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From Coronaangst to Hamsteritis: the new German words inspired by Covid

The Guardian logo The Guardian 3 days ago Abby Young-Powell in Berlin
a person holding a sign: Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

From coronamüde (tired of Covid-19) to Coronafrisur (corona hairstyle), a German project is documenting the huge number of new words coined in the last year as the language raced to keep up with lives radically changed by the pandemic.

The list compiled by the Leibniz Institute for the German language, an organisation that documents German language in the past and present, has already collected more than 1,200 new German words – many more than in an average year.

It includes feelings many can relate to, such as overzoomed (stressed by too many video calls), Coronaangst (when you have anxiety about the virus) and impfneid (envy of those who have been vaccinated).

Others new words reveal the often strange reality of life under restrictions: Kuschelkontakt (cuddle contact) for the specific person you meet for cuddles and Abstandsbier (distance beer) for when you drink with friends at a safe distance.

A sign outside a kiosk in Berlin offers Impfehlung des Tages instead of the usual Empfehlung des Tages (special of the day), a play on impfen, to vaccinate. © Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images A sign outside a kiosk in Berlin offers Impfehlung des Tages instead of the usual Empfehlung des Tages (special of the day), a play on impfen, to vaccinate.

The small team of three at the Leibniz Institute collect words that are used in the press, on social media and the wider internet and monitor them. Those that are used most often will later make it into the dictionary.


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Dr Christine Möhrs, who works at the institute and compiles the words, said the project tells the story of life during the pandemic.

“When new things happen in the world [we] look for a name,” she says. “Things that do not have a name can cause people to feel fear and insecurity. However, if we can talk about things and name them, then we can communicate with each other. Especially in times of crisis, this is important.”

The words also capture specific moments during the pandemic. For example, Balkonsänger (balcony singer) is someone who sings to people from their balcony, which was popular during the spring lockdown. Hamsteritis , referring to the urge to stockpile food, was also commonly used at the start of the crisis.

Todesküsschen (kiss of death) is the frightening word for a friendly kiss on the cheek.

As the months moved on, the project found new words for people’s frustration at rule-breakers.

Covidiot, a term used in the UK, also appears in the German list. More specific is Maskentrottel (mask idiot), for someone who wears their face covering under their nose.

But the words also tell a story of connection and community. For example, Einkaufshelfer can be used to describe someone who helps others with their shopping.

Möhrs says CoronaFußgruß (corona foot greeting) is her personal favourite because it rhymes and because it shows a human desire for connection, despite our enforced physical distance.

She says the project shows how important the words we choose are. “Language has a strong power,” she says. “We see again and again how important it is to formulate precisely and to be very careful about which words we choose. Words not only convey content, but can also convey emotions and feelings. And speakers should be aware of that.”

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