Seven German words that sound bad, but aren’t
German and English derive from the same base language so they have a great many similarities. I always tell new students that they should seek to make connections between English and German but also other words – especially newer so-called international words. However, there are some words in German that definitely do not mean what one might think. In today’s post we’ll look at 7 words that sound bad in English, but are perfectly harmless in German.
A brief history of plural word…s – John McWhorter
Let’s get the obvious out of the way at the start. Dick in German means fat or thick. To call someone dick in German isn’t as bad as to call them a dick in English, but it’s also not flattering. You might see dick in combination with Freunde. Dicke Freunde are close friends. Of course, if you want to express the English word dick in German you’ll want to know: der Schwanz, or die Pfeife (for penis), and der Depp (a person). See our post on German Body Parts.
Moving right along there is the other word people encounter quite early in any visit to a German speaking country usually in combination with the word Bier. Though a great many Biere with the epithet hell might give you one hell of a headache or hangover, the word just means light. If hell comes before the word Bier it should read: helles Bier, because Bier is neuter (das – word). Read about adjective endings in German here. If you want to talk about the English hell, you’ll need to learn the word die Hölle.
Here’s the famous Wolfgang Petry song Wahnsinn that features the word Hölle:
Ah yes, who hasn’t heard a German talk about taking a Dusch and laughed. Duschen of course means to shower and a Duschkopf is just a shower head. Don’t forget that Duschen is generally reflexive (sich duschen) sa we normally shower ourselves and not others. If you want to call someone a douche bag you’ll want to learn der Depp or der Trottel, or der Mistkerl. To make it easy try and learn all three and you’ll be well armed for insulting people in German, just don’t laugh when you hear: “I’ll be ready in 10 minutes, I just need to take a Dusch.” (Learn more about German reflexive verbs here.)
Fahrt is another one of those funny words that get children often laughing. of course you’ll hear it in the train, like in the example above, and see it in combination with the prefixes ein– and aus-. Fahrt, though it sounds just like the English fart, means drive or journey. If for some reason you want to talk about passing wind in German, you’ll need to learn the verbs furzen, pupsen, föhnen (to fart silently) and even this expression with the word fahren in it: einen fahren lassen. If you need to talk about the thing itself you’ll need the words: der Furz, der Pups (sounds like poops), der Pupser, and in Austria der Schas. (Read more about German verb prefixes here.)
This word might not look so bad, but most people coming from English fail to read it as “Tages + Hit” and see “Tage + Shit“. Of course Germans only use the English word shit when they are swearing and trying to express more frustration than the perfectly adequate word Scheisse can express. In a way, using shit in German is cooler. Germans also use the word fuck with the ease of Quentin Tarantino. A Tageshit though is just the daily special and is one of those German + English words that is supposed to be clear to everyone, but really just silly – they should just stick with Tagesmenü, which is in the dictionary and means daily special. (Read more about the use of Scheisse in German here.)
No, damit isn’t even said like damn it, but rather more “dah + mit“. Damit is one of those words that comes up everywhere in German and often causes people to scratch their head and wonder what does damit mean? One of the problems surely is that it’s both an adverb meaning thereby and a conjunction meaning so that. It belongs to the famous da-compounds. Of course, you might again be looking to express your frustration and need to say damn it in German, in which case you’ll want to say one of the following: 1. Verdammt noch mal! 2. Verflucht noch mal! 3. Zur Hölle damit! 4. Verdammt! (Learn more about German da-compounds here.)
Our last word is womit, and like damit – the separation is between the wo and the mit. Womit is a funny one because if you ever hear Germans say words like vest you’ll probably hear west. The w in German makes the same sound as the v in English. The v in German makes a similar sound to the f in English and in German. Here is the IPA pronunciation of womit: [ˈvoːmɪt]. This one is a bit of a stretch as if you are saying it or seeing it as vomit, you need to talk to your German teach a little more. Interestingly enough though, that w – v – f sound issue means that in German Vicks (the cough medicine label) is called Wick because if Germans pronounce Vicks with German phonetics it sounds like Ficks which is too close to Fick and ficken meaning to fuck. Just a little side note there. Again if you want to talk about vomit in German you’ll need to learn these verbs: kotzen, erbrechen, sich übergeben … and these nouns: die Kotze, das Erbrechen, der Vomitus. (Read more about German wo-compounds here.)
There we have it seven German words that look like they mean bad things in English, but don’t. That said, in general if you run across a word like der Ball it means ball and die Maus means mouse and das Haus is house. Many words are very similar so take a stab at it and learn to use a dictionary to check your theory. Of course you should also be able to understand quite a bit from context, Germans don’t generally suffer from Tourette Syndrome.
- Going to the doctor in German – German body parts
- German Adjective Endings
- German Reflexive Verbs
- German Verbs with Prefixes
- The Use of Scheisse in German
- German Da-Compounds
- German Wo-Compounds