Messie, der

A post on Language Log invites comment on whether German has a friendly word for mess. Which brings us to the huge inroads in the last few years of der Messie, a term which has an almost loveable ring to it in the German language.The success of the book Messie No More brought messie into German as a handy term for defining a person whose messiness as a matter of personality or culture, not of failure.

Are there other terms where the German language describes mess affectionately and encourages a tolerant attitude towards it? Definitely. We did a little brain storming today around a breakfast table in Germany and came up with plenty of words that can be used to describe a mess of possessions in a positive light:

  • Krimskrams
  • Krempel
  • Sammelsurium
For a garden that is in a mess, one only needs to declare that it is naturbelassen. There's also a wealth of robust, humorous and colloquial phrases in defence of a mess on your desk:
  • "Das ist kreatives Chaos" (very common; the witty, post-modern variant is "geordnetes Chaos")
  • "Hier wird gearbeitet" (you can buy this on placards to permanently hang over your mess)
The idiomatic wie bei Hempels unterm Sofa is perhaps not positive, but implies that one's mess is more a matter of cultural attitude than of failure.
The hidden roomful or closet of mess is the Rumpelkammer, a fairly neutral word that is related to der Rümpel (junk), and this brings us to entrümpeln, a lovely German word for getting rid of junk. Look up the Yellow Pages under Entrümpelung and you'll find businesses that clear out homes where the tenants are too sick or too dead to do it themselves (much more efficient and sometimes more profitable than holding a Flohmarkt).

Der Messie is capitalized and given male gender and does not, so far, seem to inflect other than as plural die Messies. ... Read More

Loft, der

When traditional German apartments are hard to find, der Loft is a potential alternative in old-time industrial zones of the inner cities. However don't expect it to necessarily be a loft in the English sense of a high attic space made habitable. The German word for that is a Dachausbau, and to describe a lofty room, the Germans say mit hohe Decken. A loft in the real-estate sense - a light-touch conversion to living or studio space of the roof space over a factory, shop or warehouse - does not have a specific German word to describe it. Einer Loft is something else. Here's an advertisement placed by profi-partner on immobilienscout24 in February 2009: "Loft Living nahe Kollwitzplatz! Ruhiges Erdgeschoss-Backstein-Loft mit Terrasse." No, there's no mistake: the ad confirms this really is on "Etage 0" (the ground floor). The photo confirms it is neither a loft, nor lofty. There will never be any pattering of raindrops on the flat ceiling of this place unless several upper storeys are bombed away first. There are no exposed pipes or ducts,
no stained concrete floor, no exposed interior brick, no 6-metre-high ceiling. What happened? Closer inspection of the advertisement reveals that the space is a converted factory. To be fair, some US realtors might also not hesitate to describe a low-ceilinged ground-floor factory
conversion as a "loft". But that would be an ordinary realtor's lie (some people maintain that real estate agents are incapable of speaking the truth). In Germany it's not a lie: it's Denglisch. Der Loft (genitive: des Lofts) is capitalized and the "Lo" in it has a long O like "low".
... Read More

bom chicka wah wah

Germans probably only got major exposure to the bom chicka wah wah phrase during an intensive TV advertising multinational campaign for Axe hygiene products in 2007 that showed teachers and shop assistants going into instant sexual arousal after smelling the scent. The phrase is explained at the Urban Dictionary as a spoken representation of an electric-guitar riff from 1970s porn movies that gained wider currency through an episode of the US TV series Friends. It essentially means, "We are making a transition from social distance to sex." Its reprehensible use in the TV ads did not seem to excite any particular criticism in Germany, partly because it was not completely understood in German-speaking lands. I have not seen bom chicka wah wah in print in German, but I would suppose it would need a certain amount of respelling to fit German orphographic conventions: perhaps bum tschika ouau ouau. Representing wow or wah with the German alphabet is difficult. ... Read More


The nation that invented the DIN, the Deutsche Industrienorm, has always been intoxicated by standards. So it proved irresistible when someone had the idea of attaching a "hip" English word to something so utterly German as standards. But by what evil twist did Standard then develop a non-standard spelling? Cantor offers a hilarious survey in his blog of the rapidly spread of the variant Standart in the German language.

