Un-word of the year

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The Un-word of the year or Inappropriate word of the year (German: Unwort des Jahres) refers to an annual action, in which a German linguists' panel chooses one new or recently popularized term that violates human rights or infringes upon Democratic principles. The term may be one that discriminates against societal groups or may be euphemistic, disguising or misleading.[1] The term is usually, but not always a German term. The term is chosen from suggestions sent in by the public. The choice of the word does not depend on how many times it was suggested/ sent in, but reflects the judgement of the panel. The core of the panel consists of 4 linguists and one journalist. The un-word of the previous year is announced annually in January.[1]

The linguistic action was started in 1994 by the linguist Horst Dieter Schlosser. The yearly publication of the "un-words of the year" is today widely reported in German media and very popular among Germans. In 2007, the president of the German PEN association, Johano Strasser, criticized the votings as being "themselves a symptom of the language neglect that it pretends to be able to heal" and having the quality of Deutschland sucht den Superstar.[2]


Between 1991 and 1993, the un-word was announced by the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache, alongside the Word of the Year. In 1994, following a row with the then German government led by Helmut Kohl, the jury led by linguist Horst Dieter Schlosser decided to become independent of any state-funded institution.[3][4]

List of Un-words of the year since 1991[edit]

In 1999, the jury chose Menschenmaterial as Un-Word of the 20th Century.

Century Un-word of the century
English Translation
20th Menschenmaterial Human Resources With this word, a human is considered a mere object. This became particulalry apparent in the First and Second World War as many people were used and expended for waging war.
Year Un-word of the year
English Translation
1991 ausländerfrei[5] free of foreigners Xenophobic, far-right slogan referring to an (ideal) community without any non-German inhabitants, which came to broad public attention during the Hoyerswerda riots
1992 ethnische Säuberung[5] ethnic cleansing Euphemism popularized during the Yugoslav Wars, referring to the elimination of unwanted ethnic or religious groups by deportation, forcible displacement, and mass murder
1993 Überfremdung[5] lit. "over-foreignization", excessive alienation Xenophobic slogan referring to the fear of the negative impact of immigrants on German culture. Considered to make "undifferentiated xenophobia" sound more argumentative and clinical.
1994 Peanuts[5] From the English word 'peanuts' Chosen to criticize the different definitions of an insignificant amount of money by bankers and average people. Hilmar Kopper, then Chairman of the Board of Deutsche Bank, had used the term to refer to a sum of DM 50 million (roughly 17 million US-$).
1995 Diätenanpassung[5] adjustment of the remuneration Euphemism used by members of the Bundestag to refer to the raising of their monetary rewards. The choice of this un-word criticizes the fact that wages for German MPs are set by the MPs themselves, rather than by an independent body.
1996 Rentnerschwemme[5] lit. "flood of senior/retired citizens" Term used in the political discussion about the social difficulties arising from population ageing. The choice criticizes the "wrong and inhumane impression", the rising number of people in need of a reasonable old-age provision would be "similar to a natural disaster".
1997 Wohlstandsmüll[5] lit. "prosperity waste" Deprecatory term coined by Helmut Maucher (then CEO of Nestlé) during an interview, referring to people who are either presumed unable or reluctant to find employment, who in his opinion would exist because of the highly developed welfare and social support systems in Germany.
1998 sozialverträgliches Frühableben[5] lit. "socially acceptable early passing" Coined by Karsten Vilmar, then head of the German Medical Association, implying that people who die early into their retirement were considered advantageous for the welfare system.
1999 Kollateralschaden[5] collateral damage Military term referring to the incidental destruction of civilian property and non-combatant casualties, which came to broad attention during the Kosovo War
2000 national befreite Zone[6] lit. "nationally liberated zone" Euphemism used by Neo-Nazi groups to refer to a region (ranging from a neighborhood to a whole county) defined by a high rate of far-right and xenophobic crimes, which are considered no-go areas by foreigners and leftists.
2001 Gotteskrieger[6] lit. "God's warriors" The glorifying synonym for Mujahideen was chosen as a reference to the Islamist terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks who claimed to act on behalf of a higher power.
2002 Ich-AG[7] lit. "Me, Inc." One of the measures of the controversial Hartz concept (a reform of the German labor market), which allows for unemployed people to be registered as self-employed and thus eligible for public support for a start-up business. The choice of this un-word criticizes the Ich-AG as a means of artificially lowering the unemployment rate.
