10 Tricky Words in German That are Hard to Translate

When a speaker of any language is trying to get a point across in his or her language communication is relatively easy, especially if the listener speaks the same language. Problems start to emerge with a German English translation when trying to translate exactly words and phrases into another language without losing their true meaning.

This can be very frustrating for all translators, even the best and most experienced German translators. Languages did not evolve with the idea in mind of using words that could be directly translated into other languages as language groups were often located in relatively small groups, particularly in global terms, and never had the need to communicate with anyone outside their language group. Trying to provide a perfect translation with no loss of meaning is a relatively new concept for those who want to be bilingual or even multilingual. There are many words described below whose literal meaning is difficult for German translators to translate into English or even into any other language.

Torschlusspanik in German is translated literally meaning “gate-closing panic,” but in its context it means fearing the lessening of opportunities as the aging process starts.

Schadenfreude refers to the feelings of pleasure seeing someone experiencing misfortune which is also a difficult concept to translate in a German English translation situation.

Drachenfutter means ‘dragon food’ literally meaning a present you buy for your wife or partner when you have done something you shouldn’t have done. The word dragon is supposed to mean your partner who is most likely to be a woman.

Kummerspeck is referring to the after effects of eating comfort food with reference to gaining weight. The word means ‘grief bacon’ literally which would be very hard to translate effectively in a German English translation situation.

Fremdschämen – ‘Fremd’ as a suffix has many meanings such as strange, foreign or external. ‘Schämen’ has only one meaning which means ‘to feel ashamed or embarrassed’

Handschuhschneeballwerfer means the ‘glove snowball thrower’.

Treppenwitz literally means ‘stair joke’.

Backpfeifengesicht means a face that is asking to be slapped.

Geisterfahrer has a literal meaning of ‘ghost driver’, but in reality it is the word used for a person who is not driving on the right side of the road.

All these words pose problems for German translators whether it’s a German English translation or an English German translation.