Do you want to sound like a native German, even though you are not?


Well, these ten words, specific to the German language, will help you to impress your German speaking friends. They will also help you in your interactions with any native German speaker simply because who wouldn't be delighted to hear typical German words coming from a foreigner? Besides, showing interest in German culture is always helpful for connecting and bonding with friends, colleagues, or your boss.


Aside from impressing other people, these words will also give you a unique glimpse into the German language, as well as help you to better understand the culture.


So, let’s get started!


Die Schnapsidee


  • Schnaps: schnapps
  • Idee: idea


Has someone ever come up with an idea or pulled a stunt that you thought was so strange or absurd that he or she must have had a glass too many? Well congratulations, because that is what you would call a Schnapsidee.




  • Oliver: I told you that we’d make the flight on time.
  • Debra: Well yes, but leaving home at the last minute during rush hour was really a Schnapsidee.


Only Germans have a word for ideas that appear to have been concocted after drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Specifically, this term is used to illustrate the stupidity of an idea. Furthermore, Schnapsidee can be used to talk about dumb and crazy ideas in general, since these schemes seem like they could only have been suggested if someone were drunk. So, if somebody calls your idea a Schnapsidee, you can be sure that it's probably not a good one.     


Die Torschlusspanik


  • Tor: goal
  • Schluss: end
  • Panik: panic


Do you feel like you’re getting older and still haven't found the right partner? Perhaps you feel like you’re running out of time to have children? If so, then you know what having Torschlusspanik means.


This is used colloquially and denotes the fear of being too late for something, or not achieving certain goals by a specified time. It often specifically refers to partnership goals.




  • Sara: I would love to have children as soon as possible, despite the fact that Tim and I met only a few weeks ago.
  • Monika: That's really soon. Why don't you take your time? To me it sounds like you have Torschlusspanik.


This expression comes from the middle ages. In this time, the town gate (Tor) was closed at night to protect its residents. Therefore, anyone venturing outside the gates had to be careful not to miss the nightly gate closure (Torschluss). Those who suffered from Torschlusspanik were afraid of being too late, and being locked out.   


As a result,Torschlusspanik denotes the fear of being too late for something, especially in one’s relationships and personal life. As stated above, examples of specific fears are not having kids early enough or not meeting the right partner by a certain age.


Das Fingerspitzengefühl


  • Finger: finger
  • Spitzen: tips
  • Gefühl: sense


We all know how it feels when a friend or colleague is really upset and needs some comfort and understanding. We also are familiar with situations that can be so tense that even the tiniest insensitivity can lead to it being escalated.


These situations can be difficult. However, there are some people who are particularly sensitive and handle these instances very well by being extremely empathic. These people are showing Fingerspitzengefühl.




  • Sue: I felt like I couldn't really help Thomas or make him feel better after he told me about his problems at home.
  • Noah: Me neither, but his friend Leah really found the right words to make him feel better. She proved to have Fingerspitzengefühl in that situation.


People with Fingerspitzengefühl are especially empathetic. In difficult situations or conversations, they show a special sensitivity towards the other person.


Das Fernweh


  • Fern: far
  • weh: sore


We all know what it means to be homesick. Fernweh is the exact opposite. It's the longing to leave one’s familiar surroundings and go out into the world.




  • Lisa: I just thought about my trip to Asia last year and I'm starting to have Fernweh again.


Essentially, it denotes the desire to travel.




  • Schein: to seem or to glow/shine
  • heilig: holy


Most of us have probably encountered someone who we think of as scheinheilig. It's a person who just pretends to be sincere and friendly on the outside, but in truth, he or she is not.  




  • Sara: It would be scheinheilig of me to encourage her to take that exam even though I know she will fail.


In German, Schein refers to both “the glow (shine) of a holy person,” as well as “to appear” or “to seem.” Therefore, a person who is scheinheilig literally appears to be sincere with the aura of a holy person.


Das Abendbrot


  • Abend: evening
  • Brot: bread


When Germans set the table in the evening for dinner, it's usually Abendbrot-time. Abendbrot literally means the bread you eat for dinner.




  • Julia: Any ideas of what we can do for Abendbrot today?


Often, this meal includes bread with butter, a variety of cheeses, sausages, cold cuts, a few raw vegetables (such as tomatoes or sweet peppers), and boiled eggs. However, the term Abendbrot is also often used in a general way for "having dinner."


Der Kummerspeck


  • Kummer: misery
  • Speck: bacon/fat


Do you remember the last time you broke up with someone and were so sad that you needed to eat a lot of comfort food? The additional weight gain that shows on your belly afterwards is called Kummerspeck.




  • She gained a lot of Kummerspeck during her unhappy marriage.


So, this expression means eating more and gaining weight out of misery, sadness, or depression. Basically, Kummerspeck is always related to emotional overeating.


Der Zeitgeist


  • Zeit: time
  • Geist: spirit


Der Zeitgeist is the dominant attitude or mindset of a particular historical time period. In other words, it is a political, social, or cultural state of mind related to something such as fashion, music, or other trends. However, this term can also include long-term social structures or philosophies.




  • Her songs perfectly captured the zeitgeist of 1980’s Germany.


Today, you could also translate Zeitgeist as the word “mainstream.”


Das Verschlimmbessern


  • verschlimmern: to make worse
  • bessern: to improve


Many of us have gotten ourselves into a situation in which something is not quite right, and we have a strong desire to make it better, or even perfect. However, sometimes our efforts just seem to make it worse than it was before. In German, this is know as to verschlimmbessern something




  • Niklas: My email is too long and complicated. Can you help me with it?
  • David: Sure. I'll cross out these sentences and this passage and change these words. What do you think?
  • Niklas: Well, it's shorter but now it’s very difficult to understand. In fact it's worse than before. You have totally verschlimmbessert my email.  


So, verschlimmbessern refers to when you try to improve something, but end up making it worse.


Die Geborgenheit


  • geborgen: secure


When I think of Geborgenheit, I automatically think of myself as a child. Specifically, those situations in which I felt scared, insecure or anxious, and somebody made me feel protected and secure again.




  • When I was with her, she made me feel like "nothing could ever harm me." She gave me Geborgenheit.


Geborgenheit describes a condition of cozyness, warmth, and shelter.


So, there you have it. Ten words unique to the German language. Now it's your turn to impress some German friends or colleagues with these typical words. Can you form a German sentence with one of them? Write them in the comments section and I will have a look.


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Hero Image by m.a.r.c. (CC BY-SA 2.0)