2003 Tätervolk[8] lit. "nation of perpetrators" The term is used by scholars to refer to a possible German collective guilt in relation to the initiation of World War II and the Holocaust. In 2003, Bundestag member Martin Hohmann gave a highly controversial speech in which he described an alleged Jewish involvement in the Russian Revolution, using the Tätervolk term in that context, implying that the term is no more applicable to the Germans than to the Jews.
2004 Humankapital[9] human capital The choice criticizes that by using this term, individuals were degraded and classified according to economically relevant quantities.
2005 Entlassungsproduktivität[10] lit. "layoff productivity" Already criticized for being inhumane by then chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 1998, the usage of this term for a surge of productivity a company may encounter after dismissing employees deemed unnecessary had even found entry into textbooks on economics.[11]
2006 freiwillige Ausreise[12] lit. "voluntary emigration" A term used in the context of rejected asylum seekers who opt for leaving Germany on their own terms rather than being formally deported. The choice of the un-word criticizes the euphemistic nature of that wording, as the emigration would not be "voluntary" after all.[13] (For a similar concept in the United States, see also: self-deportation.)
2007 Herdprämie[14] lit. "stove bonus" Its origin being unknown, the term was ironically used by opponents of the conservative Merkel government's proposal for the introduction of a special allowance for families in which the small children are educated at home instead of sending them to a kindergarten or similar pre-school institution, alluding to the presumed old-fashioned gender role of a mother fully dedicated to the raising of her children. Critics argued it defames any parents who keep their children at home, irrespective of their actual motives.[2]
2008 notleidende Banken[15] lit. "suffering/needy banks" A wording used during the financial crisis of 2007–2008, by which banks are characterized as victims, rather than catalysts of the meltdown.[16]
2009 betriebsratsverseucht[17] lit. "contaminated by works councils" This offensive neologism (reportedly used internally by the Bauhaus management) describes a business with a strong works council, which takes care of the interests of the employees and thus presses for concessions on the employer's side.[18]
2010 alternativlos[19] without an alternative This term was frequently used by German chancellor Angela Merkel to describe her measures addressing the European sovereign-debt crisis as the only possible ones. The choice of the un-word criticizes that the term would be undemocratic, as any discussion on the subject would be deemed unnecessary or undesirable.[20]
2011 Döner-Morde[21] Döner murders A term used by police investigators to describe a series of murders of mostly Turkish shop and restaurant owners between 2000 and 2006, originally attributed to presumed links of the victims to organized crime groups. In 2011, it was revealed that, in fact, all murders were racial hate crimes committed by members of a previously unknown terrorist group called National Socialist Underground, which resulted in widespread criticism of the police for their initial determination.[22]
2012 Opfer-Abo[23] lit. "victim(ization) subscription" The term was coined by Jörg Kachelmann in the wake of a trial against him on sexual assault charges, in order to promote his perception that women had the tendency to repeatedly make false claims of crimes such as rape, to further their interests. The choice of the un-word criticizes that this term "unacceptably puts women under general suspicion of inventing sexual violence and of thus being perpetrators themselves."[24]
2013 Sozialtourismus[25] lit. "social tourism", welfare tourism Referring to foreigners in Germany allegedly leeching on the welfare system.
2014 Lügenpresse[26] lit. "liar press",[27] lying press[28] A term that was initially used in the First World War before being revived by the Nazis in the lead-up to the Second World War, and which has since been revived by the Pegida movement to describe media outlets that they believe to have been infiltrated by left-wing influences and therefore to be spreading lies about the political establishment, immigration, asylum and the Pegida movement itself.
2015 Gutmensch[29] "do-gooder"/"upstanding citizen" Used pejoratively, predominantly by followers of movements like Pegida, to mock those who "do good" by supporting diversity, multiculturalism and refugees in Germany; used to criticize what they believe to be liberals' blindness to the threats posed by foreigners in Germany.
2016 Volksverräter[30] "Traitor of the people"[31] A Nazi-era term revived by anti-immigration right-wing groups including AfD and Pegida.[31]
2017 Alternative Fakten[32] "alternative facts" Obscuring and misleading expression for the attempt to establish false claims as legitimate means of public discourse.[33]
2018 Anti-Abschiebe-Industrie[34] "anti-deportation industry" A term coined by Alexander Dobrindt in May 2018.

