One of the greatest things about learning a language is encountering new words that help you name a thing or feeling that you had no way to express before. Although some people claim Germans are unemotional (a totally untrue stereotype, by the way), the German language is filled with words to describe complex emotions. And what’s more, these words have no equivalent in the English language. For example, have you ever felt a certain sadness at the state of the world, or felt a sense of satisfaction when someone you dislike stubs their toe? German has a word for that! After reading this article, you will finally be able to name those emotions and more.
Let’s start with one of the most meaningful German words: Fernweh. Especially during the travel restrictions due to COVID, you may have encountered Fernweh: The longing to go somewhere far away, often with a melancholic connotation to it. Fernweh does not necessarily relate to a specific place; it just means you want to travel and be somewhere else for a while. The word originates from the German Heimweh (homesickness) and Ferne (distance).
- Example: “Ich habe so ein Fernweh.”
Have you ever witnessed someone else doing something embarrassing and, even though you weren’t involved, you felt embarrassed yourself? The Germans refer to that feeling as Fremdscham, a combination of the words fremd (foreign) and Scham (embarrassment). It’s often used as fremdschämen which is a separable verb.
- Example: “Wenn ich im Urlaub Deutsche mit Socken in Sandalen sehe, schäme ich mich fremd.”
Although Germans wouldn’t wish ill will toward anyone, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a word to describe the tinge of happiness you might feel when something bad happens to your enemies. This feeling of slight satisfaction when you witness a person you don’t like being inconvenienced by something is called Schadenfreude. It combines the words Schaden (damage) and Freude (happiness).
- There is even a German saying about it: Schadenfreude ist die schönste Freude. (Schadenfreude is the most beautiful kind of happiness.)
We all know the feeling of anxiety and slight panic when a looming deadline is approaching and we aren’t sure whether we will finish our tasks on time. The Germans have a word for that: Torschlusspanik. While it can be used in many different ways, it is most commonly used when referring to people in their thirties or forties looking to find a partner or have kids before it might be too late. Torschlusspanik consists of three German words: Tor (goal), Schluss (end, closing) and Panik (panic).
- Example: “Ich bin über 30 und habe keinen Partner, langsam bekomme ich Torschlusspanik.”
Have you ever read the news and upon seeing so many negative headlines, you felt a sense of doom and sadness for the world? In Germany, we have a word for this feeling: Weltschmerz. Consisting of the words Welt (world) and Schmerz (pain), the feeling describes exactly that — a pain you feel for the state of the world.
- Example: “Bei den schlechten Nachrichten bekomme ich Weltschmerz.”
Similar to Fernweh, Wanderlust describes the feeling of wanting to travel. The difference between the two is subtle, yet important: While Fernweh is a melancholic feeling, Wanderlust is an upbeat and happy one. The word consists of wandern (to hike) and Lust (mood).
- Example: “Ich fahre bald in den Urlaub, denn ich habe große Wanderlust.”
Surely everyone knows the feeling of loneliness. But did you know there’s a word on the exact opposite of the spectrum to describe being fully content to be with someone you love? The Germans call this feeling Zweisamkeit. Zweisamkeit is a word combination of the number zwei (two) and Einsamkeit (loneliness).
- Example: “Mein Partner und ich genießen unsere Zweisamkeit.”
Every year during springtime, the birds are singing, flowers start blooming again, the bees are buzzing — yet all you want to do is sleep? You might have a case of Frühjahrsmüdigkeit! Frühjahrsmüdigkeit refers to a feeling of lethargy and tiredness, specifically in spring. Unsurprisingly, it consists of these exact two words: Frühjahr (spring) and Müdigkeit (tiredness).
- Example: “Es ist April und ich habe Frühjahrsmüdigkeit.”
Who knew Germans had so many emotions?
So it turns out, despite the stereotypes, Germans are quite in touch with their emotions. In fact, they have so many complex feelings, they’ve even had to come up with new words to describe them! Learning and being able to use such advanced vocabulary can be a great asset to your journey to learning German (or to simply impress your friends). And if you can’t get enough, here are even more German words that have no English translation.
Anne is a German freelance writer and communication consultant. In addition to her job, she is the founder and coach of the Dutch non-for-profit organization CLUB Coaching. Due to her work, she resides in both Germany and the Netherlands. Whenever her time is not occupied with communication in all its forms, she spends time with her six pets, gardening or being creative with fashion and design. You can follow her on LinkedIn.