German words you didn’t know you needed to learn

German words you didn’t know you needed to learn

by Elaine Blum
Stripes Europe

Learning German as a second language is difficult and even when you finally manage to remember some of the simpler words and meanings, there are still many traps you can fall into when translating it. As a German who speaks both German and English fairly well, I know very well that many German compound nouns do not make any sense at all when translated to English. So, here are some words you probably would not know how to translate if no one told you.

One word that many of my American friends have found very entertaining is Schildkröte, which is translated to “shield toad”. Of course, you may then find yourself asking “What on earth is a shield toad?” It is not some strange animal that can only be found in Germany. That is just what Germans call a turtle.

Funnily enough, many of those peculiar German words involve animals. Another example is Eselsbrücke. Both parts of that interesting compound noun may be words you have already encountered in your interactions with the German language: donkey and bridge. Now, what could that be? Is it a bridge made specifically for donkeys? It was but not anymore. An Eselsbrücke is a sentence or word you make up as a memory aid to help you remember something better. The term stems from the fact that donkeys do not like to walk through water though, so people had to build small bridges to get them across rivers. Just like a memory aid, this was a small detour that lead to quicker results in the end, which is why we now use that term to describe said memory aids and not actual bridges anymore.

Another item on the list of compound words that involve animals, but actually have nothing to do with them, is Wasserhah- water rooster. It kind of sounds like it would be the German word for a male duck, but it is not. It means tap and is only related to roosters because long ago, our faucets were apparently shaped like roosters.

Now, the last term I want to explain is not necessarily related to animals but is always successful in creating some laughs. It is Kummerspeck. This translates to grief bacon, which describes the weight people sometimes tend to gain after painful breakups.

There are many more words like this, but if I were to explain all of them, I would have to write a whole book and not just this article. Hopefully, it helped clear up some general misconceptions though and will be helpful in your future encounters with those strange German terms. Always keep in mind, German words almost never mean what you first think they do.          

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