"Wellenbrecher" is Germany's Word of the Year in 2021

"Wellenbrecher" is Germany's Word of the Year in 2021

The last two years have been pretty much all about the coronavirus pandemic in Germany, and so it’s not surprising that, yet again, a corona-themed word has been named Germany’s Word of the Year in 2021. This time, it’s “Wellenbrecher”. 

Defining 2021 by its words

Last year, it was “corona pandemic”. In 2021, the German Language Society (GfdS) in Wiesbaden, Hesse, has chosen “Wellenbrecher” as its Word of the Year. 

As GfdS managing director Andrea-Eva Ewels explained, the word is used in coastal protection to describe a protective structure like a groin, a jetty, or a wall - a breakwater or, literally, a “wave breaker”. Over the past year, it has often been used to describe measures designed to protect the population from the coronavirus pandemic. 

The word “SolidAHRität” - which was used to describe relief operations in the Ahr valley after the flooding disaster in western Germany this summer - took second place, and third was “Pflexit” - a portmanteau (like Brexit) of the words “care (Pflege) and “exit”, which was used to describe the ongoing care crisis in Germany, with thousands of caregivers leaving work due to difficult conditions or poor wages

The German Words of the Year 2021

For its list, the GfdS doesn’t just look at how frequently a word has been used, or how popular it is, but instead at how significant it has become over the past year, and the extent to which it reflects developments in society. 

This year, the society received more than 2.000 suggestions for its list. The top 10 selected were words which, in the opinion of the jury, have linguistically determined political, economic and social life in Germany over the past year. In a year once again dominated by the pandemic, it’s perhaps not surprising that a grand total of seven of the top 10 words were related to coronavirus. 

The 10 German Words of the Year in 2021 are:

  • 1. Wellenbrecher (breakwater)
  • 2. SolidAHRität (solidarity, in reference to flooding disaster)
  • 3. Pflexit (care-exit)
  • 4. Impfpflicht (vaccine mandate)
  • 5. Ampelparteien (traffic light parties)
  • 6. Lockdown-Kinder (lockdown kids)
  • 7. Booster
  • 8. freitesten (to test oneself free, under 3G rules)
  • 9. Triell (three-way dual, related to chancellor candidate debates)
  • 10. fünf nach zwölf (five past 12, i.e. on the Doomsday clock)


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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