From Abstandsbier to overzoomed: The corona pandemic in 12 German words

From Abstandsbier to overzoomed: The corona pandemic in 12 German words

Anyone who speaks or studies German knows that the language has a penchant for squishing words together to create new words - often to describe ultra-specific concepts. And that’s never been more apparent than during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The story of the coronavirus pandemic, in 12 German words

Over the past 12 months, all of us have had to come to terms with radically different ways of living - and the German language has been evolving too. From Balkonsänger to Impfneid, a huge number of new words have been coined over the past year to describe the bizarre, sometimes heartbreaking, new normal we’re becoming accustomed to. 

These words are being documented by the Leibniz Institute for the German Language, an organisation tasked with researching and documenting the German language past and present. Over the past year, they’ve been collecting words used in the press, on social media, and across the internet. Dr Christine Möhrs, who works at the institute and is involved in compiling the words, says they tell the story of life during the pandemic. 

The list of words inspired by coronavirus in Germany already contains more than 1.200 new terms - six times as many as in an average year. Those that are used most regularly will later be added to the dictionary. Here’s a selection of our favourites, which prove that there really is a German word for everything. 

1. Balkonsӓnger

At the beginning, everyone was (relatively) jolly. We were all in it together. The Italians starting singing opera from their balconies, and so not to be outdone, soon the Germans were holding their own Balkonkonzerte, thus ushering in a whole crop of new words, including Balkonsӓnger (balcony singer), Balkonklatscher (balcony clapper) and, of course, Balkonmusik (balcony music). 

2. Hustenetikette

Remember the days when someone could cough or sneeze without attracting the frightened glares of the entire train compartment? Of course, coughing in public has always been a little distasteful, but it was only in 2020 that it became a sign of danger. Thanks to a widespread public health campaign - and no doubt the odd German biddy telling you off on the bus - we all now know about the correct Hustenetikette (coughing etiquette - i.e. into your elbow). 

3. Abstandsbier

In a year that’s been all about the social distancing, it should come as no surprise that there are no fewer than 16 terms on the list that begin with the particle “Abstands-” (distance). An Abstandsbier is a socially-distanced beer with friends. Sad as it was at the time, it now seems like a distant fond memory, after four months of winter weather and tough lockdown restrictions. Glühweinhopping brings up similar memories. Good times… 

4. CoronaFußgruß 

Words that begin with the letter “c” aren’t too common in German, but a year dominated by coronavirus means a whole bunch of them will be added to the dictionary in 2021. CoronaFußgruß, a tongue-rolling term that describes the new kind of socially-distanced greeting that has replaced the traditional handshake, has to be the best. 

Special mention also goes to Coronahobby (corona hobby), Coronahund (corona dog), Coronamüde (tired of corona), and the beautifully-simple coronern (the gathering together of people in public places, mostly to drink alcohol, with little attention paid to the risk of infection).

5. Kuschelkontact

And while we’re on the subject of social distancing, it wasn’t all bad - we were at least allowed to designate our very own cuddle partner (Kuschelkontakt), a specific person that we were allowed to break the 1,5-metre-rule with. 

6. Maskentrottel 

Of course, this year has seen face masks become an everyday part of life, so it’s no surprise that lots of mask-related terms have also entered the German vocabulary. We’ve probably all experienced the same twinge of annoyance at seeing someone wearing their face covering under their nose (seriously, what’s the point?), and so luckily Germany has a word for people like that: Maskentrottel (mask idiot). 

You could also tell them that the face covering is not supposed to be a Kinnwärmer (chin warmer). Actually, maybe don’t do that. But do make sure to wear your mask like a Gesichtskondom (face condom) - that’s the way to do it! 

7. Hamsteritis

When the first lockdown was announced in March 2020, the whole of Germany was gripped by an irrational fear that basic supplies would soon run out, and so people flocked to the supermarket to engage in a spot of good old hamsterkaufen (panic buying) - stuffing their proverbial cheeks with flour, pasta and toilet paper for later use. 

Pictures began to circulate of empty shelves, prompting even the sensible people to go shopping, and within the blink of an eye Hamsteritis was gripping the nation or - to use an even better word - Klopapierhysterie (toilet paper hysteria). 

8. Spuckschutzwand

This one is so visceral. As supermarkets around the country became overwhelmed with all the panic buyers, they erected plastic screens to help protect their staff from all the pushing, squabbling, spitting shoppers. A Spuckschutzwand (also known as a Spuckwand, a Spuckschutz or a Spuckschutzscheibe) is a flat piece of material that is attached to sales counters and vehicles to protect staff members from “droplet infection”. Nice. 

9. Frischluftquote

It wasn’t until a little later in the year that we began to understand more about how coronavirus spreads, and fresh air became the hot topic of the moment. It’s no secret that German people love to throw the windows wide and give their rooms a good airing.

But it wasn’t until 2020 that they were able to make a rule about it. The Frischluftquote (fresh air quota) specified the proportion of air within a room that had to be fresh to maintain hygiene standards. There was even an instruction manual on the subject for schools.    

10. Trikini

Over the summer, we had a brief respite, as infection rates subsided, and some people actually managed to go on holiday - abroad! Of course, infection protection regulations had to remain in place, and so many resorts enforced mask requirements on the beach, which in turn spawned a new “fashion” craze, and a word to go with it: a trikini is a bikini worn with a carefully-matched mouth and nose covering. Corona beachwear, but make it fashion. 

11. Overzoomed

At first, we were all so keen. “Do you want to join the Zoom quiz I’m hosting?” “Sure, sounds like fun!” Fast forward 12 months, and it feels like every activity that keeps you glued to your laptop screen is another 60 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back. The Germans have a word for that too. It’s overzoomed

12. Impfneid

And with the boredom came the breakdown of the unity. Hang this feeling of togetherness; no more doing shopping for the poor old lady next door. When you found out she was getting her vaccine months, if not years, before you, you experienced a healthy dose of Impfneid (vaccine envy). So not fair! 

Want more corona terms? 

You can find the full list of coronavirus-inspired German words on the OWID website.



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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