German Language Blog

Untranslatable German Words: Der Nichtskönner Posted by on Jun 26, 2018 in Culture, Language

What does Nichtskönner mean?

Bunch of Nichtskönner! What were these construction workers thinking? (Image by Nick Agus Arya at

The Duden gives us a straightforward definition:

“jemand, der sein Fach nicht beherrscht; Stümper”

(Someone that has not mastered their discipline; bungler)

So that would give us a definition straight away! Done! Well, not quite.

Nichtskönner is a word you could hear here and there, whereas bungler is not really used a lot. It also has a somewhat different connotation.

What would be a literal translation of Nichtskönner?

Nichtskönner literally means “somebody able to do nothing”, so it is quite simple and straightforward: somebody that is not able to do anything. Obviously, it is used in context with a specific discipline in mind – within that discipline, they have no competence at all, and are therefore a Nichtskönner. Such an exaggeration makes sense in German culture, that is generally known for its precision and perfectionism in small details.

How would you use Nichtskönner in a sentence?

An infamous example of use of the word Nichtskönner is the angry man, Ronny, in the viral video Kranplätze müssen verdichtet sein! (Crane spots must be solidified!)

So it basically is used in an angry situation or when you are just being sarcastic with somebody.

Mensch, Axel, du musst die Schraube nach rechts drehen, du Nichtskönner! (Man, Axel, you have to turn the screw to the right, you bungler!)

What is the nearest English equivalent of Nichtskönner?


As mentioned above, “bungler” could be an option, but “incompetent” makes more sense, I think. However, “incompetent” does not have the same sort of striking exaggeration that Nichtskönner has (that they are literally not able to do anything). Incompetent makes sense as the English equivalent.

What do you think of the word Nichtskönner? Do you have a similarly strong word for something like this? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.


  1. Christopher Tozzo:

    Perhaps, “dolt.” 🙂

  2. Karen:

    Hi Sten!

    How about incapable or inept as an English equivalent of nichtskönner?

    Thank you for that interesting lesson 🙂

    • Sten:

      @Karen Yeah, that could work as well!

  3. Allan Mahnke:

    These are such great fun!

  4. Doug Chandler:

    A word I feel would fit is: Nincompoop