15 New German Words Coined for the Pandemic

Quarantine got your tongue? COVID-19 has left an indelible mark on language.

2020 was a challenging year to say the least – not only did we have to learn to live with a “new normal,” we had to create a whole new vocabulary to describe situations that were inconceivable until very recently. Fortunately, the German language and its penchant for compound nouns is highly adaptable: last year, the Leibniz Institute for German Language compiled a list of around 1,200 new words that have since been added to the dictionary. Quite an increase – the average annual addition is around a fifth of that. Here are some of our favorites to help you through the lockdown:

#1  – Maskentrottellit. “Mask jerk.” A beloved standard of Austrian swearing, Trottel (idiot, moron, tool) is ubiquitous among motorists, usually leveled at jaywalkers (or anyone that cuts them off). It follows that a Maskentrottel is an inconsiderate ass who flouts mask regulations, potentially endangering themselves and others. 

#2 – Coronafußgruß: Need a COVID friendly substitute for your classic Viennese cheek-to-cheek double Bussi? We got you covered! Coronafußgruß is a pandemic-inspired greeting where two socially distanced people tap their feet together – kinda like a low five.

#3 – Coronaausreden: Procrastinators were quick to grasp the silver lining of the pandemic, using it as a pretext for a cavalcade of excuses that are totally believable and relatable. No matter the delay, COVID always seems to be an acceptable reason: “Sorry, I’ll be late because I had to bring my brother’s girlfriends mother to get tested,”  or  “Sorry, I don’t feel comfortable leaving my house. May we meet online instead?” Presto, you’ve earned yourself an extra hour’s worth of sleep!

#4 – Coronacation: Hard hit by public health measures, the hospitality industry has had a tough and strange year, giving rise to the Coronacation: Socially-distanced holidays with masks, plenty of hand sanitizer and other regulations. Mind you, they are predominantly domestic, but at those deep discounts, what more could you want to pull you out of your pandemic funk? 

#5 – Babyelefant: A cute but strangely unrelatable image the Austrian government chose for its COVID-19 public service campaigns, Babyelefant (baby elefant) – was crowned Austria’s 2020 word of the year, beating out Coronavirus and COVID 19: To ensure everyone kept a safe distance from each other, the health ministry urged the public to stay “one baby elephant” apart (later raised to two baby elephants). 

#6 – Abstandsbier: A socially distanced beer, shared with your friends. All you need is the brew of your choice and a friend that is two Babyelefanten away. 

#7 – Wirrologe: Recall those amateur virologists spreading (dis)information about the virus that was neither proven nor sane? There’s a name for them: Wirrologen. A portmanteau of wirr (confused) and Virologe (virologist), here’s to the self-proclaimed experts that told us that with a little more garlic (or Lysoform) in our diets, we would be virus-free!  

#8 – Hybridsemester: Struggling to continue lessons, the education sector had to be innovative during corona; enter the Hybridsemester, which saw classes at schools and universities become a mix of physical and digital lessons. While the jury is still out on their effectiveness, their impact on social distancing is undisputed: the Hybridsemester ensures that students are only required to turn up physically for examinations and lab time. 

#9 – Zoomfatigue: One year later and still counting, near everyone has come to appreciate the stamina required to get through a multi-person online video conference – let alone a day of back-to-back meetings. So this self-explanatory word should come as no surprise.

#10 – Gastrogutschein/Schnitzelgutschein: In order to support local eateries, the city of Vienna gave every household a voucher to spend on their next meal out last year around mid-May. Officially called the Gastrogutschein (lit. “gastro-voucher”), the nickname Schnitzelgutschein also enjoyed popularity as Wieners rushed to their favorite Gasthaus to enjoy a meal on Mayor Ludwig.

#11 – Coronaschichtunterricht: A textbook example of the elongated compound nouns German is feared for, this literally translates to “corona shift lessons:” Compliance with hygiene- and distance regulations often meant schools had to stagger attendence, with different classes and teachers coming in according to a schedule to fulfil the physical part of their Hybridsemester. These classes generally had additional regulations, including wearing a mask at all times and distanced tables. 

#12 – Mindestabstandsregelung: Another example for an imposing German word, Mindestabstandsreglung is the official designation for “minimum distance regulations” – apparently measured in Babyelefanten by the Austrian government. 

#13 – Geistergastronomie: lit. “ghost gastronomy;” this deliciously gothic term does not indicate sustenance for specters, however. Rather, it refers to how restaurants have changed their business model to catering, pick-up and delivery: Lights are on, tables are empty, but the kitchen is still cooking. 

#14 – Impfdrängler:Drängler is someone who cuts in line; add Impfung (vaccination) and you get someone who won’t wait their turn for their COVID shot, potentially taking it from someone at higher risk. With Europe’s vaccination campaign still sluggish, there have been cases of local politicians or non-medical hospital staff just happening upon “spare doses,” causing great indignation. This applies particularly in Germany and Austria, where – aside from the sheer egotism of such behavior – cutting a queue is a major social faux-pas, as anyone who ever accidentally got in line ahead of an Austrian Hofratswitwe can attest.

#15 – Seuchensheriff: lit. “Epidemic sheriff.” A sarcastic term to mock those authorities who go overboard in their anti-COVID regulations and/or the enforcement thereof; the mental image being of a person who mistakes the local supermarket for the wild west and resolves to clean up the town by booking anyone maintaining only one-and-a-half Babyelefanten distance from the next person.

Carolyn Lai
Carolyn grew up between Kuala Lumpur and Vienna. With a background in both music and politics, she enjoys writing stories on culture and social development. She is currently completing her undergraduate degree in political science at the University of Vienna.

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