I recently heard the word "asozial" is an insult in Germany. As far as I know, in other cultures it is not perceived as an insult in general. How bad is it in meaning in German culture?
One thing to note is that the word antisozial may exist but is not very common; asozial covers its meanings as well. German equivalents to English asocial would be ungesellig, einzelgängerisch or eigenbrötlerisch.
With respect to use and history of the word the Wikipedia article is quite elaborate and, as far as I can tell, accurate.
The word asozial has been used under the Nazis and in the GDR to discriminate against and to justify persecution of certain groups of people who were non-conformant. The violated norms could be cultural (hippies, Sinti and Romanies), social (homeless), economic (no steady employment) or psychological (mentally ill). Often several of these deviations from the norm occur together: Most homeless will be unemployed, and mental illnesses among them are common. In most cases there are visual clues like shabby or non-standard clothes and lacking or non-standard haircuts which make a visual categorization easy.
In the way my grandmother and mother used the word, the reverberations of the Nazi use were clearly palpable; asozial was used as a term of abuse against people who were perceived as inferior or debased. A neighborhood with subsidized housing was where the Asozialen lived.
The subtext stemming from the Nazi worldview that was never consciously reflected — or maybe agreed with — was that being asozial was an intrinsic condition that was of course also passed on to the offspring. It is obvious that such a concept leads to specific policies of which putting people in concentration camps is only the most consequent one.
To me the word asozial is quite toxic, in a line with the N-word or calling someone a spastic. I would strongly advise not to use it.
The German word »asozial« means in English
anti social = against the needs and rights of the society
People who behave asozial violate basic rights of other people.
- A person who plays loud music in the middle of the night, so that other people can't sleep, acts asozial.
- A person who smokes cigars when they are in a closed room with little children acts asozial.
But some people use this word also for people who in fact just need help. They call homeless people or long-term unemployed person asozial (»Assi« = short for »Asozialer«) just because they receive financial support from the welfare system, although most of them do not really behave asozial.
The word is composed of two words: "sozial" has about the same meaning as "social" in English and comes from the latin "socius" (comrade, member). Words like "society" also come from "socius".
The prefix "a-" is greek and means "devoid of", "not concerned by", "not having...", etc.. This is a slight difference to "anti-" which means "contrary to". Someone "antisozial" is (actively) acting against societies norms - someone "asozial" is not concerned with societies norms at all.
In day-to-day German use of language the word "asozial" is usually meant as "not concerned with the well-being of ones surroundings", but - as @Hubert Schölnast" pointed out - often with the connotation of "not contributing to societies advancement" for whatever arbitrary reason. It also has the connotation of "inhumane", "inconsiderate", "ruthless", "reckless" or simply "unkind".
I hope this helps.
In a common way most young people use it, it has a meaning of a person who does not have a job and gets financial support from the system like Hubert said. But that is not the only thing. In addition it describes people also as persons that don't really take care of themselves, don't clean their rooms at home and in general do not do very much all the whole day although they have the time for it. You can also use it with an image of a person who consumes a lot of beer and other liquor. I think it has a different meaning for each person who uses the word asozial, but this should cover the most common meanings.