We Guarantee You’ve Felt Lebensmüde (And Other German Words That Have No Translation)

As anyone who has embraced the term Schadenfreude knows, Germans are pros at summing up the human condition. Their extensive vocabulary of compound words that don’t have a direct translation is vast and makes you feel truly understood.

That’s why we’re loving this gem from The School of Life: German Untranslatable Words, a set of twenty cards, each with a compound word and its meaning, accompanied by illustrations.

If you’re feeling a little world weary, there’s a word for that: Lebensmüde (literally, life-tired), which School of Life describes as such:

We believe ourselves to be firmly attached to life, but a lot of our behavior attests to something more interesting and troubling; an occasional longing to give up our hold on existence. It is deeply useful to have this word to hand on gloomy days when it feels as if nothing will ever work out.

And if you’ve never come across a Backpfeifengesicht, well, you’re a better person than me:

A face that is begging to be slapped. Generosity towards others is key, but the German language is bracing and frank enough to acknowledge that there are also moments when it is simply more honest to admit that we have come face-to-face with a dickhead.

Tina Roth Eisenberg of Swissmiss pointed us toward this wonderful set, and as a native German speaker, she had a couple of her own suggestions: Fingerspitzengefühl (fingertips feeling, or the ability to deal with sensitive issues) and Eselsbrücke (literally, donkey bridge, or as we’d call it, a mnemonic device).

Of course, the Germans don’t have a monopoly on cool untranslatable words: let us not forget kalsarikannit, which roughly translates to “drinking home alone in your underwear with no intention of going out for the evening.” The Finnish even came up with an emoji for it.

German Untranslatable Words is available for $18 from The School of Life.

Do you have a favorite untranslatable word (in German or otherwise)? Tell us in the comments.



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