Learning a new language is an intimidating matter — even before you encounter weird words like Liebfraumilch and Eselsbrücke. And no, as odd as they sound, these are not fake German words. Liebfraumilch, which literally translated means “beloved lady’s milk”, is a kind of white German wine. And Eselsbrücke, or a “donkey’s bridge”, is the German word for “a mnemonic device”.
But before you give up on German (either from fear or because you can’t stop laughing at these literal translations) let’s not forget how often we encounter obscure words in the English language. The Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive record of the English language, is updated on a quarterly basis. Just in the past few years words from twerk to Latin@, gym bunny to jibbons have become official, bonafide words in the English language.
New words can originate from many different places. From social and economic trends, science and technology, literature, art, and politics. Or they can be borrowed and adapted from other languages. Take for example depanneur and despedida. Depanneur comes from the French verb dèpanner, which means to troubleshoot, while despedida is the Spanish word for a farewell or send-off.
Despite the youth of some of these words, it’s often difficult to trace their etymological origin. Even the word twerk, which was added to the dictionary in 2015 has been around since the 19th century, and is most likely a portmanteau of the words “twist” and “jerk”. A portmanteau is the gelling of two words together in both their sound and their meaning. Two well known examples are motel and brunch.
Sesquipedalianism — The Use Of Very Long Words
There is one language in particular that is arguably more well-suited to the portmanteau-esque “word-building” than the English language. That language of course is German. And there is one individual who has undertaken the challenge of inventing a new word every day in this language. The individual is Federico. As an Italian living in Berlin, Federico started this project as an expression of his love-hate relationship with the German language, by creating fake German words to help express very particular feelings.
The results of his dabbling with sesquipedalianism are interesting and often hilarious. Out of the 100 words created here are seven of my favorite — words which I hope, may one day, take their place alongside other German classics such as Schadenfreude and Fremdscham.
- the impression that everybody is happier than you, felt while looking at pictures on social media
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 cats and old school-friends getting married to supermodels in Macchu Picchu. Netzminderwertigkeit, which literally translated means “network inferiority”, is now a recognized phenomenon, and it’s even one that Facebook has knowingly manipulated, so it’s about time it had a name.
- acute anxiety felt when the train controller is about to check your ticket, even though you know everything is fine with it
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. Just like in English, angst in German translates to “anxiety”, and Fahrkarte means “ticket”.
- internal conflict hitting you when the traffic light turns red in the exact moment that you start crossing the street
This one may be a little more Germany-specific, where people obey unquestioningly the whim of the pedestrian crossing lights (ampel). 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.
- feeling of triumph mixed with guilt, felt after you’ve succeed in leaving the party without saying goodbye to anybody
The evening is petering out and a sudden wave of tiredness overcomes you as you finish off your German beer. Your friends are scattered throughout the establishment. You see the cloakroom and the exit just beyond. You’ll apologize tomorrow and blame it on the alcohol. Now hurry up before somebody notices…
- guilt for not reading enough
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 buch (book). Or don’t, and learn to cope with the residual schuldgefühl (guilt).
- the air blown on a cookie after it fell on the floor, to magically cleanse it from all impurities
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.
- feeling self-conscious at the cash register of a supermarket and having the impression that people are judging you baed on your groceries
This one is pretty simple to break down — Kasse means “checkout” and gehemmt means “inhibited”. And there are multiple reasons to be inhibited in a German supermarket. Will the person behind me put the Warentrenner (checkout divider) down? Will I have enough time to put my goods in 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? Where does it end?
If you’d like to see more of Federico’s fake German words check out his blog.