German Language Blog

The German non-word of the year Posted by on Jan 16, 2014 in Language

The time did come again. The German “Unwort des Jahres” (non-word of the year) has been chosen in Darmstadt again. The “Unwort”-jury, whose chairperson is linguist Nina Janich, received 1340 entries with 746 different words. The first place term 2013 is “Sozialtourismus” (social tourism) as the jury informed on Tuesday.


Why did the jury choose “Sozialtourismus”?

Politicians and the media used the word “Sozialtourismus” in order to refer to unwanted immigrants – especially from Eastern Europe – who come to Germany with the prospect of a better future life and who are, at the same time, said to be just interested in pocketing social welfare.

Chairperson Janich explains: “The root ‘tourism’ suggests a travel activity for pleasure and recreation.” But those who are affected suffer hardship in their homeland. Thus Janich further expounds, the term “discriminates people who are searching for a better future in Germany. Additionally, the term obfuscates the fact that these people have principally the right to immigrate to other European countries.”


Who is the initiative “Unwort des Jahres”

In 1991, the “Unwort des Jahres” was initiated by Horst Dieter Schlosser who still represents the initiative. Until 1994 the “Unwort” had been chosen within the framework of the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (GfdS) – the association for German language. After a conflict with the board of the GfdS, the initiative “Unwort des Jahres” became independent.

The aim of Schlosser and his colleagues is to raise peoples’ awareness of language and make them more conscious of it. The jury consists of four linguists who are permanent members and two co-opting members from the media who change annually.


How is an “Unwort” selected?

Every German citizen can hand in suggestions with the respective indication of source. The suggestions must receive the initiative by December 31st of the corresponding year. In the first half of January in the upcoming year the jury chooses one of the nominations on the basis of extensive discussions.


What makes a word “unwörtlich” (“non-wordy”)?

In order to become an “Unwort des Jahres” words or wordings have to meet one of the following criteria.

  1. A term violates the principle of human dignity such as Geschwätz des Augenblickes (gossip of the moment) in order to refer to cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
  2. A term violates the principles of democracy such as alternativlos (without any alternative) in order to refer to the attitude in political debates.
  3. A term discriminates social groups, for example by inappropriate oversimplification or sweeping judgment such as Wohlstandsmüll (wealth garbage) in order to refer to people who do not want to work or who are not able to work.
  4. Euphemistic or misleading words, for example, freiwillige Ausreise (voluntary exit) in order to refer to asylum seekers who will not leave the country voluntarily.


Here you can find all the twenty-two other un-words of the years 1991 to 2012.


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About the Author: Sandra Rösner

Hello everybody! I studied English and American Studies, Communication Science, and Political Science at the University of Greifswald. Since I have been learning English as a second language myself for almost 20 years now I know how difficult it is to learn a language other than your native one. Thus, I am always willing to keep my explanations about German grammar comprehensible and short. Further, I am inclined to encourage you to speak German in every situation. Regards, Sandra


  1. Ashley Leonard:

    I hadn’t even heard the word Sozialtourismus before… very interesting word to think about from both the German and immigrant point of view.

    The idea of an Unwort des Jahres is actually very cool and the process itself is interesting – I’ll probably be reading through the list of former words for both the social commentary aspect and to get a little more involved with the language.

    Thanks for sharing!