5 Untranslatable German Words

Every language has some words which perfectly describe a situation, a feeling, an object or a person, but when you look at their translation, it just doesn’t seem right. Their translation may be close, but just lacks the essence of what the word really means. Here are a few examples:

Translation: comfortable
This is one of our favourite words and if you come across a German and ask them which word is untranslatable, they will most likely say – gemütlich! It’s that perfect balance of feeling cosy, content, comfortable and relaxed. It’s when a situation is just perfect – imagine this: you’re sitting in a lounge chair by the fire, covered by a soft blanket, sipping on the most delicious hot chocolate you’ve ever had whilst soft music is playing in the background and you are watching the snow fall outside the window – that is gemütlich!

Literally means: seems holy
Translation: sanctimonious
Have you ever met someone who appears charming in front of everyone? Who says all of the right things, is involved in all the right activities and everyone just loves… but then you find out that they’re actually quite a nasty person behind everyone’s back? We all know them: they seem lovely but aren’t – they are scheinheilig.

ScheinheiligDas Fernweh
Literally means: distance pain
Translation: wanderlust
Fernweh describes the yearning to see distant places; it describes the feeling you get when all you want to do is travel and see foreign lands. It’s what happens when there is wanderlust, but no opportunity to wander and all that is left is a feeling of yearning and pining for unknown distances. The word’s counterpart is ‘Heimweh’, meaning homesickness, so Fernweh may be describes as a feeling of homesickness for places that you’ve never actually been to. Have you ever sat at your desk, or maybe outside on the terrace on a rainy day and stared off into the distance dreaming about tropical islands or snowy mountains, whishing that you were there? Then you may have experienced Fernweh!

FernwehDie Torschlusspanik
Literally means: goal end panic
Translation: last minute panic
Torschlusspanik is the fear of missing out when you are at the end of something – it’s kind of a ‘last minute panic.’ The word dates back to medieval times when city gates were closed at dusk to protect its residents from thieves and wild animals. If you didn’t make it inside on time you’d have to spend the night sleeping outside of the gates (or pay a fee to be let inside).

Literally means: worsen improve
Translation: make worse
Yes, it does seem like a contradiction, but what it actually means is the action when someone attempts to improve something, but ends up making it worse in the process. Have you ever received a bad haircut and thought ‘This looks horrible, I can’t be seen in public like this. I know, I should try and fix it myself! I mean, it can’t get any worse, right?’ Wrong. So there you are looking even worse than you did before – congratulations, you have verschlimmbessert your haircut.


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