Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Germans coin words for our life with covid


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, Reach Bernadette at

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