10 German words with hilarious literal translations

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10 German words with hilarious literal translations
A skunk eating from an Easter egg at the Hanover zoo. Photo: DPA

When you literally translate German words into English, you often get some pretty funny results. Can you guess what these ten direct translations really mean?


It may be a tricky language to master, but one of the great things about German is that you don't actually need a particularly large vocabulary. That's because, rather than inventing new words, Germans are big fans of creating compound words out of existing ones.

A simple example of this is the German for compound word Wortzusammensetzung (word-together-setting). Sometimes the meanings are obvious, while others are a little harder to grasp...

1. Brustwarze - breast wart

The German language doesn’t mess around when it comes to body parts. Brustwarze literally translates as “breast wart”, and yes, it means nipple.


It may seem crude to name such a sensuous part of the body after a viral growth, but, hey, whatever makes sense to Germans.

And it's not the only term for a body part that sounds a little grim. Zahnfleisch (tooth-meat) means gums.

2. Liebfraumilch - beloved lady milk

While we're on the subject of breasts, this German wine appears to be a rather saucy reference to the teat of the Virgin Mary.

Liebfraumilch is a semi-sweet white German wine that dates back to the mid 1700s. Translated from German, the name means ”Beloved Lady’s Milk” and refers to the Virgin Mary. We guess that naming a wine after the milk that nurtured the baby Jesus is praise indeed.

The name was initially given to the wine produced from the vineyards of the Liebfrauenkirche or “Church of our Lady” in Germany’s Rhine region. Nowadays Liebfraumilch is produced mainly for export.


3. Handschuhe - hand shoe

Moving on from our body to what we dress it in, Germans also like to keep the language absurdly simple. Why have a completely new word for things we put our hands in, when they are really just shoes for your hands? What do gloves and mittens even mean anyway?

Then there is the German word for a brassiere. Isn't that just something for propping up your boobs? So it's simpler to call it a Büstenhalter, (bust-holder) right? Even if that does make it sound a touch perverted.

4. Klobrille - toilet glasses

Photo: Pexels / Wikimedia Commons

We've all been there. That first house meeting with our German flatmates when the topic of cleaning comes up. How many of you were left wracking your brains at what on earth these dirty Klobrille (toilet glasses) could be?

While you might at first guess that this is some strange device Germans use to help inspect every inch of the toilet bowl, it actually just means loo seat. Don't worry, Germans aren't that fussy about cleanliness!

5. Stinktier - stink animal

This one is beautifully blunt and gives you the impression that, when it came to naming animals in Germany, kids got to do it rather than scientists.

What's that animal that smells bad? A skunk you say? But isn't "stink animal" so much more accurate?

That thing that's like a snail but hasn't got a shell... yeah the one English people call a slug. Let's call that a naked snail (Nacktschnecke).

And the one that spends the whole day eating - the wolverine - let's name that the eat-a-lot (Vielfraß).

6. Eselsbrücke - donkey's bridge

Photo: DPA

The meaning of the word “donkey's bridge” certainly isn't obvious, but it's a lot more approachable than our word for it - "a mnemonic device". What a mouthful.

A mnemonic device is just a trick you invent to help you remember something. The German word actually comes from the Latin term “pons asinorum” (bridge of donkeys) that refers to a point that people find hard to remember.

7. Donnerbalken - thunder beam

The word Donnerbalken is surely one that makes any of us too young to have done military service rue the day it was abolished. Originally the term was for a communal military latrine, but it is now often used in slang to refer to the toilet.

Literally thunder beam, it's close to the English slang term “thunderbox”. It doesn't need much explaining - “beam” refers to the seat-like bar, and the “thunder” you can probably figure out for yourselves.


8. Durchfall - through fall

Another scatological one, and one which leaves little to the imagination. It means diarrhoea, and translates as “through-fall”.

You might recoil in disgust, but then what does “diarrhoea” mean? It comes from the Greek, and it also means to “through-flow”. So we Anglophones aren’t much better, but we just don’t know our own language very well.  

9. Wildpinkler - wild pee-er

A Wildpinkler at Ulm Minster. Photo: DPA

Let’s flush down one more toilet-related word. In fact, this one describes someone who avoids the toilet. Literally a “wild-pee-er”, a Wildpinkler is someone who likes to relieve themselves outside.

It might sound harmless, but only last month, it was revealed that wild pee-ers were eroding the ancient walls of Ulm Minster church, a building which boasts the tallest spire in the world.

So maybe you should find a Klobrille or at least a Donnerbalken next time nature calls.

10. Dudelsack - yodel sack

Photo: DPA

English has also gone for a literal one here. But bagpipes is an awfully diplomatic description for a bag that emits a seemingly random sequence of twiddly sounds while a stocky Scot goes red in the face. 

Germans cut to the chase and named the instrument the Dudelsackwhich means the bag that tootles or yodels.

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Anonymous 2021/03/29 14:17
Great rage - tollwut - rabies
Anonymous 2021/03/28 17:15
Great article. Don’t forget about Nudelholz!

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