You know that moment when you can’t find the word to describe what’s happening. Or how you feel.
It can be a pretty frustrating, right?
Learning a new language opens the doors of communication in more ways than one. The word that describes the emotion you’re feeling may actually exist – you’re just searching for it in the wrong language.
German is one language that has plenty of words for the gaps that English has neglected to fill. Here are a few of my favourites.
Fernweh – the Feeling of Wanting to be Somewhere Else
Have you ever had a feeling that you’re not currently where you truly want to be? There’s a word to describe that: Fernweh, which indicates an acute desire to travel. Where the German word Wanderlust is used for someone who is literally lusting to travel, Fernweh means you have an overpowering desire to travel.
It means “distance-sickness”, almost the opposite of homesickness. Time not spent travelling leaves you feeling sad and lost. You don’t want to have one particular home – rather you’re content travelling the world, drifting from place to place, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures.
Fernweh is the word used to describe true nomads, those with an incurable case of “itchy feet”.
Schadenfreude – Taking Pleasure in Someone Else’s Misfortune
Is there someone in the world that you truly despise? Do you revel in happiness anytime they encounter bad luck in their life?
The Germans have coined a word for this: Schadenfreude. It refers to the pleasure gained from another’s misfortune.
There might be one person in your particular social circle who seems to have an insane amount of good luck. You normally wouldn’t care one way or another, but they make a point of rubbing these successes in your face. You pretend to feel happy for them, but there is the odd twinge of jealousy.
Then something awful happens to them. Perhaps they get made redundant for their job. They’re devastated and you pretend to sympathise, but inside you’re dancing with glee. You feel that they’ve finally got their comeuppance and you’re more than happy to gloat over it.
“Harm-joy” – that’s Schadenfreude, and anyone who’s human has probably felt it at some point in their life!
Fremdschämen – the Shame You Experience From Watching Another’s Humiliation
On the flip side, Fremdschämen is a word to describe the empathy you feel for someone else in a truly humiliating situation.
Have you ever been at a wedding when the Best Man/Maid of Honour has tried to give a speech, while being off-their-face drunk? They ended up telling embarrassing stories that no one wants to hear or cracking jokes that aren’t funny. The audience tries to laugh encouragingly, but their insides are twisting in shame for that person. That feeling is Fremdschämen.
Kummerspeck – Excess Weight Gained from Emotional Eating
Kummerspeck has a wonderful literal translation – it means “grief bacon”. The meaning behind it is less amusing.
You might find yourself in a vicious cycle of emotional eating to distract yourself from bad feelings. Kummerspeck refers to the excess flab that appears on your body as a side effect of this situation.
Torschlusspanik – the Fear of Time Running Out
Torschlusspanik translates as “gate-shut-panic”, referring to the fear of opportunities closing forever as you get older. You might wake up one day and realise that you’ve missed the boat on something you’ve always wanted to do. It’s commonly applied to women who are experiencing the “ticking of the biological clock”.
Torschlusspanik is all the more reason to get cracking on the things you wish to do in your life… such as learning a foreign language!
Weltschmerz – a Feeling of World Weariness
Weltschmerz is used to describe the feeling you get when your expectations of the world fall disappointingly short. Whether you feel disappointment at a politician you had high hopes for, or general melancholy over the state of the world, you’re experiencing Weltschmerz.
It’s a common emotion felt by anyone watching the news – and is easily solved by simply turning off your TV!
Backpfeifengesicht – a Face that Needs to be Slapped
Is there someone you know whom you find to be insufferably smug? Maybe every time they open their mouth your palm itches as you feel an uncontrollable desire to slap them silly. That’s Backpfeifengesicht.
It might be the jerk at work who steals your food out of the fridge or the person in your social circle who tells racist jokes in front of another mixed-race friend. All you want to do is sink your fist in their face and that feeling is Backpfeifengesicht.
Verschlimmbesserung – Making Things Worse than they Already Are
Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve said something you regret? I know I have. You want to repair the damage and attempt to do so by trying to talk your way out of it. What you end up doing is digging a deeper hole for yourself. The German word for this situation is Verschlimmbesserung.
Verschlimmbesserung means to improve things for the worse. It’s an action that is regularly demonstrated in decisions made by governments and policymakers worldwide. An easy way to avoid verschlimmbesserung is to follow the old adage: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
Waldeinsamkeit – the Feeling of Solitude
Waldeinsamkeit translates literally to “the feeling of being alone in the woods”. It’s the emotion you get when you’re feeling most peaceful, undisturbed or in the thick of nature. You’re in a truly meditative state and feel at one with the world.
If you live outside a major city, you can easily experience Waldeinsamkeit by staring up at the night sky and taking in the stars. If that isn’t peace-inducing, then I don’t know what is!
Mutterseelenallein – Absolute Abandonment
There’s loneliness, there’s desolate loneliness, and then there’s Mutterseelenallein. The word translates to “mother soul’s alone”. If you were to experience it as an emotion, you would feel completely and utterly isolated and abandoned.
It’s hopefully a feeling you will never experience in your lifetime.
Schnapsidee – A Crazy Idea
Schnapsidee refers to a mad idea that you have – usually when you’re in a state of inebriation. Breaking up the word itself gives you the literal definition: “Schnapps Idea”!
These are plans that seem fantastic in the moment they’re thought up, but are regretted soon after. The word can also refer to an idea that seems so stupid that it must have been conceived by a drunk person.
So if you’re drinking and you suddenly have an idea so brilliant you can’t believe you’ve never thought of it before – it might be best to wait until morning for re-evaluation.
Feierabend – A Cause for Celebration!
The clock ticks over to 5:30pm and you leave work, rushing home where you take off your tie, and your trousers for good measure. You crash on the couch and turn on the TV. Of course there is a German word for that specific feeling: Feierabend.
It’s something that employees around the world experience, yet there is no word for that emotion in English. Feierabend translates to “celebration evening” – which is almost certainly what you’ll be doing. Work is done, you’re home and you have the whole evening ahead of you to do as you please. Yippee!
Sprachgefühl – A Natural Talent for Language
Most appropriate for a language website, Sprachgefühl refers to a natural talent or feel for a language. I believe anyone can learn a language and anyone can develop a “natural” talent for langauges.
I began to experience something like “Sprachgefühl” after I had learned a couple of languages. The first is the hardest – but from there you have a system in place. You know which study method works for you and you can apply it over and over again. That’s how I understand sprachgefühl.
English Has Some Catching Up To Do!
So there you have it. There is a word to describe the itch in the feet of a perpetual nomad, or the feeling of bliss you get from total solitude. You just weren’t looking in the right language.
Do you know of any German words that don’t have an English translation? Which ones are your favourites? Let me know in the comments!
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.