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Untranslatable German Words: Torschlusspanik! Posted by on Aug 3, 2014 in History, Language

Guten Tag, and willkommen to another post on untranslatable German words!

The word of today is Torschlusspanik.

midlife crisis 2

Torschlusspanik! Photo by artbystevejohnson on Flickr.com

What is the meaning of Torschlusspanik?
This is the fear that time is running out. It describes the panic you get when you realise one day that in actual fact, you haven’t done very much with your life, and if you don’t act soon then you may miss out on more opportunities as time passes and the ‘gate closes’.

What does Torschlusspanik literally translate to?
The word can be broken down into three smaller words.
Tor: Gate
Schluss: Close (from the verb schließen – to close)
Panik: Panic

So the literal translation of Torschlusspanik is ‘Gate close panic’!

How would you use it in a sentence?
„Ab 30 fängt vor allem bei vielen Frauen die Torschlusspanik an.”
For many women, Torschlusspanik starts to set in at age 30 and up.

What is the nearest English equivalent?
The term ‘Mid-life crisis’ is most commonly associated with Torschlusspanik. But this is a term, rather than a word. As far as I can tell, there is not an individual word to describe this feeling in English.

History and use of Torschlusspanik
An interesting fact about Torschlusspanik is that the word refers to a phenomenon from the Mittelalter (medieval times). More specifically, it refers to the Panik (panic) that Stadtbewohner (city residents) felt just before dark, or if there was an imminent attack on the city, as they all had to rush to get back before the Stadttore (city gates) closed. If they didn’t get back in time, they’d be locked out for the night, exposed to Diebe (thieves), Angreifer (attackers), or other undesirable people.

The term Torschlusspanik was also used in Time Magazine on 18 August 1961, to describe the sensation of East Germans flooding into West Germany when the country was divided:

“Last week a curious and serious malady was affecting Communist East Germany and reaching almost epidemic proportions. The name of the disease was Torschlusspanik, which literally means ‘fear of gate closing’. Everything East German leaders did to shut off the flow of refugees to the West seemed, instead, to spur it on. The day that Deputy Premier Willi Stoph announced new secret measures to halt the refugees—ostensibly at the urging of “delegations of workers”—1.532 East Germans beat it over the border and checked into the big Marienfelde refugee center in West Berlin.”

– Time Magazine, Friday 18. August 1961

Nowadays, this word is used metaphorically. It describes the feeling that time is running out for things like career opportunities, marriage and having children.

I think this is a sensation felt worldwide, regardless of nationality and culture. I am curious to know whether you have a version of this word in your own language. Do let me know if you do!

Here are some related terms:

Panic – Die Panik

Fear – Die Angst

Aging – Das Altern

Career – Die Karriere

Marriage – Das Heiraten

To have children – Kinder haben

Opportunity – Die Gelegenheit

Time is running out! – Die Zeit wird knapp!

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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. Andrey:

    Hello,
    In Russia we have also such word, to be more precise it is phrasical expression – mid age crisis – such feeling have women and men…

    Best wishes,
    Andrey

  2. Quinny:

    Cool!!!

  3. Zöpfenkopf:

    Hey there, thanks for the post!
    Can I use this word more on a local scale? Not just about mid-life crisis or something that grand, let’s say, I’m running out of time to prepare to an exam, or I have to make a report in a month and I’m scared that I will not make it cause time flies so fast etc…

    • Constanze:

      @Zöpfenkopf Hey, you definitely could, but only to exaggerate and make very clear your panic! It’s not something really used to describe smaller-scale Panik. 🙂

  4. Yves Champollion:

    I love those blogs and other resources that list linguistic treasures and oddities. My 2 cents here:

    The topic is about “Untranslatable German words”. So Andrey’s contributions kind of falls out of topic at first sight, as he lists and expression, or a term, or a short phrase, rather than a word. Actually, nearly all languages express “mid life crisis” in a similar way.

    Having said that, to Andrey’s credit: German has a heavy agglutinative nature (all languages have, but some a lot more than others), so that words like Torschlusspanik actually are expressions, or phrases, in disguise. A bit as if English would erase spaces and just say midlifecrise, or the Russians, кризиссреднеговозраста. To a totally non-writing foreigner who hears “mid life crisis” spoken for the first time, it actually turns into a spaces-less “midlifecrisis” – a single word. But I drift out of topic here!

    In linguistics – nothing is simple!


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