Many German compound words are unique. They do not have any real equivalent in the English language. Those who are used to German translations find that they soon acquire expertise in dealing with compound nouns. There are a few that have found their way into colloquial English, such as the word “wanderlust” and the less common “schadenfreude”, but for the most part they are only found in their German context. Nevertheless, learning some of these compound words is quite fun.
1 The Earworm / Ohrwurm
Now if someone said that they had an earworm in English, you would no doubt be pretty worried, but in the German language the compound noun “ohrwurm” doesn’t mean anything really unpleasant. When a song, a riddle or tune seems to be stuck in your brain, that is what is called the “earworm” It’s as if the jingle has eaten into your head from where you heard it!
2 Distance Pain / Fernweh
Have you ever pined for somewhere else: a holiday destination a romantic beach or remote mountain village? Germans are some of Europe’s most consummate travellers and maybe it’s because of fernweh, the longing for distant places. Of course, if you do spend a long time from home, you may then experience pangs of heimweh, which is the German word for homesickness.
3. Grief Bacon / Kummerspeck
In English the term “comfort food” is well understood. When things get you down, you grab something t eat and gorge yourself silly. It doesn’t do you any good in the long run, of course, but at the time it seems to dull the emotional pain. In German, the equivalent becomes the compound noun “kummerspeck”, which literally means “grief bacon”, but is better translated as “comfort food”.
4. Inner Pig Dog / Innerer Schweinehund
When you are feeling too lazy to do something or just can’t be bothered, you are listening too hard to your “inner pig dog” or in German, your “innerer Shweinehund”. This is a good example of a compound noun that just doesn’t have an exact translation in English.
5. Closing-gate panic / Torschlusspanik
The literal English translation of the German compound noun “torschlusspanik” or “closing-gate panic” sounds like the nervous rambler who torments himself worrying whether he shut a farmer’s gate on a walk in the countryside. But it’s not! The German translation is more related to worrying whether you haven’t yet accomplished something and should do so before you get too old. It’s a classic baby boomer word!