  • (2008-)

  • (2008-)

... Read More

Preishit, der

This anglicism is common on used-car lots as a label on a bargain car that we would say was "priced to sell", though buyers should treat it with particular suspicion. Der Preishit surprises many English speakers, because the last four letters suggest a rude word. However this calque of price and the German sense of hit disturbs nobody in the used-car world, which in any case has a lingo all of its own, with expressions such as mit Klima (with air-conditioning) and mit Color (equipped with tinted-glass windows). Der Preishit is capitalized, hypenated, given male gender, inflected with -s- in the genitive and pronounced with an uvular -r-.
... Read More


Joining is dominant feature of German orthography, whereas it plays a lesser role in English. If anything, the current trend in English is to reduce hyphenation and to separate words. A century ago, address books in England commonly showed High-street and Green-lane as street names, but nowadays these proper names would be spelled High Street and Green Lane. In German however, joining of so-called Komposita is regarded as a necessity to avoid ambiguity. The most complete form of joining, without any space between words, is known as Zusammenschreibung, while hyphenation is termed Durchkopplung. Anglicisms routinely undergo this tranformation, which may appear strange, especially in words like topfit or Preishit, but is entirely consistent with the rules of German orthography. Translators must however pay attention to undoing these transformations when translating towards English: Open-Source-Enzyklopädie is an open-source encyclopaedia (only one hyphen) and Heavy-Metal-Band (or Heavymetal-Band) can only be a heavy-metal band. ... Read More

Pumpgun, die

This curious anglicism is an abridgement of the English term pump-action rifle. The handgrip of this type of rifle (or shotgun) can be slid back and forth in order to eject and chamber a round of ammunition, an action that is faster than either bolt-action or lever-action reloading. Die Pumpgun is capitalized, joined and given female gender and is inflected with -s- in the genitive.

  • Die lebenslange Haftstrafe gegen einen Pumpgun-Schützen wegen vorsätzlichen Mordes bei Winterbach (Baden-Württemberg) ist rechtskräftig.... Er hatte im März 2007 als falscher Polizist zwei Männer auf einen Parkplatz gelockt und mit einem Repetiergewehr in ihr Auto geschossen.... Als [einer] zu fliehen versuchte, schlug der Angreifer mindestens achtmal mit dem zwei Kilo schweren Gewehr auf den Kopf des Opfers. (dpa 2008-07-28)

... Read More

Lounge, die

With just two omnibus Anglicisms, das Center and die Lounge, one could in theory describe the entirety of urban life. Every activity where your mien is earnest - government, religion, education and commerce - may take place in a building styled das Center. But if the management desires that you smile, the business space will be dubbed die Lounge. The genesis of the lounge, as a more comfortable type of living room in a home than an old-fashioned parlour or best room, is no longer visible in German. However two compound derivatives, the lounge bar and the hotel lounge, clearly entered German decades ago and were abridged into a single term, die Lounge. That is as far as the execrable Duden Fremdwörterbuch gets with its out-of-date definition: "Gesellschaftsraum in Hotels o. Ä; Hotelhalle / Cocktailbar mit anheimelnder Atmosphäre." Die Lounge today is just as likely to mean a status or a part of a website as a physical space. Examples include:

  • Alice Lounge (2008-)

  • Silver Lounge at the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth (2008-)

Die Lounge is capitalized, given feminine gender, inflected with -S- in the genitive and pronounced with a less complex diphong than in English. ... Read More

Mainstream, der

This is one of the arsenal of disparaging terms that German writers can use to suggest that their own obscure tastes or opinions are far superior to the majority tastes of their parents, children, cousins and other contemporaries. The idea is to explain your own eccentric opinions or musical tastes and then patronizingly point out that they are not yet appreciated by the Philistines of der Mainstream. In English, the main stream is literally the principal current in a body of water, and one can thus speak of mainstream tastes, opinions and science (in adjectival use, the two words can be merged), meaning the normal, conventional and prevailing point of view. Interestingly, the phrase has a positive character in English: the writer usually describes some other person's nutty ideas and then gently explains that they cut no ice with the mainstream experts. There is even a verb, to mainstream, meaning to establish a previously eccentric idea within the canon on accepted views. The negative connotation in German is an interesting example of the fascination with dissidence that Somerset Maugham notes in Of Human Bondage. A comparable example of this patronizing treatment of anything common is the phrase im Volksmund, which one uses to quote a mocking German word or phrase while affecting not to be amused at it or pretending to be personally unwilling to use the term (although one really is doing so). Hamburger Abendblatt writer Matthias Gretzschel for example describes a Dresden bridge thus: die Loschwitzer Elbbrücke, die im Volksmund völlig zu Recht "Blaues Wunder" genannt wird (2008-07-05). One supposes that his mother or father had used the phrase Blaues Wunder but Gretzschel feels it is too trite by his own personal standards of originality. Der Mainstream is capitalized, given masculine gender and may be pronounced with an uvular R. It has its stress shifted from the second syllable (English) to the first (German). ... Read More

