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7 German Words You Need To Know (That Don’t Exist)

What’s the deal with all these new words, where do they come from, and who’s the Italian upstart who’s taken to inventing new German words?
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2015 was the year the definitive record of the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary, recognised the twerk and all its derivatives as genuine, bona fide words. They waggled their irksome posteriors into the printed edition between tweeting and the Twitterati. The dictionary updated the status of the verb to tweet to include the 140 character micro-communications all the way back in 2013, but now it is joined by its various offspring, preceded alphabetically by its retweets.

The words provide a kind of autopsy of the year passed. Many are immediately recognizable, such as crowdfunding and decluttering, while others are completely unfamiliar and wildly esoteric. They have origins in social and economic trends, science and technology, literature, art and politics, or have simply been borrowed and adapted from other languages. Take the new-entries depanneur and despedida, for example. Depanneur comes from the French verb dèpanner, which means to troubleshoot, while despedida is the Spanish word for a farewell or send-off.

Despite their apparent youth, it’s often difficult to ascertain the exact etymological origin of these words. Let’s return to twerk. The Oxford English Dictionary reckons it’s been around for a good twenty years, and is most likely a portmanteau of the words twist and jerk, or twist and work. A portmanteau is created by gelling two words together in both their constituent letters and their meaning to encapsulate a particular characteristic or behavior – smirting and twerking are both contemporary examples of this. The conjoined ranks of portmanteaux boast everything from celebrity brands (Brangelina) to countries (Tanzania), and the world of the international network (internet) is rife with them. Few of these words can be traced back to one individual, although there must, somewhere, be one person who first economised his or her language by twisting a jerk into a twerk. I imagine these people rocking back and forth in padded rooms claiming that they craptacularly invented twerking and smirting.

Smirting: the practice of smoking and flirting outside pubs and clubs that evolved as a consequence of the smoking ban.

In 2016, such people may be accused of columbusing; when people claim to have discovered something that has been around for years. Portmanteaux have gained something of a following in the world of social media in recent years. The Urban Dictionary – the Saint Peter of slang at the gates of the Oxford English Dictionary – boasts some ingenious candidates for next year’s Oxford list, from beerboarding – the practice of extracting information from a colleague by getting him or her drunk – to hiberdating – spending time exclusively with a partner at the expense of time with friends.

There is one language, however, which is arguably more well-suited to the portmanteau-esque word-building than the English language, and there is one individual who’s undertaken the challenge of inventing a new word every day in this language until he’s reached one hundred. The language is, of course, German; father of much-cited compound nouns such as Schadenfreude and Fremdscham. The individual is Federico, an Italian living in Berlin who decided to embark on the project as an expression of his love-hate relationship with the German language, allowing him to flatter it and savage it with his creativity.

Sesquipedalianism: the use of very long words.

The results of his dabbling with sesquipedalianism (the use of very long words) offer interesting and often hilarious insights into the modern human condition, classifying and documenting the idiosyncrasies of our shared experience. Here are seven of my favorite which may, one day, take their place alongside Schadenfreude and Fremdscham in the list of German adoptees in the English language.


A photo posted by Federico (@amorequietplace) on Apr 7, 2015 at 9:43am PDT

If you’re reading this, there’s a very good chance that you’re currently on the internet. There’s also a pretty good chance you came through social media, clicking on a link nestled between pictures of old school friends getting married to supermodels in Macchu Picchu. Netzminderwertigkeit is now a recognized phenomenon, and it’s even one that Facebook has knowlingly manipulated, so it’s about time it had a name.


A photo posted by Federico (@amorequietplace) on Aug 26, 2015 at 1:44am PDT

Like convincing yourself that you’ve lost your boarding pass nine times between security and gate, Fahrscheinangst is the pervasive fear that you’ll be found out for not having a valid ticket on the subway. And all this despite the fact you bought it just minutes before.


A photo posted by Federico (@amorequietplace) on Aug 5, 2015 at 11:05pm PDT

This one may be a little more Germany-specific, where people obey unquestioningly the whim of the pedestrian crossing lights. Even if there’s no traffic for miles around, you’ll be subject to tut-tutting galore if you dare cross on red. Roteampelkonflikt stems from the notion that you’re walking the tightrope between the social approval and disapproval of bystanders.


A photo posted by Federico (@amorequietplace) on Jul 20, 2015 at 11:58am PDT

The evening is petering out and a sudden wave of tiredness overcomes you. Your friends are scattered throughout the establishment. You see the cloakroom and the exit just beyond. You’ll apologise tomorrow and blame it on the alcohol. Now hurry up before somebody notices…


A photo posted by Federico (@amorequietplace) on Nov 5, 2015 at 10:46pm PST

One of those things, like eating healthily and exercising, that nags at the conscience of the average individual. Sort out your work-life balance, drink a bit less, stop watching cat videos and pick up a book. Or don’t, and learn to cope with the residual guilt.


A photo posted by Federico (@amorequietplace) on Apr 18, 2015 at 9:21am PDT

After years of conjecture, the ‘five second rule’ was finally proven (well, kind of) by real scientists; the amount of time a piece of food is left on the floor affects the extent to which it is contaminated by bacteria. Surprisingly, carpet was the least infectious service. The cleansing power of a Reinigungswind remains unclear, however.


A photo posted by Federico (@amorequietplace) on Apr 14, 2015 at 10:47am PDT

There are multiple reasons to be apprehensive in a German supermarket. Will the person behind me put the Warentrenner down? Will I have enough time to put the goods in the bags before the next customer’s goods start chivvying me? What was my PIN again? Does my choice of toilet roll make me look bourgeois?

If you’d like to see more of Federico’s words, check out his blog or his Instagram feed.

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