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German Words to Avoid

Inappropriate, Offensive, or Vulgar Words

A Special Slang Dictionary

An annotated German-English Glossary
of “bad” Words and Expressions

ALSO SEE > Confusing Words | False Friends


abfällig/abschätzig adj./adv.  derogatory, disparaging(ly)
fluchen v.  to curse, swear
ordinär adj.  vulgar, low, common

Words to Avoid!
This collection of German slang and “bad” words and expressions is intended to help you avoid embarrassment—that deadly silence that falls over a room when you have just said something that would have been better left unsaid. Some of these words may be just the ticket in certain rare situations, but most are dangerous expressions, only to be used when and if you really know what you're doing. We don't really encourage swearing or the use of vulgar language in German, but as Goethe said, a lack of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Problem words fall into the following categories:

Cursing and Swearing (das Fluchen)
While most swear words in English are sexual or have to do with your parentage, German leans more towards the scatological (having to do with excrement or feces). Although Germans sometimes borrow the English f-word, the German version is rarely used in swearing. In German, words related to the pig (sow, swine) fill in for English terms of illegitimacy (bastard, son-of-a..., etc.). But surprisingly, Schwein haben is an expression meaning to be lucky!

Gestures (Gesten, Handzeichen)
While we don't include inappropriate gestures in this glossary, you should know that some hand signs or gestures are universal, but others are not. In some parts of the world, the American OK sign (finger and thumb forming an "O") is an insult having to do with a body orifice. If a German taps his/her forehead with the index finger in someone's direction, that is a bad thing (meaning the other person is an idiot), and punishable by a fine if a policeman sees it or someone files charges.

Sexual Terms (sexuelle Ausdrücke)
Many of the terms in this glossary relate to human sexuality. Some of them have a double meaning that you should be aware of. If you refer to an animal's tail in German (der Schwanz), that's OK, but you should also know that the same term is a crude way of referring to the male sex organ. The German verb blasen can have many of the same multiple meanings that "blow" has in English. But if you want to enjoy a good German erotic novel, you'll find some of that vocabulary here as well.

Xenophobia (der Ausländerhass)
Like English and other languages, German also has derogatory and insulting terms for foreigners. The German equivalents of ethnic slurs like "chink," "wop," or "wetback" should be avoided at all times, but you should know them if you hear them! (See Feindgruppen for a list of German ethnic and other slurs.)

Less hazardous (but also potentially embarrassing) German vocabulary is covered in our Confusing Words and False Friends glossaries.


NATIONALTIES > Ethnic Terms (Caution!)

MORE > Regular English-German Glossaries

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