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The 14 German words that have entered the lexicon in Austria due to the pandemic

The 14 German words that have entered the lexicon in Austria due to the pandemic
The Notbremse has been given a new meaning. Photo: DPA
August 25th marks 18 months since the first case of Covid was detected in Austria, with a couple treated in Innsbruck having arrived from Italy. With the pandemic changing Austria immeasurably, here are 14 words which have now entered the lexicon.

It’s not just foreigners who have had to add to their lexicon as the pandemic spread across Austria over past 18 months. Locals and internationals alike have also had to internalise a new vocabulary, as the pandemic has up-ended their so many aspects of their lives.

Never known for a love of small talk, meaningless chatter has been reduced even further over the past months in Austria – meaning it hasn’t been the best time to practise your German skills.

But if you have had one conversation, it is likely to be about the pandemic.

Here is the vocabulary you need to be able to keep up when talk inevitably turns to the virus. Some of them are completely new words, and some of them are old words that have been given an entirely new meaning.

Aerosole – (aerosols) The tiny particles produced when you cough, sneeze or speak. Because the virus is transmitted via these little particles that circulate in the air, it is recommended to regularly open the windows to ensure that fresh air circulates through the room.

Abstandsregeln – (distancing rules) The rules on social distancing have meant that German speakers have had to start using the term Abstandregel to describe keeping distance in various contexts. 

Babyelefant – (baby elephant) Named Austria’s word of the year in 2020, Babyelefant became a symbol in the fight against the virus.

During the first wave of the pandemic, Austria sought to encourage participation with the social distancing requirement by telling people to stay ‘a baby elephant apart’, i.e. one metre. 

‘Baby elephant’: Austria announces 2020’s word of the year

The distance was extended to two metres after the introduction of the British variant, with Austria’s Health Minister Rudolf Anschober saying “the baby elephant has grown up”. 

Dritte-Welle – (third wave) The plotted curve of viral infections resembles a wave. The rise begins gently but become ever steeper. The first wave occurred in spring, the second came in autumn. On March 15th, Anschober said publicly that Austria was now entering a third wave

Einkaufswagenpflicht – (shopping trolley obligation) Many supermarkets have decided to control the number of people entering their stores by only allowing people in if they have a shopping trolley. The result is this beautifully German word.

READ MORE: The new German words that perfectly describe the coronavirus pandemic

Impfpflicht – (vaccines mandatory) A particularly hard word to say, as it repeats the unusual “pf” consonant combination.

One of the most heated debates of the crisis has been over whether to make vaccines mandatory.

However, Austrian leaders have frequently reaffirmed the position that vaccines would not be made mandatory. 

Still, initiatives like the Impfpass (vaccine passport) have led to accusations of an Impfpflicht through the back door.

Lieferengpässe – (delivery bottlenecks) Another key plank of the pandemic response that hasn’t worked is the purchase and delivery of vaccines. While other western countries, such as Israel, the UK and the USA, have speedily rolled out vaccines, Austria is lagging behind.

Due to a lack of supplies and logistical problems with deliveries to test centres, the word Lieferengpässe has cropped up repeatedly in the press.

Maskenverweigerer – (mask refuser/refusnik) The people who refuse to wear masks in confined spaces. Unfortunate ticket collectors on trains have had to deal with these people. 

Q&A: Everything you need to know about Austria’s coronavirus vaccination program

Öffnungsperspektive – (opening perspective) As the lockdown drags on, businesses in the retail and gastronomy sectors are becoming increasingly worried about whether they will be able to survive. They have been demanding that Merkel offer them an Öffnungsperspektive: a definitive timeline for when their businesses can start operating again.

Reproduktionszahl – (R-value) This is a number published which estimates how rapidly the virus is spreading at any given moment. If the number is above one, that’s bad news. If it’s below one, the virus is on the wane (at least temporarily). 

Sieben-Tage-Inzidenz – (7-day incidence) This is another key value used by decision makers and refers to the number of positive tests per 100,000 inhabitants over the past week.


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