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2 German 'non-words of the year' for 2020

January 12, 2021

The German "non-word of the year" highlights derogatory expressions. Two terms were chosen for 2020: "Corona dictatorship" and "return sponsorships."

Demonstration «Querdenken» in Leipzig
Image: Sebastian Kahnert/dpa/picture alliance

For the first time, two terms were chosen as Germany's derogatory catchwords of the year, announced the jury of the "Unwort des Jahres," (Non-Word of the Year) on Tuesday.

"Corona-Diktatur" (corona dictatorship) is an expression adopted to denigrate the restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The jury stated that the term was chosen because it downplays actual dictatorships, where people are imprisoned and tortured and even face death for their political opinions. 

The second Non-Word of the Year, "Rückführungspatenschaften" (return sponsorships), emerged from the EU Migration Pact. It is a scheme which allows member states that do not want to receive refugees to instead sponsor returns. The term is "cynical and euphemistic," the jury of linguists from the Technical University of Darmstadt said.

Derogatory expression of the year

The Non-Word of the Year title aims to bring to light the media's use of language and to advance awareness of words which violate human dignity and the principles of democracy or lead to discrimination.

Established in 1991, the political buzzword was selected by the Society for German Language for the first three years; an independent jury in Darmstadt is now in charge of the yearly project. Anyone may propose a word, and the jury makes the final decision.

Over the year, the jury received more than 1,800 proposals from the public.

Many of the terms related to the coronavirus pandemic, such as "systemrelevant," which refers to essential services and workers, and "covidiot," a neologism combining the name of the disease, COVID-19, and the word idiot, used to describe people who choose to ignore public health warnings related to the pandemic. "Wirrologen" plays on the German term for virologist and "wirren," or confusion.

"Querdenker," which means lateral thinker, was another term that obtained a new meaning in Germany in 2020, as it became the name of a countrywide movement of protesters against the restrictions to curb the spread of the virus. 

The word selected for 2019 was "Klimahysterie" (climate hysteria), an expression used to denigrate climate protection efforts and discredit debates on global warming. The previous year, the winner was "anti-deportation industry," an expression accusing those who provide legal support for deportees of doing so for financial profit.

Portrait of a young woman with red hair and glasses
Elizabeth Grenier Editor and reporter for DW Culture