14

Preface

As most British English speakers know, there are three words never to be uttered in polite conversation:

  • The C-Word
  • The N-Word
  • The F-Word

Which grows to a list of seven words in American English, of which the funniest is toilet which should be commonly referred to as:

  • Bathroom (No, I don't wan to take a bath...)
  • Restroom (No, I don't want to rest...)
  • Washroom (No, I don't want to do any laundry...)

So I'm not talking about using a particular word offensively: Any word can ultimately be used offensively, even nice:

Der einzige Vorteil den Sie haben ist, dass Sie ein netter Mensch sind!

Actual Question

Are there German words that are all by themselves so offensive that they should never be used in polite conversation (even jokingly)?

If there would be any: Please be so kind as to give a list with a short description or a link to a dictionary.

Motivation

  1. I’m neither a native German nor a native English speaker. And, in Britain, I was called by one of my employees for years (warning: unspeakable English expression):

    "You silly cunt..."

    It took me another ten years or so to find out that this word is in the top-3 list of 'unspeakable words'. Instead of the explanation I was given (by the offending person, obviously) that

    One man calling another man that word when no women are present, is extremely funny!

    (which it isn’t; he was just showing off in front of whichever male was standing around us at the time that he could get away with this.)

  2. I want to avoid being the Harry Potter of the group and saying Voldemort and everyone around me cringing...

  3. I know a lot of offensive words in German already, but I don't know if there are any unspeakable terms.

  • Discussions about the English language and answers-in-comments have been moved to chat. Please use comments only for their intended purpose. – Wrzlprmft Sep 10 '18 at 17:19
  • 1
    Moderator’s notice: I know, it’s tempting, but please refrain from illustrating your point by using deliberately offensive/bad language outside of a quote. The benefits in terms of funniness or enlightenment are just not outweighed by the risk of being blatantly misunderstood. – Wrzlprmft Sep 10 '18 at 17:52
  • 2
    Meta discussion about the on-topicness of this question. – LangLangC Sep 12 '18 at 18:40
  • I think "Motivation 1" (which I won't repeat here due to previous moderation decisions) would fly perfectly well in Australia, and as someone who lives near Australia I'm a bit confused why it had to be spoilered. – immibis Jun 8 at 17:50
27

This is a fundamental cultural difference between official American dogma and German everyday word usage.

You might take the stance that in German conversation people despise profanities as much as Americans do. If you avoid the same type of words in German you will not cause much consternation. Politeness is really based on largely the same contexts that those words describe: sexual, bodily functions, race or religion might be avoided (altogether) to stay polite. One example list which also contains a lot of very mild expressions and examples that not many German speakers might find really offensive at all is German Words to Avoid: A Special Slang Glossary (take enough grains of salt when reading it).

But if you use those types of words in German, it will usually not be that much of a concern in German speaking countries.

Let's take a look at a very frequent example: Scheiße

The Cambridge dictionary lists all translations for this word and phrases containing it as "offensive", which probably means: very strong word, do not use if you can't handle the magical power that comes with it.

If we look up Scheiße in German dictionaries like Duden or DWDS, we see just a factual explanation of the meaining and maybe the attribute "derb" (~crass, coarse, crude etc. – but not rude).

If you look at George Carlins "Seven dirty words" there were and are feeble attempts to establish such a code on German airwaves as well. It didn't succeed. When on American public TV such a word is beeped out, you will hear German hosts reprimand the speaker of such words with "Na, aber! Wir sind hier…" or the audience making a Hohoho-like noise. Most of the time: that's it.

Looking for words to avoid in German you will find only tips for self presentation/business settings. The equivalent for "dirty words" or schmutzige Wörter are mostly those vulgar or kinky words used to spice up life between the sheets.

One reason for all these subtle and not so subtle differences start to be entrenched on a very fundamental level and quite early on.

As a form of offensive behaviour and verbal aggression, the use of vulgar language is also a subject of educational consideration.

In German-language parent guides, the understanding of the fascination with children exerted by swear words and "strong language" prevails as well as the need to vent pent-up frustration and the conviction that children benefit if they occasionally cross borders.

