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OPINION | WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE! Germans coin words for the covid lifestyle

by Bernadette Kinlaw | April 12, 2021 at 1:57 a.m.

I'm not a fan of using a word from other languages when English probably has a fine word for what you want to say. I think it's funny when a person talking to English speakers throws in "Chewing gum is verboten here" when forbidden gets the point across just as well.

But I do enjoy learning about cool words in other languages. German seems to be such a difficult language to learn, partially because of the incredible length of some of the words.

Freundschaftsbeziehungen means a show of friendship. Nahrungsmittelunverträglichkeit means a food intolerance, such as an allergy to something edible.

Unabhängigkeitserklärungen means declarations of independence. An en at the end of the word makes it plural.

I'm grateful that I never had to write one-column headlines for German newspapers. How do they fit in more than one word?

In English, we have portmanteaus, which smash two words to create a new word. Motor and hotel make motel. Breakfast and lunch make brunch. The portmanteaus eliminate many letters. But I imagine that German speakers use some kind of super glue to join lots of already long words.

Many publications wrote in February and March about hundreds of words that Germany has added amid the coronavirus pandemic. I will note that in German, all nouns begin with capital letters. Normally, I would cringe at random capitalization, but here it's not random.

I have chosen my two favorite words already, and I can't be dissuaded. One is Lockdownspeck, which translates as lockdown bacon. It's the noticeable fat you've packed on because you're idle, bored and sorrowful during the lockdown.

The other is a similar word: Kummerspeck, which translates as grief bacon.

Face masks have a few names that are meant to be funny. Schnutenpulli means snout sweater. A blunter term is Gesichtskondom, or face condom.

To acknowledge that people have masks that are pretty, too,

the Germans have Mundschutzmode. Mund is for mouth. Schutz is protection. Mode is for fashion.

You want to have a drink with a friend, but you know you need to be 6 feet apart. This is an Abstandsbier, or a distance beer.

The restrictions on movement were part of a Wellenbrecher, or wave breaker. This was because the rules were meant to stave off a wave of coronavirus cases.

If you haven't been fortunate enough to get your vaccination yet, you might have Impfneid, or vaccine envy. This is a play on Futterneid, or food envy, an ailment I constantly experience.

The Washington Post describes a word that helps complainers describe the layers of added restrictions as the pandemic extends its stay: Salamilockdown, meaning a lockdown that happens in slices rather than at a single stroke.

Also from The Post: Mindestabstandsregelung, meaning a minimum distance regulation, is the German term for our social distancing.

I did not see this next one coming. To handle the added stress, you might try Glühweinstandhopping, or hopping between mulled-wine stands while also social distancing. But this word must have preceded the start of the pandemic.

Your less-than-ideal hair situation is called Coronafrisur, or covid hairstyle. If you worry to excess about the pandemic, you have Coronaangst.

The person who wants to shame the one who wears a mask that doesn't cover his nose uses the term Maskentrottel, or mask idiot.

The Leibniz Institute for the German Language, which monitors current German, listed 1,200 terms created during the pandemic.

The Washington Post coverage of the topic quoted a person from the institute to explain the rush of new words:

"Part of the need to find words so quickly is psychological, according to Christine Möhrs, a researcher at the Leibniz Institute for the German Language. 'By being able to talk about the crisis, I think, we reduce fears,' she said. 'We can share our insecurities. But that means we have to find many, many new words, because so many things happened during the last months.'"

I went to the institute's website which, not surprisingly, was in German. To find a few more fun word combinations, I had two open screens of the 1,200-word lists. The one on the left was translated into English, thanks to Google, and the one on the right was in German.

When you can only visit someone through the safety of a glass panel, that's called a Fensterbesuch, or window visit.

No doubt the people of Munich and elsewhere were disappointed when Oktoberfest was canceled in 2020. I presume people set up mini beer fests in their homes. Ersatz-Weisen means replacement Oktoberfest.

When you stay safe by kicking shoes with another person, that's a Fußgruß, or foot greeting.

When fans can't visit a stadium to watch a sporting event, it's called a Geisterturnier, or ghost tournament.

Held des Alltags translates into everyday hero. That's much more accurate than essential worker.

The person who hoards toilet paper (remember those days?) during the pandemic suffers from Hamsteritis. Its translation is also hamsteritis, so I guess that's how a hamster is. Nearly the same condition was called Zellstoffhamster, or pulp hamster.

Kuschelkontakt is the person who is OK to hug even when under distancing rules. It translates as cuddle contact.

But it's still a good idea to avoid Todesküsschen, or kisses of death. Those are what you might plant on someone's cheek if you're infected.

A person who refuses to wear a mask is nicknamed Maskengegner, or mask grouch.

In the U.S., we have plastic, transparent boards in supermarkets, medical offices and many other workplaces to stop the spread of germs in the air. The German word is Spuckschutz, or spit protection.

Two words I enjoyed were Rinderstau, meaning cattle jam, and Schweinestau, pig jam. Cattle jam and pig jam are not spreads for your morning toast. It's the production delay on beef and pork products that happened because of pandemic restrictions.

I liked Schlafschaf, which I guess rhymes. The translation also rhymes: sleep sheep. This is defined as a person who doesn't believe conspiracy theories but does believe the news. Strangely, this is listed as a pejorative word.

And finally, a great one. An event that can't occur because of restrictions is ins Covidwasser fallen. That means fallen into covid water.

Sources include I Am Expat, Mental Floss, NPR, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Leibniz Institute for the German Language, Fast Company, DW.com. Reach Bernadette at

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Print Headline: Germans coin words for our life with covid

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