“Cringe” has been selected as Germany’s youth word of the year for 2021, receiving 42% of votes in an online poll, the publishing house Langenscheidt said on Monday.
The variant “cringy” to describe an embarrassing situation is also in common usage among Germany’s youth.
“The word is in active use in the speech of 10- to 20-year-olds,” Langenscheidt said, adding that this was confirmed by the fact that “cringe” made it to second place last year.
The word “sus” — short for “suspect” — received second place, while the informal English exclamation “sheesh,” used to express disbelief, came in third.
Langenscheidt, which specializes in language books and materials, has been running the online poll since 2008.
The English word “cringe” was selected as the German Youth Word of the Year 2021. Just like in English, German teens use it to describe a person or situation they find extremely embarrassing. But the German language also has its own term to express the feeling of being embarrassed because someone else has embarrassed themselves (without noticing): “fremdschämen” — secondhand embarrassment.
The German Youth Word of the Year in 2020 was also an English word, “lost.” German teens don’t use it in the sense of having lost their way, but to express a lack of perspective, or of not knowing what to do. They might also use the term in a math class for instance as a way of saying “I don’t get it.”
Man or woman of honor: that’s the German Youth Word of the Year for 2018 (no word was selected in 2019). It refers to a person you can always count on and who’s loyal to his friends and family. It can also be used ironically as an insult, when someone claims to have strong principles but doesn’t apply them in real life. German rappers often use “Ehrenmann” in their lyrics.
To be or not to be? Germany’s young people would answer Shakespeare’s most famous existential question with “I bims,” derived from “Ich bin” — I am. It was chosen as the German Youth Word of the Year in 2017.
When a person feels in a particularly high and sexy mood and is ready to, say, party all night, German teens will highlight this energy by borrowing from US hip-hop slang, literally saying “you’re on fly.” In English, “I’m so fly” is a rapper way of saying you’re cool. It was embodied by the main character in the film “Super Fly” from 1972, with its famous Curtis Mayfield soundtrack.
Do you check your phone while you’re walking and run into things? Then apparently you have something in common with German teens. The 2015 German Youth Word of the Year was “Smombie” — a cross between smartphone and zombie. Walking while checking for a new like, follow or message can be hazardous. Perhaps Germany should adopt this phone lane idea spotted in China.
As with most of the youth words of the year, this one can also contain traces of irony. If you say “läuft bei dir” to someone — basically “things are going well with you” — it probably means nothing is really as it should be. Maybe they were up all night on Snapchat and completely forgot to cram for their algebra test.
Who’s the leader of the pack among your friends? Chances are, they’re the babo: that is, the boss, the ringleader, the head honcho. German rapper Haftbefehl (pictured) may also like to see himself as the babo. In 2013, he released a track called “Chabos know who the babo is.” While “chabos” (roughly, guys) is derived from Angloromani, babo comes from Turkish.
In 2012, an English abbreviation won German Youth Word of the Year. YOLO stands for You Only Live Once. In that case, live it up. Maybe that means launching your singing career on YouTube, getting a colorful tattoo or just having another drink. The youths of 2012 couldn’t care less about the consequences.
It’s not surprising that teen speak is heavily influenced by the music scene. Swag was borrowed from the American rap scene and made it over to Germany around 2010, becoming popular thanks to Austrian rapper Money Boy’s track “Turn My Swag On.” If you’ve got swag, you radiate coolness.
Ever played limbo? Then you know there’s a limit to how far down you can go — even if you’re really good. “Niveaulimbo” — literally, limbo level — refers to the ever-sinking quality of something. That could be a TV show, a joke or a party that just starts getting out of hand.
Who says young people aren’t interested in politics? In 2009, the Youth Word of the Year was a sharp social and political criticism. Derived from Hartz IV, the German welfare program, “hartzen” is a verb meaning “to be lazy.”
Last year’s winner was “lost,” which, although English in origin, took on a slightly different flavor in German youth usage to refer to someone who is naive, undecided or unsure of themselves.
Langenscheidt says the youth word of the year has been chosen only by young people since last year, although a committee from the publishing house ensures that no sexist or discriminating terms are selected.
tj/aw (AFP, KPD, epd)