According to the jury, this term insinuates that people who provide legal assistance to rejected asylum seekers want to make money on a large scale from defending even criminal applicants for asylum. Moreover, this expression suggests that this kind of help "produces" new asylum seekers.

2019 Klimahysterie[35] "climate (change) hysteria" The word "climate (change) hysteria" defames climate protection efforts and the climate protection movement, and discredits important discussions about climate protection. The expression was used by many in politics, economics, and the media in 2019 - by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as well as by entrepreneurs and especially by politicians of the Alternative for Germany party. It dismisses the increased commitment to climate protection as some kind of collective psychosis. Moreover, in light of scientific findings regarding climate change, this word is misleading and irresponsibly supports anti-scientific tendencies. The term was sent in (to the jury) 9 times.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Wird Pegida das "Unwort des Jahres"?". Muenchner Merkur. 1 January 2015. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Unwort des Jahres beleidigt viele Eltern". Die Welt. 15 January 2008. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
  3. ^ Official website of the linguistic jury responsible for the naming of the un-word of the year (in German)
  4. ^ Spiegel Online: Ein Jahr, ein (Un-)Wort! (in German)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Die Unwörter von 1991 bis 1999" (in German). Technische Universität Darmstadt.
  6. ^ a b "Die Unwörter von 2000 bis 2009" (in German). Technische Universität Darmstadt.
  7. ^ Schlosser, Horst Dieter (2003-01-21). "Zum 12. Mal "Unwort des Jahres" gewählt" (PDF) (Press release) (in German).
  8. ^ Schlosser, Horst Dieter (2004-01-20). "Zum 13. Mal "Unwort des Jahres" gewählt" (PDF) (Press release) (in German). Sprachkritische Aktion Unwort des Jahres.
  9. ^ Schlosser, Horst Dieter (2005-01-18). "Unwort des Jahres 2004 gewählt" (PDF) (Press release) (in German). Sprachkritische Aktion Unwort des Jahres.
  10. ^ Schlosser, Horst Dieter (2006-01-24). "Unwort des Jahres 2005 gewählt" (PDF) (Press release) (in German). Sprachkritische Aktion Unwort des Jahres.
  11. ^ "Unwort des Jahres: "Entlassungsproduktivität"". Spiegel Online. 24 January 2006. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
  12. ^ Schlosser, Horst Dieter (2003-01-19). "Zum 16. Mal "Unwort des Jahres" gewählt" (PDF) (Press release) (in German). Sprachkritische Aktion Unwort des Jahres.
  13. ^ "Unwort des Jahres: "Freiwillige Ausreise"". Spiegel Online. 19 January 2007. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
  14. ^ Schlosser, Horst Dieter (2008-01-15). "Zum 17. Mal "Unwort des Jahres" gewählt" (PDF) (Press release) (in German). Sprachkritische Aktion Unwort des Jahres.
  15. ^ Schlosser, Horst Dieter (2009-01-20). "Zum 18. Mal "Unwort des Jahres" gewählt" (PDF) (Press release) (in German). Sprachkritische Aktion Unwort des Jahres.
  16. ^ "Sprachkritik: "Notleidende Banken" ist Unwort des Jahres". Spiegel Online. 20 January 2009. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
  17. ^ Schlosser, Horst Dieter (2010-01-19). "Zum 19. Mal "Unwort des Jahres" gewählt" (PDF) (Press release) (in German). Sprachkritische Aktion Unwort des Jahres.
  18. ^ "Tiefpunkt in einem Baumarkt". Spiegel Online. 17 May 2010. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
  19. ^ Schlosser, Horst Dieter (2011-01-18). "Zum 20. Mal "Unwort des Jahres" gewählt" (PDF) (Press release) (in German). Sprachkritische Aktion Unwort des Jahres.
  20. ^ "Sprachkritik: "Alternativlos" ist das Unwort des Jahres". Spiegel Online. 18 January 2011. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
  21. ^ Janich, Nina (2012-01-17). "Unwort des Jahres 2011: Döner-Morde" (PDF) (Press release) (in German). Sprachkritische Aktion Unwort des Jahres.
  22. ^ "'Kebab-Murders' called 'worst word of 2011'". The Local. 17 January 2012. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
  23. ^ Janich, Nina (2013-01-15). "Wahl des "22. Unwort des Jahres"" (PDF) (Press release) (in German). Sprachkritische Aktion Unwort des Jahres.
  24. ^ "'Victim subscription' worst phrase of 2012". The Local. 15 January 2013. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
  25. ^ Janich, Nina (2014-01-14). "Wahl des 23. "Unwort des Jahres"" (PDF) (Press release) (in German). Sprachkritische Aktion Unwort des Jahres.
  26. ^ Janich, Nina (2015-01-13). "Wahl des 24. "Unworts des Jahres"" (PDF) (Press release) (in German). Sprachkritische Aktion Unwort des Jahres.
  27. ^ Erik Kirschbaum (13 January 2015). "Revived Nazi-era term 'Luegenpresse' is German non-word of year". Reuters. Thompson Reuters. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  28. ^ Kate Connolly (6 January 2015). "Pegida: what does the German far-right movement actually stand for?". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  29. ^ "Sprachkritik: "Gutmensch" ist Unwort des Jahres 2015". sueddeutsche.de (in German). ISSN 0174-4917. Retrieved 2016-01-12.
  30. ^ ""Volksverräter" ist das Unwort des Jahres 2016". Der Spiegel (in German). 10 January 2017.
  31. ^ a b "'Traitor of the people' is Germany's worst word of 2016: Here's why". The Local. 10 January 2017.
  32. ^ "Sprachkritik: "Alternative Fakten" ist Unwort des Jahres 2017". Der Spiegel (in German). Retrieved 2018-01-16.
  33. ^ Translated from "Pressemitteilung: Wahl des 27. „Unworts des Jahres"" (PDF) (in German). Technische Universität Darmstadt. Retrieved 2020-01-15.
  34. ^ "Unwort des Jahres 2018" (in German). Technische Universität Darmstadt. Retrieved 2019-02-10.
  35. ^ "Klimahysterie ist das "Unwort des Jahres"". Der Spiegel (in German). Retrieved 2020-01-15.
  36. ^ Translated from "Pressemitteilung: Wahl des 29. „Unworts des Jahres"" (PDF) (in German). Technische Universität Darmstadt. Retrieved 2020-01-15.