In English-speaking countries, however, profanity (= vulgar expression), swearing and cursing (= swearing) as well as name-calling (= insulting) are regarded as expressions of a lack of respect for one's fellow human beings and thus as serious behavioural problems for which various countermeasures are proposed in the relevant guidebook literature. WP: Vulgärsprache

Coming back to the example chosen you will hear very often little children learning the rules to correct grown-ups they overheard violating those rules they were just taught with: "Scheiße sagt man nicht!" Thereby repeating the offensive act. And without much success for altering the behaviour of the adult, usually.

Using Vulgärsprache does not carry such a drastic social punishment in German. But it can mark you as quite low class.

To summarise: if you want to be really polite in German conversation, just follow the English rules you already know. But don't worry as much as to censor yourself and do not be overly surprised to hear words that Americans might feel are hyper-offensive in normal speech.

Of course, one constant remains the same over time. Don't mention the war! Or, more seriously: Beware of Nazi Words. There are some taboos to better observe. It's not so easy to offend a German by using just a word ('This is X'). But if directing such a word at a person ('You are X') it is easily perceived as offensive.

  • 3
    I second that, especially the war thing and even more when it comes to expressions either introduced or abused by the Nazi regime. They are usually not to be said. – PerlDuck Sep 9 '18 at 15:28
  • 18
    I downvoted because "Don't mention the war" is not true anymore imho. Obviously you don't start small talk with "So, you Germans are pretty good at starting wars, am I right?" But you also would not start small talk with an american with a "Hey, so you are pretty good at killing Indians, am I right?". The war is not taboo anymore. If you talk for hours with a person, than there is nothing wrong with also talking about history. A problem is also that many non-germans are uneducated about the subject and Germans are tired of hearing myths like "Well at least Hitler built the Autobahn, right?". – problemofficer Sep 9 '18 at 16:42
  • 3
    ... that should indeed never be used to express what they mean, there is typically no expectation of any masking when talking about them. For instance, this recent news article provides a verbatim quotation of a reported insult towards Jewish people by neonazis, rather than using euphemisms like "J-word". In that respect, I think while some words can be very rude and highly frowned upon in German, the notion of an absolute "unspeakability" does not exist. – O. R. Mapper Sep 10 '18 at 4:43
  • 4
    I'll not downvote since overall the answer is OK, but on the "don't mention the war" thing I'll have to agree with @problemofficer. Sure, if you are deliberately being an asshole and trying to offend like the "comedian" you linked to, you can very easily turn the conversation bad by "mentioning the war". So what. I could be similarly offensive by dressing like the British Queen and taking a piss on a little child. Context and intent matters. Either way, there's people even in Germany who find Cleese's pranks, including the Stupid Nazi jokes, funny despite their low niveau. – Damon Sep 10 '18 at 10:04
  • 3
    Falwthy towers is right on the spot. In the end, the Germans in the hotel are mostly offended by the low niveau of the continous Nazi references. SEY ARE BORING AND DIS IS NOT FUNNY. – Janka Sep 10 '18 at 10:21
6

Nein, gibt es nicht.

Jedes Wort kann in einer freundlichen Konversation zum Beispiel zitierend benutzt werden, notfalls mit einer vorweggeschickten Entschuldigung für das Wort, welches aber aus Gründen der Präzision genau so wiedergegeben werden muss, wie es gesagt wurde.

Zum zweiten gibt es auch in Deutschland Rassisten, und die sprechen auch untereinander oft Deutsch, so dass sie etwa das N-Wort in einer, nach allen Regeln der Psychologie freundlichen Konversation, verwenden können. Rassisten ändern nicht unbedingt ihr Vokabular, wenn sie unter sich sind.

Oder Wörterbuchautoren, die sich über die Aufnahme derartiger Wörter unterhalten - wieso sollten die unfreundlich werden?

