Compound Words by El Szalay

Language is a funny thing. There’s thousands of languages, and several of them have the concept of compound words: taking two (or more) smaller words and combining them into one. After all, why invent a new word when you could just combine two into one and say the same thing? In English, this includes words like mailbox, football, sunflower, or milkshake. In my opinion, these are pretty tame. Lame, even. There’s potential to create some pretty silly compound words, we just choose not to. Why do I think this? Take a look at the German language.

Like English, German is a Germanic language. Unlike English, the German language is absolutely hilarious. It has its fair share of goofy-sounding words, but I think the funniest aspect of the language by far is its compound words. If there’s one thing to know about Germans, it’s that they hate inventing new words for things when they could either borrow it from another language (usually English) or, better yet, put together very literal compound words. Here’s a few of my favorites.


Definition: Airplane

Literal translation: Fly thing/Fly machine

The Germans do this a lot. When they can’t think of a word for something, they think about what the thing does (in this case, flying) and add -zeug, meaning thing, to the end of it. Some other good examples of this include spielzeug (toy, literally meaning play thing) and schlagzeug (drum, literally meaning hit thing).


Definition: Glove

Literal translation: Hand shoe

The thing that gets me about this one is that this word should theoretically be “handsocke,” meaning “hand sock.” Why is it a hand shoe?


Definition: Birth control pills

Literal translation: Anti-baby pills

I personally think we should add this word to the English language. Fun fact, the alarm in my phone to remind me to take my meds is called “antibabypillen !!”


Definition: Refrigerator

Literal translation: Cool cupboard

…I mean, yeah. Fair enough. That’s what it is.


Definition: A comeback you think of after the argument has already ended

Literal translation: Staircase joke

I literally just learned this word exists and I love it so much. I’ve been in this situation SO many times, and I’m glad the Germans acknowledge the need for this word. However, I cant wrap my head around the connection between this concept and staircases.


Definition: Friendship

Literal translation: Friendship relationship

It’s really not that hard to just say “freundschaft.” But whatever floats your boat I guess.


Definition: Tortoise

Literal translation: Shield toad

Toad??????? TOAD??????????? TOAD???????????????


Definition: Skunk

Literal translation: Stink animal

This one just feels like an attack. Leave skunks alone, they’re just defending themselves 🙁


Definition: Ambulance/Hospital

Literal translation: Sick car/Sick house

A classic. We’ve probably all seen the German vs. Other Languages videos on YouTube and all agree this word is hilarious. In case you ever wanted to know what it really means, here you go.


Definition: Guinea pig

Literal translation: Little sea pig

This one isn’t really that funny considering that we basically call them the same thing in English. But something about calling a guinea pig a “little sea pig” cracks me up.


Definition: Slug

Literal translation: Naked snail



Definition: Weight gained from comfort eating

Literal translation: Sorrow bacon

It seemed fitting to include this one in light of Thanksgiving next week. I don’t get the connection between this idea and “sorrow bacon,” but it’s hilarious and I love it.

3 thoughts on “Compound Words by El Szalay

  1. El,
    This was so unexpected, and so fun to read! Since my husband and kids all have taken (or are taking) German, I can’t wait to surprise them by dropping one of these tidbits into conversation. (After I listen to the German pronunciation online, of course.) My husband is a drummer, so I can’t wait to tell him to move his schlagzeugs out of the kitchen after he leaves them piled there after a gig!

    Super creative and funny!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *