Homer Simpson’s insight that “those Germans have a word for everything” might never have been more appropriate than during these pandemic days.
According to the Leibniz Institute for the German Language, the German lexicon added 1,200 words during the last year, well above the annual rate of some 200 new words, with many of the new additions inspired by COVID-19 in capturing the zeitgeist.
The list has appeared as many coronamüde (tired of Covid-19) and overzommed (no translation needed) Germans struggle to understand why authorities have so badly bungled the country’s vaccination program in suffering a collective case of impfneid (envy of those who have been vaccinated), despite the fact that a Germany company is responsible for one of the first two vaccines to become available.
That country’s second wave once again forced millions of children into distanzunterricht (distance learning) over the late fall and winter months while closing large parts of the economy, including retail shops, restaurants and hair salons, leaving many with a coronafrisur (coronacoiffure).
Contrary to its popular image as a centralized-run state, Germany is a complex amalgam of federal, state and municipal administrative authorities, who often fail to communicate and coordinate with each other, their political masters, both large and small, prone to parochial and provincial interests that clash and conflict with the bigger picture.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has chided this tendency in the past, when she accused state leaders weary of restrictions of engaging in what she called a Öffnungsdiskusionorgie, here best translated as an orgy of discussions about openings.
The mood on the streets has not been better. Maskenmuffel (mask grouches) often stand accused of being a maskenarschloch (maskasshole), while querdenker (lateral thinkers) concerned about restrictions have stormed the steps of the Reichstag while spreading conspiracy theories about Bill Gates.
It used to be so much better. The selfish, panic-induced hamsterkauf (hoarding buy) of the first wave soon gave away to collective solidarity as balkonsänger (balcony singers) serenaded essential workers as Germany’s response to the pandemic drew praise as the government pumped billions into the economy. Notably, the German finance minister used the English word bazooka (rather than panzerfaust) to describe this approach, an understandable choice in light of recent German history.
But any smug feelings of schadenfreude (long in lexicon) about the failing of others, especially those in the United States, have disappeared a long time ago, as has gemütlichkeit (warm of sense of comfort), another German word not easily translated but very precise in its meaning for German-speakers.
The distanzbier (distance beer) with selected friends has become the new social norm. What was once a friendly kiss on the cheek has turned into a todesküsschen (kiss of death) and fans of German football must contend themselves with watching geisterspiele (literally ghost games, but figuratively games without fans) on television.
The sheer volume of new words is also reminder of a saying from another great humorist, Mark Twain, who said only the dead have time to study German.
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