These are a few of my favourite words


May 25, 2015 by helenwaldron

Dear Readers,

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, Gemütlichkeit and Torschlusspanik and warm woolen mittens. Writewell is mailing me to write something uncontroversial this week and these are a few of my favourite German words.

Words Germans have and we don’t

Sondern – you’ll have to make do with “but”.

Doch – you’ll have to make do with “but.” “However” may also work.

Stammtisch – a regular meeting place, a table where you can play Skat, talk politics, practice your English, drink and discuss. Not to be confused with:

Kaffeekränzchen – literally a little coffee wreath, an afternoon circle round the table to drink coffee and eat cake.

Gemütlich, Gemütlichkeit – see above, but this one has its own Wikipedia page, ( which starts The term is most commonly associated with the tenor of a German beer garden. Hmmm…

Spießig – you can get lost on the internet trying to source this one. I think the trouble here is firstly that nobody can decide exactly what constitutes being spießig, and secondly, as a result, it’s the sort of word which tends to be translated into slang – that most fun, but highly negotiable because mercurial, style of language.  Here’s an excerpt from one Q&A forum, where one contributor defines spießig as:

a derogatory word that young and old rebels use to label middle class people with uninspiring lives full of routine and with a penchant for conformity.

And the next one lists some possible translations:

– petty bourgeois

– (very) middle-class

– philistine

– narrow-minded

– “square”                 

– white-bread  

before adding:  I personally prefer/use the underlined word.

This confused me at first, (Philistine = Kulturbanause?? Surely some mistake…). I would have plumped for “square” which the writer interestingly put in inverted commas (a sign of unease with the word) and didn’t do this with “white-bread” – a term I’d never heard of. This all goes to show how much we are swimming in value-based and linguistically fluid waters. However, putting the two definitions together gave me “middle class people with …  a penchant for conformity” who have the wherewithal (i.e. the money), but presumably choose not to develop themselves intellectually. In order to see Spießbürgertum in action, I hereby nominate the Dursleys from the Harry Potter books.

Which means my translation of spießig would be “unimaginative”.

See, I got there in the end.

For Torschlusspanik, Schadenfreude, Backpfeifengesicht, Waldeinsamkeit, Schilderwald (and some more words from other languages) follow this great link: Notice the predominance of words with Wald, “woods”, which show the German love of nature and forests in particular. Even though I’ve never heard of Waldeinsamkeit, I will assume it’s a positive feeling. But isn’t Fernweh just “itchy feet” in English?

Words we arguably have, but use to sound impressive

Angst, Weltschmerz, Weltanschauung – this lot all started with Freud’s school of psychotherapy.

Spiel, ersatz, uber– – (no capitalization, no umlauts) these are newer, and used in a slightly ironic manner. Thus, a spiel is a long, insincere speech with an aim to persuade or manipulate, ersatz an adjective and presumably more impressive than “replacement” or “substitute”, which are both nouns used adjectivally in compound nouns. I blinked, and uber has gone again, but it was a trendy way to intensify an adjective in New Labour’s Britain last time I looked. I quite liked it, and I am now uber-inconsolable.

Words which may (possibly) be evidence of Germanic roots or influence

Kindergarten – is used in North America for “preschool” (which is actually “Vorschule” in Germany). For children with more than a year to go before starting “real” school (i.e. the ones who go to Kindergarten in Germany) most English speaking countries use “nursery school” or “play school”.

Gesundheit! – in The Sound of Music those lovable Austrians with American accents say it in the song I quoted at the beginning of this post, but most other English speakers say “bless you”, when somebody sneezes.

Rucksack – also called backpack, knapsack, packsack, pack, or Bergen … Suffice to say, we all love to go a-wandering along the mountain track with something on our back.

Words I like

Any word with more than 20 letters gets my pulse racing, even if it’s challenging to read.

Nicht weg zu denken – okay, it’s four words, but it’s used like one, as in the Kaffeekränchen is “not thinkawayable”, it’s hard to imagine life without it. Can also mean “indispensable.” A rucksack is nicht weg zu denken on a long hike.

Herangehensweise – only 16 letters, but 6 syllables and it took me about 10 years to learn, so I’m especially proud of it. It means approach, method, way of doing something. These students aren’t learning their irregular verbs. We need to try a new Herangehensweise.

Nachvollziehbar – another word which looks like a handful of words have been tossed up in the air and left where they landed. This literally translates as “after-full-pull-pub”, but actually means “understandable”, “logical”, even “reasonable” (you can draw (pull) your conclusions from (after) it). I like the way it makes you puff like an accordion as you say each syllable.

Allerdings – my absolute favourite. With the emphasis on the last syllable, like a cheery bicycle bell, this word means “but” or “however”, (again), and is so fantastic that it can be used in almost any sentence and even alone as an agreement. (“This post can only warm your heart.” “Allerdings!” (=absolutely!)).

Hope you enjoyed my list.

(“Allerdings!” you reply)


James Speakeasy

14 thoughts on “These are a few of my favourite words

  1. Richi says:


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Clare says:

    I really enjoyed reading this! I teach English in Germany, and am often telling students about my favourite German words (or mistakes!) I think they sometimes think it takes a very “special” kind of person to bother to have a favourite word…!

    Liked by 1 person

    • helenwaldron says:

      Hi Clare,
      Of course we’re “special” (I shall be dealing briefly with that word in the next blog post!). How about telling your students to compile a list of their favourite English words and getting them use them as often as possible in class?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Richi says:

    Deine Herangehenswise in diesem Text ist zwar nicht immer nachvollziehbar, allerdings auch nicht mehr weg zu denken. Auf die Übersetzung wäre ich gespannt!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. […] After writing this post and as I was going through my Reader, I saw that Helen has written a post about her favourite German words (she beat me to it   :D). You can read her post here. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I did German to college level and it was always a bonus to come across a word which didn’t translate. There’s nothing better than an untranslatable thing. Allerdings is also my favourite although in all my German-speaking years I don’t believe I ever used it properly!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. […] After writing this post and as I was going through my Reader, I saw that Helen has written a post about her favourite German words (she beat me to it   :D). You can read her post here. […]


  7. […] A stammtisch is where a group of like-minded people meet regularly, sometimes to play card games, like skat or poker, sometimes just to share their views.  (It’s a hard word to translate, as you can read here). […]


  8. […] watch it again in time for tomorrow’s session.” “Homework?” queried Speakeasy. “For a stammtisch?” “If they are motivated,” nodded Writewell, wisely. “They will want to do more. Now, what […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Coming Soon!

Helen Waldron

Speakeasy and Writewell promise not to send junk mail or advertising!

Teachers as Workers

%d bloggers like this: