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10 Beautiful German words everyone should start using

German is a beautiful language that has a lot of words that cannot be translated into English unless you’re describing them (which I will do below). There are no equivalent words in the English language, which makes them a lot more special. You can find my favourites below.


Das Fingerspitzengefühl

The feeling in your fingertips

To have empathy with other people

Die Schnapsidee

A liquor-idea

Either an amazing idea you have when drunk, or an idea that seems so
stupid that the person who thought of it must have been intoxicated!

Die Waldeinsamkeit

The forest-loneliness

The feeling you get when you are alone in the wild, with just nature
around you.


Gate-shut panic

The feeling that time is running out, often for a life goal such as having
children or finding ‘the one’.


Beauty sleep

When someone or something is not responding to you – or showing little
sign of action.



Feeling warm, cosy, relaxed and comfortable. For example, sitting by
a warm fire with some friends.



Someone who is pretending to be friendly and nice, but is actually very
sneaky and coy.


To be ashamed in somebody elses place, for example when your friend says
something stupid, and you stand next to them being ashamed in their place.



A brilliant response or comeback you think of after you have walked away
and are ‘halfway down the stairs’.


Malicious pleasure

To take joy in somebody else’s pain or misfortune. For example, when
the kid you never liked at school got punished by the teacher.

Danielle Bastiaens

Danielle Bastiaens

I am the project manager and business development manager at Tongue Tied (Manchester) Ltd. I am passionate about the arts, culture, food, travelling and languages and love to read, write and translate about any of these subjects.

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  1. Brian Harwood

    Geld für altes Tau

  2. Rory Marsden

    Great German expressions – thank you Danielle.

  3. liz

    Great words,no real alternative like Zeitgeist.The spirit of the age.
    I agree, it would be great to use them, but I think a majority of us would need help with pronunciation to be confident enough to use them.Maybe add the phonetic help?

  4. wez

    fingerspitzen gefuehl is being tactful

  5. Anton

    Very amusing to see these lovely words, thank you, Danielle! I was lured to this webpage by the mail-out featuring the word “Treppenwitz”. I know it’s being perhaps a little pedantic, since the translation and commentary is not wrong, and writers have in the past used it in that sense, but when I write or speak German, I almost exclusively use “Treppenwitz” in a different primary sense. My feeling is that this is more consistent with current usage and that the contribution of context to its use in German (and French) has moved its meaning differently in each of these languages somewhat over time, while it preserves much of its “original” sense in English, though most English speakers would probably not be aware of its derivation from the comment by Diderot.

    My morning coffee fuelled reflection on the shifts in meaning of this phrase across these three languages, underlines again for me the importance, particularly in a business setting, of using a really good translation service for the target or source languages where one does not have a sufficiently sound Sprachgefühl or mastery of the pragmatics of the relevant language. (There again, no sufficiently good translation occurs to me, but I am not a translator by profession of course, just a humble knowledge worker !) I am of the opinion however that these subtleties become even more important in a world of AI and increasingly automated translations as a point of differentiation.

    It is right I think that originally “Treppenwitz” was a back-formation from the term “esprit d’escalier” which are both originally used in the sense of the perfect, clever, witty, and apposite contribution to a discussion which occurs to the speaker only after he or she has left the gathering, (and it seems to me the French borrowing is used mostly today in that sense in English). When I think of its use in French, it seems to me to have shifted meaning slightly in current usage there as well, now perhaps to be more about an inability to think on one’s feet under pressure. But my point was that in current German usage, it seems to have, to my ear at least, acquired a more ironic kind of tone around self-contradictory statements about jokes, behaviour or ocurrences which are oddly inconsistent with the norm settiing.

  6. Katja Johnson

    Hello Danielle!

    Your website has been forwarded to me and after reading through it I’m going to just ask ahead and see if I can join your team? I am a German native, born in Germany of German parent, grand-parents, aunts, uncles…. You get the pictures ? BUT I was raised in France my whole life after moving there when I was just 7 years old. So I’m fluent in both German and French AND English since my husband, whom I’ve been with for 9 years, is American. I’ve been attending an American college (Central Texas College) and am working on finishing my degree.
    I’d love to work for you because I am all about the Internet for once, AND I love translating! It’s become a daily “thing” for me to translate back and forth in all 3 languages and it’s just so easy and fun.

    Thank you for reading this and considering me!

    Katja Johnson.

  7. Matthias

    for sure – sometimes it is not easy to translate what you like to say.
    Some other examples:
    Equal goes it loose – a famous german politician used it some years ago which means: “Gleich geht es los!” or “We are going to start in a few moments.”
    Very famous: “You can say you to me” which means: “Sie können du zu mir sagen”. In Germany there is quite a big difference between formal “Sie and Du” in personal interaction.
    Have you ever heard about “Ich bin der Hahn im Korb”?


  8. Rosemary Bowyer

    Loved this, and some were new to me. However a couple of the “literal” English translations are a bit shaky. “Dornröschen” is the name of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty princess, and is the title of that tale in Germany, so the expression cited means sleeping like Sleeping Beauty, rather than beauty sleep. An equivalent expession in England, though not a translation, might be “sleeping the sleep of the dead”. The literal meaning of ‘Schadenfreude’ is “damage pleasure” not ‘malicious pleasure’. In other words taking pleasure in harm or damage being suffered by others. (Slapstick comedy for example). That’s one expression that has crossed into English.

  9. Till

    ty for your website – guess the German gemutlichkeit is already set in English vocabulary – good luck and carpe diem


  10. NameRobot

    Very funny! Some additional words:
    Feierabend – Celebration Evening – It’s home time! (after work)
    Hüftgold – Hip Gold – Love Handles (also very cute)
    Warmduscher – Warm Showerer – wimp

  11. Spud

    Now we know who the seblinse one is here. Great post!


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