5 untranslatable German words – expressing the idea in English

untranslatable German words

German is full of concepts that can be somewhat tricky to translate into English. So, following on from an earlier blog, here are 5 examples of untranslatable German words with ways you could actually convey their meaning in English.

  • Ablenkungsmanöver

    An ‘Ablenkungsmanöver’ would literally translate to something like a ‘deflection manoeuvre’. What it is actually describing is something that has been designed to put somebody off the scent. So, in English you could use ‘red herring’ as a substitute to convey a similar meaning.

  • Glückspilz

    Literally, a ‘Glückspilz’ is a ‘lucky mushroom’ – a German word used to describe somebody that is lucky. So, although ‘Glückspilz’ doesn’t really translate directly, you could get away with describing someone as a ‘lucky devil’ to convey the same idea.

  • Hungertuch

    ‘Hungertuch’ in the German phrase ‘am Hungertuch nagen’ literally means ‘hunger cloth’, as in ‘to gnaw on the hunger cloth’. It is used to describe the state of being poor. So, rather than talking about hunger cloths, an English speaker may instead simply refer to ‘being broke’.

  • Pechvogel

    A ‘Pechvogel’ literally is a ‘bad luck bird’. Of course to an English speaker, this doesn’t make any sense. Although birds of varying varieties are seen as bad omens in folklore, English-speaking natives are more likely to describe a ‘bad luck bird’ as someone who has ‘rotten luck’ or is a ‘bad luck magnet’.

  • Torschlusspanik

    To have ‘Torschlusspanik’ would literally translate as something like to have ‘gate-closing panic’. However, in this case what a German is actually referring to is a fear they have left things too late. So, to convey the same sentiment in English, people may talk about a fear of being ‘left on the shelf’ in terms of relationships. Or they may be worried that they have ‘missed the boat’ with regards to an opportunity.

So, there’s our list of 5 German concepts that don’t really translate and ways to express them in English. For more German words and phrases that either have obscure equivalents in English or simply don’t have one at all, why not head over to our glossary of German idioms?