  • Genial und nicht ganz richtig: " in Deutschland Rassisten, und die sprechen auch untereinander oft Deutsch," jau, aber die sind auch niemals untereinander in "polite conversation"? – LangLangC Sep 10 '18 at 9:12
  • Schreibe ich doch: "in freundlicher Konversation verwenden können". Oder worin besteht die Frage? – user unknown Sep 10 '18 at 15:23
  • 1
    @userunknown: in freundlicher Konversation ist nicht das Gleiche wie in polite conversation. Das sollte man eher als in höflicher Konversation übersetzen – Rudy Velthuis Sep 10 '18 at 18:54
  • 1
    @userunknown: wenn es rassistisch ist, ist es nicht höflich, egal welche Höflichkeitsforme oder -floskeln benutzt werden. Rassismus ist selbst unhöflich. – Rudy Velthuis Sep 10 '18 at 19:00
  • 1
    Wieso sollten Rassisten untereinander nicht höflich miteinander umgehen können? Weil das alles ungebildetes Pack mit Schaum vor dem Mund ist? Weil Rassisten keine Menschen sind, so dass sie man sie folglich mit einem Bügelschloss aus dem Hinterhalt angreifen kann? Dass Du Rassismus selbst als unhöflich bezeichnest ist ja nicht falsch - gegenüber den Verachteten ist es natürlich unhöflich, aber wenn die bei der Kommunikation gar nicht dabei sind? Es geht nicht darum, ob Rassismus per se eine unhöfliche oder unfreundliche Sache ist, sondern ob in einer höflichen Konversation bestimmte Begriffe… – user unknown Sep 10 '18 at 20:30
-1

Nobody mentioned the war.

There are a few words that due to history no longer is used. Germany is missing a good word for manager/leader because the word there is: Führer is taken.

The word Kameraden went out of use after the war in many contexts as well.

[Edit]

Disclaimer: I am not German and this may not answer the quesion about words not used. This is more about certain words in certain contexts as users have pointed out in the comments. (Thanks)

  • 1
    (1) Fürer should be Führer. (2) The noun Kameraden is written with an initial capital letter. (3) I do not agree that these word are not used anymore. As an example, just conceive of Truppenführer and Kameraden at fire departments ... – Björn Friedrich Sep 10 '18 at 11:41
  • Thanks, I have added your feedback. As a non-native speaker I don't use those words any more because I have experienced that it was seen as bad. But it could have been because I used the words slightly wrong. – Thomas Koelle Sep 10 '18 at 11:49
  • 1
    Nobody mentioned the war. Actually, user LangLangC did already in his answer. And I would strongly disagree with your final paragraph that Germany was missing a good word for "friend". There are Freunde or Kumpel, for example. – Arsak Sep 10 '18 at 12:09
  • Der Führer des Fahrzeugs is a normal thung. But I am not sure I should call my Bergfuührer that is leading me on a trip "Mein Führer". – Vladimir F Sep 10 '18 at 12:36
  • 3
    Hast Du Dich noch nie freundlich mit jemandem über Adolph Hitler unterhalten? Wieso solltest Du da nicht "der Führer" sagen? Und bei der Bundeswehr ist m.W. auch der Begriff "Kameraden" noch üblich und die sprechen auch Deutsch. Nicht zu vergessen rechte Kameradschaften. – user unknown Sep 10 '18 at 15:31
-2

Ja, naturlich.

There are rude and offensive words in every language. Of course German has them too. Basically the same words you wouldn't use to your mother in English.

And no, I am not going to write them out here for you.

  • 1. My mother didn't understand a word of English, so I could have used any English word in her vicinity. 2. If you don't list them so other people can rebuke that those words are not unspeakable words in German, it's not much of an answer, sorry... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ – Fabby Sep 10 '18 at 14:16
  • Granny, sister, whatever. So what you actually want is a list of rude words in German? – RedSonja Sep 11 '18 at 6:15
  • No, only the unspeakable ones, but it has been established already that there aren't any... – Fabby Sep 11 '18 at 8:32
  • 2
    @Fabby of course there are such words but these would really not be a good fit for a list. So this answer is probably to the point. These words would not even be listed in any dictionary. See a Google search for site:dwds.de "vulgär" for an incomplete list of the most common words that should not to be used in a "polite" conversation like e.g. on German SE. Whoever told you that we do not have such words is wrong or does not care. – Takkat Sep 13 '18 at 6:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.