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The German Word of the Year

Das Wort des Jahres
Die Wörter des Jahres

The German Words of the Year
from 1998 to Now

And the winner is...

Each year in December the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (GfdS), the German Language Society, announces its selection of the top-ranked words of the year. The GfdS chose its first Wort des Jahres back in 1972. The top word and all the 10 words of the year are chosen for the way they reflect the important events and debates in Germany that year. The German Word of the Year for 2007 is no exception. Klimakatastrophe is a term arising out of the growing concern over climate change in Germany and the world. The number one word for 2006 was Fanmeile, one of several 2006 words that were related to the World Cup games hosted by Germany that year. (For details, see Das Wort des Jahres.)

In some ways, the top word for 2005 was no surprise, but Bundeskanzlerin was chosen for reasons one might not suspect. In 2003, an American contributed the number one "German" Word of the Year: das alte Europa. The U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld (a man of German ancestry), used the term "old Europe" as a put-down to countries such as France and Germany that refused to support America's war against Iraq. But in Germany the term das alte Europa took on a positive meaning as a badge of honor, signifying those European countries that refuse to be dominated by the United States.

The word for 2004 reflected a massive controversy caused by the government's attempt to reform Germany's pension program and cut expenses. For much of 2004 the phrase Hartz IV dominated the German news and public discussion. Back in 2002, it was Europe's new euro currency, introduced in January of that year, that led to the German Word of the Year: Teuro. By mixing the words teuer (expensive) and der Euro, the new coinage Teuro reflected the perception that the new European currency had led to higher prices for German goods and services.

Back in 1999 the "foreign" word das Millennium won the Society's top spot. This Latin-based word, made up of "mille" (tausend) and "annum" (Jahr), largely replaced the Germanic Jahrtausend (year+thousand) during the hype leading up to das Jahr 2000. Of course, purists claimed the new millennium didn't officially begin until January 1, 2001. But since Germans don't really associate the Latin word with its true meaning, that was of little concern. For most German-speakers "das Millennium" was synonymous with the year 2000, not "das Jahrtausend" or the next 1,000 years. (See our English-German Silvester/Neujahr Glossary for more related vocabulary.)

Most of the words in this annual contest can't be found in a dictionary. They are either new coinages or event-related words too recent to be included in any standard German Wörterbuch. The selected words for any given year also offer a glimpse into history and what was considered important in that year. The second-ranked word for 1999, der Kosovo-Krieg (the war in Kosovo), ranked high in part because that conflict involved the first post-war use of active German troops in armed conflict. For similar historical reasons, the obvious choice for 2001 was der 11. September (der elfte September).

See the German Words of the Year
for the last several years.

Like the English expression "A-OK" out of the 1960s, some of the German words of the year soon fade into disuse. That has already happened to 1999's third-ranked term, (die) Generation @ (spoken GHEN-ah-RAHT-cee-ohn "at"). It reflects what was happening then, referring to the young generation that has grown up surrounded by the new media and computers. Das Klammeraffen-Symbol ("@") used in the expression reflects the rise in the use of email by that generation. (It is also pronounced "Generation Klammeraffe.") The somewhat artificial word was derived from the title of the best-selling book, Generation X. (See our English-German Computer and Internet Glossary for more related vocabulary.)

Other selected German words at the dawn of das Jahr 2000 were: (4) Euroland (for the countries that introduced the euro currency in 1999; also in the 1998 listing), (5) nachbessern (politicians pointing out inaccuracies), (6) Doppelpass (dual citizenship passports), (7) Anderkonten (connected to the controversy over special bank accounts by German political parties), (8) feindliche Übernahme (hostile takeover), and (9) "Sofi" (for "Sonnenfinsternis," the 1999 solar eclipse). Tenth place in 1999 went to a special word...

Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz also won a special award as the longest German word of the year. The monster word consisted of 63 letters, 20 syllables, and ten individual words—all to express a law having to do with British beef (Rindfleisch) and the so-called "mad cow disease." Although it is a word to strike terror in any German student, the GfdS cited it as a good example of how German can form new words by combining existing ones. (See The Longest German Word?)

For all of the Words of the Year for the past several years (and their English meanings), see: Die Wörter des Jahres.

On the following pages, you can learn more about the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache, the Verein Deutsche Sprache, past "Words of the Year," and related Web links.

NEXT > 2006 Words of the Year plus past years
NEXT > GfdS and VDS - Protecting German

MORE > Denglisch: When Languages Collide

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