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Obscure German Sorrows: Weltschmerz and Lebensmüde Posted by on Apr 15, 2015 in Language

Today’s untranslatable German words post was inspired by John Koenig’s project, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. This ‘dictionary’ fills gaps in the English language for feelings that were never given a name. One of the ones I came across on there had a German name: Altschmerz.

Schmerz

Foto von dierkschaefer on flickr.com

 

“Altschmerz:

weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had—the same boring flaws and anxieties you’ve been gnawing on for years, which leaves them soggy and tasteless and inert, with nothing interesting left to think about, nothing left to do but spit them out and wander off to the backyard, ready to dig up some fresher pain you might have buried long ago.”

From The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

Altschmerz is a compound noun made from the words alt (old) and Schmerz (pain). It therefore translates to ‘old pain’. This word does not exist in the German language!

A very similar word that does exist in German, however, is Weltschmerz. This is a word that we don’t have in English, so I’m going to break it down for you now.

Weltschmerz

in a cold room II

Photo by caseydavid on flickr.com

What does Weltschmerz mean?
Weltschmerz is the depressing feeling you get when comparing the actual state of the world to the picture you have in your head of how the world should be, and knowing that the picture in your head can never exist.

What does Weltschmerz literally translate to?
Weltschmerz is a compound noun made from the words Welt (world) and Schmerz (pain). It therefore translates to ‘world pain’.

How would you use Weltschmerz in a sentence?
Was kann ich gegen Weltschmerz tun? – What can I do to stop Weltschmerz?

What is the nearest English equivalent to Weltschmerz?
World-weariness. It is also sometimes compared to a state of depression.

While we’re on the topic of obscure sorrows, here’s a bonus word!

Lebensmüde

Tag 19

Photo by julienbelli on flickr.com

 

What does Lebensmüde mean? 
It describes the feeling of being tired of life. It is either used for people who are fed up and depressed, or for people who’ve done something out of character as a way to ‘spice up’ their dull lives (they may have been lebensmüde as a reason for doing something out of character).

What does Lebensmüde literally translate to?
Lebensmüde is a compound noun made up of the words Leben (life) and müde (tired). It therefore translates to ‘life tired’.

How would you use Lebensmüde in a sentence?
Bist du lebensmüde? – Are you lebensmüde?

What’s the nearest English equivalent to Lebensmüde?
Like Weltschmerz, its English equivalents are world-weary, depressed, fed up, and maybe restless and dissatisfied, too…

John Koenig should look to German to fill the rest of the gaps in the English language. There is a word for everything in German.

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About the Author:Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze. I'm half English and half German. I write here because I'm passionate about my languages and my roots. I also work as a translator & group fitness instructor.


Comments:

  1. Allan Mahnke:

    I have frequently used Weltschmerz to describe the music of the late Johannes Brahms. I think the term fits him exactly.

    Thanks!
    Allan

  2. Chaosweib:

    well i would translate Lebensmüde as tired of life…not life tired or depressed or fed…

    • Constanze:

      @Chaosweib Hi, ‘life tired’ was my literal translation, which I include so that people can see exactly which words the German compound noun consists of. I then included depressed because I was looking for only one word in English that could be its equivalent. Of course, as you quite rightly said, it means ‘tired of life’. But that is more than one word. 😉 Hope that clarifies things!! x

  3. Bruce Jackson:

    Thanks for this. We live in “difficult” times. Thank heavens for J S Bach-and others, of course.
    Keep up the good work.


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