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Untranslatable German Words: Die Gesichtsbremse Posted by on Jan 21, 2015 in Language

I know you all love learning about German’s ‘untranslatable’ words, so here’s another – the first one of 2015, in fact! Today’s untranslatable German word is Die Gesichtsbremse.

Flying

Photo by felixtsao on flickr.com under CC BY 2.0

 

 

What is the literal translation of Gesichtsbremse?

The word is made up of Das Gesicht (face) and Die Bremse (brake). So, it literally means ‘face brake’.

What does Gesichtsbremse mean?

There are two meanings for this word. The more common meaning is its literal meaning – a face that is used as a brake. When someone falls off their skateboard and lands face-first on the ground, that’s a Gesichtsbremse – because their face is literally stopping them in motion. Here’s a YouTube video of a Gesichtsbremse:

Then there is its other meaning – an insult. According to sprachnudel.de, „Eine “Gesichtsbremse” ist eine Person mit einem häßlichem oder verunstalteten Gesicht, die man nicht gerne ansieht, weil man sich ekelt.“ – „A Gesichtsbremse is a person with an ugly or unfortunate face that is not pleasant to look at, because it is so revolting“. Nice.

A person with an ugly face is probably called a Gesichtsbremse because – according to the person making the insult! – their face looks as if it’s been used as a brake.

How would you use it in a sentence?

Meaning one (a face used as a brake): Das war eine klassische GesichtsbremseThat was a classic face-brake
Meaning two (someone with an ugly face): Schau dir diese Gesichtsbremse anLook at that person with their hideous face

Now, the Germans can be very inventive with their insults, so it’s not surprising that there are several other words in the German language with the same (second) meaning as Die Gesichtsbremse. My two personal favourites are:

Das Arschgesicht – (Arsch + Gesicht) – “Arse Face”

Der Spiegeltöter – (Spiegel + Töter) – “Mirror Murderer”

Why not get creative and invent your own?!


What is the nearest English equivalent to Gesichtsbremse?

I’m actually misleading you all slightly when I call this an untranslatable German word, as there are English equivalents. However, this word is unique in that it has two meanings, and no English word (that I can think of, anyway) has these two meanings. In that sense, it’s still pretty difficult to translate accurately.

When used to mean ‘braking with the face’, something like ‘face-plant’ would be an appropriate translation of Gesichtsbremse. When used to describe someone with an ugly face, well… there are all manner of translations. Use your imagination!!

That concludes this post. I hope you enjoyed it! Any questions, comments, corrections (!), suggestions… please do leave them! Language learning is best when it’s interactive!

Bis später,

Constanze x

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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 love these columns. It’s a fun way to get into the level of Umgangssprache that my grandmother never would have taught me, and it is laborious to rely on novels. Books are, however, a good way to get the flavor and context of an expression.

    Vielen Dank!
    Allan

  2. Geoff:

    Ciao Constanze, I’m Geoff from the Transparent Italian Blog, which I write with Serena.
    We’ve been looking around for new blog ideas, and this is one that we really like, especially for the humour!
    I don’t speak German (always wanted to learn as a kid but they made me do French), but we have Italian relatives in Germany. I love Bavaria, and sometimes when we drive to England (my ‘motherland’) to see my family, we stop off there.
    I knew the word spiegel (Der Spiegeltöter – (Spiegel + Töter) – “Mirror Murderer”) because one of our relatives lives in Spiegelberg (Mirror Mountain), Germany. What a lovely name!

    Anyway, thanks for the inspiration, there are loads of untranslatable Italian words, so we should have fun with this idea.

    Saluti da Geoff 🙂

    P.S. Ciao to Allan Mahnke as well. German and Italiano Allan? bravo!!

    • Constanze:

      @Geoff Hi, Geoff! HAHAHA I do the EXACT SAME (I look at the other language blogs for inspiration)! I’m glad I was able to provide some inspiration for you! I will have to check the Italian blog in the future for some of your own untranslatable words, then. 😉
      I also love that Allan Mahnke is one of your ‘regulars’. Legend!
      Constanze x

  3. Joseph T. Madawela:

    I Love your blogs thank you very much.I never heard the term Gesichtsbremse before but if you want to use “Facebook” like this and say it in German without resorting to the English term would it be Gesichtbuch?

    • Constanze:

      @Joseph T. Madawela Yes, it would literally be “Gesichtbuch”. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? Hahha. And thank youuu! I’m very pleased that you enjoy this blog. 🙂
      Constanze

  4. HK:

    The is perhaps a third meaning, or a generalisation of the first, namely as denoting anything of gross inutility – the inutility of using a face as a brake.