential workers.
Coronafrisur — The earliest part of the pandemic gave rise to the “corona hairstyle,” a special look made possible by intrepid DIY haircuts.
Coronafußgruß — A “corona foot greeting” is perhaps the best we can do these days, but we’ll take whatever we can get.
Coronials — Not exclusive to the German language, “Coronial” is the name given to the children conceived in lockdown (it’s supposed to sound like “millennial”).
Einkaufsheld — A “shopping hero” is someone who volunteered to brave the grocery store for an elderly or immunocompromised neighbor or friend.
Ellenbogengesellschaft — When hugs and kisses became perilous, we entered into a brave new “elbow society.”
Gesichtskondom — What is a mask, if not a “facial condom?”
Homeclubbing — This one should be relatively self-explanatory, especially if you’ve ever been to Berlin.
Impfneid — Vaccine envy, or perhaps more aptly vaccine FOMO.
Impfprivileg — On the other end of “vaccine envy” is “vaccine privilege.”
Isolationseinerlei — The monotony and boredom of quarantine was the perfect breeding ground for “isolation nonsense,” or the increasingly chaotic ways people kept themselves entertained.
Klopapierhamster — During the panic-buying phase of the pandemic, there were only toilet paper haves and toilet paper have-nots. You can thank the “toilet paper hamsters” for the shortages.
Kuschelkontakt — “Cuddle contact,” or the person in your bubble you meet for cuddles.
Maskentrottel — This word for “mask idiot” is perfect for muttering under your breath, beneath a mask, where no one can see it.
Nasenpimmel — You can also add this word for “nose dick,” used to refer to the vulgar experience of seeing someone’s nose hanging out of their mask.
Overzoomed — Zoom was great for about two weeks and then everyone was just over it.