top of page

'Coronafußgruß', 'Pandemüde', 'overzoomed': the new German words arising from the COVID-19 pandemic

It hardly needs remarking that since the pandemic began, daily life has massively altered. So too has our use of language. Since early 2020, phrases like “social distancing”, “online learning” and “lockdown” have suddenly become key parts of day-to-day language.

In Germany, there has also been a surge of vocabulary related to COVID-19 and in March this year, the Leibniz-Insitut für Deutsche Sprache (Leibniz Institute for the German language, or IDS) released a list of over 1,200 new words which have come into use during the pandemic.

Graffiti in Nordbahnhof Park, Berlin. Photo: ChickSR via Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 4.0

Many of them - 380 to be exact - simply involve combining an existing noun with either “COVID” or “corona” – “die COVID-19 Krise”, for example.

So that you don’t have to read through the entire list, here are just ten of the most striking…

1. Das Abstandsbier

Combining the nouns “distance” and “beer” this refers to meeting up with friends to have a drink from a safe distance.

2. Der Coronafußgruß

Another compound noun, referring to greeting someone by touching shoes together rather than shaking hands.

3. Der Hamsterkauf

My personal favourite: a very descriptive term for panic buying (literally “hamster buying”). This word was most frequently used in German at the start of the first lockdown when shops were emptied of products by panicked customers.

4. Der Lockdown

Although an Anglicism (or Denglish), this is the preferred German term for describing a lockdown situation. This term has been frequently combined with other words (most commonly, “der Corona-Lockdown”). Another very descriptive term is “der Yo-yo-Lockdown”, used by Deutsche Welle to describe the constant revisions to lockdown restrictions. You can also use it as a past participle, “gelockdownt” (“locked down”).

5. Der Maskenmuffel

This compound noun combines the terms for “mask” and “grouch” and may be applied to people refusing to wear a facemask without having a valid exemption. Related words such as “Maskentroffel” (literally “mask numpty”) and “Maskengegner” (someone who is “against” wearing masks) have also been coined.

6. Overzoomed

Another Anglicism, but an adjective which is universally relatable.

7. Pandemüde

A blend of the words “Pandemie” and “müde” (“tired”) which perfectly encapsulates the emotional exhaustion caused by the pandemic situation. You can also be “coronamüde” or have “Coronastress” and “Coronaangst” – a strong feeling of anxiety about the virus.

8. Der Querdenker

This term refers to conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers and those who are convinced the pandemic is a hoax. Generally, what “Querdenker” (“lateral thinkers”) have in common is a feeling of frustration with the state and lack of freedom, and the movement is also strongly associated with far-right extremism. Since its foundation in Baden-Württemberg the so-called “Querdenken” movement has been responsible for many of the anti-lockdown protests in German and for vehemently anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about the pandemic. The movement has been under official surveillance in Baden-Württemberg since December 2020.

9. Teamsen

The verb for having a meeting over Microsoft Teams.

10. Der Wellenbrecher

Literally “wave breaker” this term was frequently used in the autumn of 2020 and referred to new restrictions introduced to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 infections. According to the IDS, this term may also be used in reference to people complying with hygiene restrictions (and thus preventing a wave on an individual level).

While hopefully many of these words will not remain permanently in daily usage, the adaptation of the German language to the pandemic situation has been an interesting phenomenon to say the least.


bottom of page