Model, das

Model can be a dangerous term in German, since it is used in small ads in newspapers such as the Hamburger Morgenpost as a euphemism for a prostitute. One should be careful to avoid any ambiguity when applying the word to an honest working girl enhancing some clothes with her smile. The Duden distinguishes das Model with one L (plural die Models) from das Modell with a double L (plural die Modelle). The former is regarded by Germans as a true Anglicism, and can only be applied to fashion models. The latter is a multilayered German term that can variously mean a prototype, a miniature replica (Modelleisenbahn) or an artist's (frequently human) model. But the latter has also acquired senses of the English word model, including that of a scientific model or of a model of car (derived term: die Modellpolitik). To avoid ambiguity when referring to a female demonstrator of clothes, the media often use inflated terms such as das Fotomodel, or, since the wild success of a German knockoff of America's Next Top Model, das Topmodel. One recent dpa story about das Magermodel (below) described the workers as das Topmodel or das Supermodel, but in only two instances deep in the text as plain old das Model.

  • Weil die Kleider noch Spiel zum Körper haben sollten, bevorzuten die Modemacher oft magere Models. (dpa, 2008-07-11)

  • Die Bilder von Topmodels beeindruckten junge Frauen am stärksten. (dpa, 2008-07-11)

  • Der Fall des brasilianischen Supermodels Ana Carolina Reston, die vor zwei Jahren mit 21 Jahren an Magersucht starb, hatte die Branche aufgeschreckt. (dpa, 2008-07-11)

... Read More

Kescher, der

A purse net stretched on a stiff wire ring with a long pole as a handle is known as ein Kescher in German. It is practically indistinguishable from a North German accenting of the English word catcher, with the difficult English A assimilated to a German E and the unfamiliar T dropped. Many terms of nautical German have a close affinity with terms used on English coasts, and it is plausible to suppose that fishermen on both sides of the North Sea, or Mare Frisicum, would have bought and sold hand nets under this name. So far, we have not obtained any evidence for this, and do not wish to create a folk etymology: this proposed connection is purely a hypothesis. If it were to be correct, we would have a curious situation, since there is a less modified loanword with a similar source, der Catcher, in German. The latter is a pseudo-Anglicism to mean a wrestler. Its root is in the same English verb, to catch. The Duden remains agnostic about der Kescher, tracing the etymology to a word Kesser in Mittelniederdeutsch and adding "weitere Herkunft ungeklärt". Nowadays, a Kescher (also spelled Käscher) is just as likely to be a child's butterfly-net plaything at the beach, or a skimming net used to clean a swimming pool. Der Kescher is capitalized, given masculine gender, inflected with s in the genitive and is the origin of the verb keschern, meaning to fish something out of water with a catcher net.

  • Von Schlauchbooten aus wurde am Montag das Unkraut mit Käschern aus der 2000 Meter langen Regattastrecke gefischt - dpa, 2008-08-28

... Read More


Pink never refers in German to the plain pink colour denoted by the word in English, but is an abridgement of the English term shocking pink. The English word pink was probably inspired by the delicate pale reds of a flower, Dianthus gratianopolitanus, known in English as pinks and in German as the sommerblühenden Nelken. It is no accident that the German word for the same colour, rosa, is also derived from the observation and cultivation of garden flowers, in this case the rose. The most remarkable episode in the fashion history of pink/rosa was the fascination for decades with pink or "rosy" skin, particularly on the cheeks, and the sale of powders to achieve this effect. When I was young, stage make-up employed the reddest of such powders, rouge, to suggest an elderly lady still stuck in the fashion excesses of her youth, and I can remember a few granddames still left at the time who made up their faces this way. However this implication would probably be lost on audiences today. Shocking pink is a 20th-century invention, and may at some point in the future be used as a figure for a similar out-of-date fashion sense. Pink, which is a false friend, is inflected as a normal German adjective. ... Read More