Swiss German and German are very visual languages. Often times it is easy to understand a word even if you have never heard it before. Other times you just have to figure out what in the world that person just said through context and intonation. Which isn’t always easy. So here’s a not-so-serious and certainly not complete list of German and Swiss German words and their meanings.
Feelings and attitudes
Weltschmerz (direct translation: world pain).
Meaning: mental depression or apathy caused by comparing the actual state of the world with an ideal state. It refers to your emotional circumstances. By the way, I’ve never heard this word used in either Swiss German, or high German. But I did see it used in English once. Strange.
Torschlusspanik (direct translation: door closing panic).
Meaning: fear of important opportunities slipping away, usually this happens when one gets older. This is often used to describe women who take the first best man they find. They do this because they are afraid they won’t find anyone better. Usually this is due to their biological clock loudly ticking away.
Vergangenheitsbewältigung (direct translation: past coping).
Meaning: coming to terms with the past. This can be either you personal past or the collective past of your country.
Lebensmüde (direct translation: life tired).
Meaning: usually used in the sense of doing something you know is dangerous and that might get you killed.
Fernweh (direct translation: distance pain).
Meaning: it is the antonym of “Heimweh” (homesickness) and means longing to be, well, anywhere except where you are now. A vacation might help remedy that situation.
Fuchsteufelswild (direct translation: fox-devil wild).
Meaning: complete, unadulterated rage. Nothing more, nothing less.
Schadenfreude (direct translation: damage joy).
Meaning: taking pleasure in someone else’s pain. It has nothing to do with nor should be confused with sadism which is the joy of inflicting pain. It’s a word usually used to describe the satisfaction one gets laughing at someone doing something stupid. Quite often it is the same thing you just did and that person laughed at you for it. For example stepping in a puddle or something silly like that.
Kummerspeck (direct translation: worry bacon).
Meaning: excess weight gained from emotional overeating. This is what happens when you eat too much comfort food.
Speckgürtel (direct translation: bacon belt).
Meaning: well, the German language does tend to use the word bacon a lot to describe things. A bacon belt is an extra tire, too much weight around the middle.
Brustwartz (direct translation: breast wart).
Meaning: nipple. As far as I know the word nipple originates from the word neb which means a small projection. Cute. Here, the visual of the German word conjures up a not-so-cute image.
Sommersprossen (direct translation: summer sprouts).
Meaning: freckles. When you think of it, freckles do tend to be more visible and come out in the summer. I’m not sure which word I like better. They are both pretty cool.
Anstandsreste (direct translation: courtesy left-over).
Meaning: that is the little bit of food you leave on purpose when taking the last bit of food out of a dish. That way no one can say you were too greedy.
Speck (direct translation: fat, bacon).
Meaning: I know, I’ve translated the other “speck”-related words into “bacon” which is correct. It also means fat. So, if you are putting on bacon, you are getting fatter!
Weichei (direct translation: soft egg).
Meaning: I wasn’t sure exactly into which category I should put this word. It has absolutely nothing to do with food except it contains the word egg. It is a loser, someone who doesn’t trust their own judgment. Certainly not something you would call someone to their face. A soft egg being a loser doesn’t make a hard egg a winner, nope, not the case.
Erklärungsnot (direct translation: explanation emergency).
Meaning: having to explain a (usually uncomfortable) situation the exact moment you are caught.
Treppenweisheit (direct translation: stair wisdom).
Meaning: having the perfect counter for any situation, unfortunately about 20 minutes too late. A lethargic comeback. It usually occurs to you while going up the stairs to your apartment. It’s not as bad as it seems; at least you had the perfect comeback. It’s just too bad you weren’t able to produce it at the perfect moment.
Stinklangweilig (direct translation: smelly boring).
Meaning: really, really, REALLY boring. Yawn, it doesn’t get more boring than that.
Umweltverschmutzung (direct translation: environmental dirtying).
Meaning: just that. Dirtying up the environment, environmental pollution. Ah, but the German language packs that into one word.
Innerer Schweinehund (direct translation: inner pig dog).
Meaning: okay, try to figure that one out! That is the calming voice you hear saying “c’mon, what’s one more potato chip?” or “You deserve that ice cream! After all, you walked the half a block to buy it”. So people, overcome your inner pig dog and forget the potato chips and ice cream.
Long compound words
Schwangerschaftverhütungsmittel (direct translation: pregnancy prevention means)
Meaning: another easy one – contraceptive. Such a long word, but when you hear it for the first time it’s clear what is meant. On the other hand, that is such a long word no one really uses it. It is probably only used in written documents. In real life you would use the words “pill”, “condom” or “rubber” shorter and they mean the same thing basically.
Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (direct translation: Beef labeling supervision duty assignment law)
Meaning: this means that in the German language you can say something in one word that takes a whole sentence to say in English. And no, I’ve never heard anyone ever use that word and don’t expect I ever will.
This last “word” is almost a complete story. But believe me, unless you have an extra hour or two you don’t even want to hear the story!
hottentottenstottertrottelmutterbeutelrattenlattengitterkofferattentäterfängprämienempfänger (direct translation: hottentotten = a collective term used in the colonial period by the Dutch for the people living in South Africa and Namibia. The term is no longer used because of its negative and derogatory connotation.
stotter = stuttering
trottel = foolish
mutter = mother
beutelratten = a preying or looting rat = possum
lattengitter = lattice
koffer = case or trunk, here cage
attentäter = assassin
fänger = catcher
prämie = bounty
empfänger = recipient).
Meaning: the person who got the bounty to catch the assassin of the foolish stuttering African mother’s possum’s lattice cage. Easy, right?
Wow, that makes you want to run right out there and learn some more German.