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Youth of Germany, Try Harder This Year

Frau_jugendwortHä Jungs, pull up your Kurzstrumpfen.  What a pathetic effort!  You know what I'm talking about.  It's your 2011 Jugendwort, or German Youth Word of the Year

Every year, Munich firm Langenscheidt gathers a jury of linguists and youths to select the most important words from the Jugendslang it hears.  This year, three of the five top finalists were borrowed from English—the first time this has happened.  You lazy-tongued layabouts!   I'd call this an Epic Fail.  And so would you, since that's the 2011 Jugendwort runner-up.

The real grown-up German Word of the Year, according to the authoritative Gesellschaft der Deutschen Sprache, also borrows from English.  It's Stresstest.  Pity that wasn't the German word of the year for 1999, when the Euro was introduced.  Instead, the GdDS chose the predictable  das Millennium.  Sleeping on the job, if you ask me.

Out-Guttenberging Guttenberg.

To add insult to lethargy, the youth of Germany stole one of the finalists from the adult list and added it to their own: the verb guttenbergen

As you may have read, Baron Karl Theodore of and at (von und zu) Guttenberg was bounced from federal Cabinet this year when the press discovered he had plagiarised much of his doctorate.  Hence, to guttenbergen something is to copy it. 

Are the Louis Vuitton bags sold by street vendors in Hong Kong just a cheap guttenbergen?  Has the photocopier become a modern Guttenberg Press?  And if one wählt some text aus via Kommand-C in Mikroweich Kraftspitz, one guttenbergt it to the Zwischenablage, right?

(About that last sentence—you now understand how others feel when we force them to adopt English tech jargon.)


Technology segues us into the fifth-place finalist, one of the three English words to make the cut: googeln, or to google. 

Hang bloody on.  Googling, as a verb, may be a new word, but it ain't that new.  We've been googling stuff online for at least a decade.  Much longer than we've been youtubing our children or friending our friends.

Apparently, this googeln means something different.  In German, you can now google something offline, too.  If you don't find your car keys in the hall, you can googeln them in the kitchen.  You might googeln all over the mall for the perfect pair of shoes.  Will that well-known German TV show  need to re-christen  itself Deutschland googelt ein Superstar?

Do these words have a future?  Will googeln and guttenbergen fade away once the joke wears off?   I suspect so.

Dick as a Brick

The only real German word—and the most useful—slips in at fourth place.  The marvellous Körperklaus, or body (Ni)c(ho)las.  In short, a klutz.

So why does German need a word for klutz, when they already have a word for klutz, namely klutz?  The answer: klutz isn't a German word.  It came into the American vernacular from Yiddish, based on  Klotz, hochdeutsch for a block or brick

A block or brick is nothing like a Körperklaus, and that's what makes the word so interesting.  The nation first heard Körperklaus on Germany's Next Top Model.  Not applied to some oafish meathead, oh no.  Körperklaus speaks to the manner in which some young women are so practiced in the preposterous poses of fashion models, or simply so unathletic, that they lack contol over their limbs.  Judge Heidi Klum saw one contestant dance, and summed up the result: the feet do not know what the arms are doing.  Perhaps we should replace spinning and stairmasters with, y'know, running around a bit.

By the way, if any native German speaker can say why such a young woman should be described as a Körperklaus rather than a Körpermaximillian, a Körpersebastian, a Körperwolfgang, or—why not?—a Körperheidi, please enlighten us.

The Testsieger.

Enough suspense.  What's the 2011 German Youth Word of the Year? 

It's Swag.

To have Swag labels one as effortlessly cool, and describes an enviable charisma and self-confidence.  It seems to have origins in hip-hop culture. 

The magazine Stern correctly identifies the etymology of Swag.  It comes from Soulja Boy's Turn my Swag On, a song about how he blings up to take on the world. He uses the word in its original sense; some kind of shiny treasure, perhaps stolen.  A swag was once a cloth bag which pirates and other ne'er-do-wells would use to carry loot. 

(Check out 6.15 in this video.  Monty Python was my generation's history teacher.)

Austrian rapper Money Boy translated the song as Dreh Den Swag Auf.  Though literally very far the original, the German lyrics definitely capture its spirit.  Money Boy, forgive me, is right on the money. 

How Swag made the leap from blingy to casual, relaxed and unselfconsciously cool intrigues me.  To walk with a swagger—a tempting translation—isn't quite right.   To swagger means not just to be self-confident, but to show off in some way, and that doesn't play well east of the Rhine.  I once tried to explain the concept of bling to a group of local marketers, and they met me with polite befuddlement. 

I suspect swag, in German, is a true word of youth subculture.  The tribe uses such language to define itself, with words invisible to the mainstream.  If so, Langenscheidt has proved its chops as a forensic lexicographer.

For example, contrast swag with the vocab of toney Munich broadsheet, the Suddeutsche ZeitungIt made a feature of the 2011 Jugendwort, and asked its upscale readership for an opinion.  Around two thirds had never heard the word swag, and put it in 17th place out of 25.  

Instead, they chose Zwergenadapter, or Gnome Plug  (a joky term for a baby capsule) as the SZ Jugendwort.  SZ readers install these Gnome Plugs into the second-place word, one so perfect in German that I needn't translate it.   An SUV is a Hausfrau Panzer.  This is almost as good as the Australian term: Toorak Tractor.

Honourable mention

There are plenty more interesting, amusing and usful words among those which Langenscheit collected.   Check out their youth dictionary, Hä?? Das Jugendsprache Wörterbuch.  (, you might note, is simply the German transliteration of the English word Hey.)

I've only just got through the first few entries, and my mind is boggled. 

I never knew that my grey hair made me a cemetery blonde.  Or that my bald pate made me a  roll-on deodorant-head.  Or that an actual roll-on deodorant is an underarm moped

As you would expect, young people busily invent new euphemisms for sex (extreme cuddling, anyone?). But it astonished me how much mental energy they put into new words for taking a dump.   Young people fuck more than us oldsters, but do they crap more, too?  It might hold for the heavy-drinking stage of one's life, if memory serves.

Abseilen (to abseil, or to lower a rope) and Abwursten (to sausage down) are self-explanatory metaphors for the act.  Not so self explanatory is the English translation. 

Apparently, American youth coyly tell us they're dropping the kids off at the pool, as they excuse themselves with a magazine and cigarette.  I'd never heard that one before, but then, I hang around in vulgar circles.  With their modesty, the young Americans of today set a fine example for their elders.

gives you French and Spanish translations, too.  You can buy den App for your Apfelhandy.  It's downloadbar from the Jugendwort website.

And on that note, let me submit downloadbar for consideration as 2012 German Youth Word of the Year.

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Copyright notice: Illustration sourced from, the publisher's website.  I believe that the reproduction of all images and content conforms with US and EU rules on fair use in quotation and criticism.

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