German Language Blog

Germany’s Unwort des Jahres – ‘Non-Word’ of the Year 2020 Posted by on Jan 13, 2021 in Language

Linguists from the Technische Universität Darmstadt have decided on Germany’s Unwort des Jahres (the ‘non-word of the year’) 2020. This year, and for the first year since the Unwort des Jahres started in 1991, there are two of them: Corona-Diktatur and Rückführungspatenschaften.

Germany’s Unwort des Jahres – ‘Non-word’ of the year.

At the end of every year, the GfdS (German Language Association) picks a word for its Wort des Jahres (Word of the Year). This is a word/topic that’s been highly discussed and prevalent in German society in the year just gone. You can read about the German Wort des Jahres 2020 here. The Jugendwort des Jahres (Youth Word of the Year) also gets chosen – you can read about that one here.

But another ‘word of the year’ also gets picked, called the Unwort des Jahres. An Unwort is a non-word; a controversial or negative word, for example: one that violates the principle of human dignity; violates the principles of democracy; discriminates against social groups; or is euphemistic or misleading in some way. Therefore, the word selected to be Unwort des Jahres is usually a controversial term. It is selected every year by a panel of linguists at the university in Darmstadt.

So, let’s take a look at the two words that topped the list in 2020!


A German app that updates you with Coronavirus alert levels. Can you figure out what it’s saying? Image by Cedrik Wesche via Unsplash.

Unsurprisingly, one of the words is to do with the coronavirus pandemic. Corona-Diktatur translates to ‘Corona dictatorship’, where the word die Diktatur means ‘dictatorship’ (‘dictator’ would be der Diktator in German – note the subtle difference in spelling and word gender). It is a phrase that was often used at anti-lockdown Proteste (protests) during the pandemic, suggesting that the government was trying to create a dictatorship. Other words related to the pandemic that were in the running for the title included Absonderung, Systemling, Wirrologen, and Grippchen, which I will do a separate post about.


“Kein Mensch ist illegal”, a common slogan used when protesting for rights for refugees. It means “No human is illegal”. Photo by Mika Baumeister via Unsplash.

The second word to top the list is die Rückführungspatenschaften, which means ‘return sponsorships’, and refers to a heavily criticised migration policy put forward by the EU to allow member states who don’t want to accept refugees, to instead sponsor their returns (the word being, according to the criticism, just a nicer way of saying die Abschiebung – deportation). The word breaks down like this:

Die Rückführung – the return
Die Patenschaft – the sponsorship

The ‘s’ in the middle of the word links the two together, while the ‘en’ on the end of the word is because it is plural.

The words each year are suggested by members of the public, with the winner chosen by a jury.

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About the Author: Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze and I live in the UK. I'm half English and half German, and have been writing about German language and culture on this blog since 2014. I am also a fitness instructor & personal trainer.