From 'Zeitenwende' to 'Abwrackprämie': Germany's 10 past words of the year
"Zeitenwende," referring to a historic turning point, is the word of the year 2022. A look at the terms that have been selected by the Association for the German Language as political buzzwords over the last decade.
"Zeitenwende," literally "times-turn," refers to a historic turning point: The term was used by Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a parliamentary address held in reaction to Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24. With its WWII history, Germany's postwar defense policy had been rather cautious, but in this new geopolitical context, the country would need to significantly increase its military budget.
A plausible choice in times of an ongoing pandemic, "Wellenbrecher" (literally wave breaker) is a term that comes from coastal protection — it means breakwater. It also stands for all the measures that were taken to break the fourth COVID-19 wave that year, said the German Language Association, which has been selecting Germany's word of the year since 1977.
The COVID-19 pandemic was, of course, the leading topic of the year 2020, and that's why the German word of the year was none other than "Corona-Pandemie" (corona pandemic). The runner-up word selected by the jury was also related to the pandemic: "Lockdown."
Planned changes in German pension laws were set to put many workers at a disadvantage by retirement (Rente), so the bill was disparagingly dubbed "Respektrente." The term won over the expressions "Rollerchaos," referring to the chaos created by the sudden invasion of electric scooters in German cities, and "Fridays for Future," the English name for a worldwide school strike for climate movement.
The term "Heisszeit," or warm age — as opposed to an "ice age," which sounds quite similar in German, "Eiszeit" — was chosen as the Word of the Year in 2018, reflecting not only Germany's extreme summer that year, but climate change as as whole.
"Jamaica coalition" refers to the symbolic colors of three parties in German politics: black for the conservative CDU/CSU, yellow for the business-friendly FDP and green for the Green Party. In 2017, coalition talks went on for weeks, but then came to an abrupt halt. This was "Jamaika-Aus," or Jamaica Out.
During the United States presidential election campaign, and after Donald Trump's victory in the fall of 2016, the word "postfaktisch" or post-factual came into common usage to denote the spread of fake news. Even then-Chancellor Angela Merkel used it. The term comes into play when public opinion is formed by emotion and resentment rather than objective facts.
Refugees — undoubtedly, no other issue had a bigger impact in Germany in 2015, when the Syrian civil war brought nearly a million refugees into the country. Runner-up was "Je suis Charlie," for expressing solidarity with the victims of the terrorist attack against the French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo. No. 3 was "Grexit," which referred to the possible expulsion of Greece from the Eurozone.
The winning word in 2014 was "Lichtgrenze," or border of light, which referred to a light installation on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This was followed by "schwarze Null," or black zero, describing government efforts to avoid new debts. Another favorite was "Götzseidank," a mash-up of "Gott sei Dank" (thank God) and the legendary goal of soccer star Mario Götze in Brazil.
"GroKo" is short for Grosse Koalition, a grand coalition of the CDU/CSU and the SPD. Recalling "Kroko" or crocodile, the word also expresses derision. The runner-up was "Protz-Bischof," or braggy bishop, referring to Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg, who came under fire for his prestigious construction projects. The term was followed by "Armutseinwanderung," poverty-driven migration.