German word of the day: Albern

Rachel Stern
Rachel Stern - [email protected]
German word of the day: Albern
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

If you're feeling playful or silly, this is the word for you. And it's also the name of a district in Vienna.


Albern is the German word for describing something which is silly or childish, often in a funny way. But it can also have a negative connotation, summing up something that is completely senseless. 

While many young people alternatively now throw around the English word "goofy" - which even landed a nomination as one of the top youth words of 2023 - Albern has a history that dates back long before the days of Denglisch.

READ ALSO: This year’s top 10 youth words and what they mean

It stems from the 10th century with the word alawāri, meaning friendly or benevolent, with its definition evolving over time, according to Duden. But another theory holds that it's related to the medieval German word Alb (elf) and that its current meaning is influenced by the idea of mischievous or playful elves.

The noun Albernheit is often also used to describe general lighthearted silly situations and is often interchangeable with childlike.

The word can be utilised as a verb, as in er albert (he's acting silly). But another more common, colloquial way of saying that someone is goofing off is to say that they macht Faxen

Albern is also coincidentally the name of a district in Vienna, known for its historical significance as a former location of a quarantine station during the 18th century. This area along the Danube River played a crucial role in preventing the spread of contagious diseases.

It was an independent community until after World War II, when Austria was divided into zones of occupation, with Albern situated in the Soviet zone. 

In 1955, Austria regained its sovereignty, and Albern was no longer under foreign occupation. It became a district in the southeastern part of Vienna and in recent years has been a thriving industrial area.


Here's how it's used

Sein albernes Verhalten hat alle zum Lachen gebraucht.

His silly behaviour made everyone laugh.

Die Kinder albern gerne herum, wenn sie draußen im Park spielen.

The children like to goof off when they play around outside.


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