Charlemagne once said that “to have another language is to possess a second soul.” There are some feelings, some sentiments, some experiences, and some institutions whose spirit – or soul, if you will – can’t really be expressed in simple English. Fortunately, we have the linguistic wisdom of other cultures to draw from.
German is one of the richest languages in the world, partially because it offers the ability to join nouns to make new words. We’ve scoured the Internet in search of some of the best words for life in the office – excuse us, the Büro – that take on an extra dimension in German. Enjoy.
literally “office mold.” Amtsschimmel doesn’t refer to whatever is growing in the back of the office fridge, however, but rather to the preponderance of one of the most useless things in all professional environments: red tape.
“To make blue,” or to be so totally unmotivated as to simply skip work. If you say “Ich mache morgen blau,” (“I’ll turn blue tomorrow”), you’re saying you’re going to take the day off. The American equivalent is a mental health day or playing hookie. You deserve it, go for it.
If you decide not to turn blue, it may be because your organization offers Gleitzeit. Literally translatable as slipping or gliding time, it’s what Americans know as flextime, so you can spend your morning hitting snooze before gliding into the office like the boss you are.
The bane of every decent person, an Erbsenzähler is literally a “pea counter.” The word originally meant someone who was especially stingy, but now refers to anyone who is especially uptight, obsessed with details, and pedantic: in short, that micromanager who won’t stop pestering you about those TPS reports.
To be forced to make a move under pressure, as in playing office chess or at the 11th hour when you’ve got to decide between liquidating the standing desks or paying the rent. Zugzwang indicates that you may have slipped from a position of power. The next move counts. It always does.
Why so many Feierabend-words? That’s because Feierabend means “knocking-off time:” the end of your day. Word Reference notes that “Feier” means “party” and “Abend” means “evening,” so Feierabend can also be literally translated as “party evening,” which is pretty great.
Less great, however, is Feierabendverkehr: after-work traffic. Not much to celebrate there until you get home for your Feierabendbier: your afterwork beer.
After a few Feierabendbiers, you may find yourself rethinking your career choices or wondering if you should start working from a tropical island. That may be an indicator of Torschlusspanik, which means a fear or panic that stems from missing a chance. It literally means “door-closing panic,” which, like the other words on this list, is far more evocative of existential agony than something like FOMO, which is a poor substitute.
Did we miss anything? Let us know what words you’d add to this list.