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Untranslatable German Words: mutterseelenallein Posted by on Nov 7, 2015 in Language

Hello and welcome to another post on untranslatable German words, where I bring you the quirkiest, funniest and most intelligent words that the German language has to offer – and ones that are difficult to find a translation for!

Today’s word is mutterseelenallein.

 

What does mutterseelenallein mean?

To be mutterseelenallein describes an extreme kind of loneliness, far worse than simply being allein (alone).

 

What is the literal translation of mutterseelenallein?

Mutterseelenallein is made up of three separate words. The first is die Mutter (mother), the second is die Seelen (souls), and the third is allein (alone). The literal translation, therefore, is ‘mother souls alone’.

What does this mean, exactly? Well, as mentioned above, to be mutterseelenallein is to be in a state of extreme loneliness. The kind of loneliness that feels as though even your own mother has abandoned you, that there is no one in the world who you can turn to.

It is said that this word originated in the 17th/18th century, when many French Protestants arrived in Berlin. There was a common French phrase at the time, ‘moi tout seul’ – ‘me all alone’ in English, and ‘ich ganz allein’ in German. It was used so much, in fact, that the Berliners adopted it, modifying it first to ‘moi tout seul allein’ and then to the similar-sounding, German ‘mutterseelenallein’.

 

How would you use mutterseelenallein in a sentence?

You can use it in the same way you would use the regular word for alone (allein).
Ich bin allein – I am alone.
Ich bin mutterseelenallein – I am desperately/completely alone.

I read Grimms Märchen (Grimm Fairytales) recently and came across the word mutterseelenallein in use in the story Schneewittchen (Snow White).

From Grimms Märchen by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Own photo.

From Grimms Märchen by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Own photo.

‘And so the poor child was mutterseelenallein in the huge forest, and was so scared that it looked at all the leaves on the trees and did not know what to do.’

What is the nearest English equivalent to mutterseelenallein?

Quite frankly, there isn’t one that even comes close! If there is a particular phrase or word that you use to describe this feeling, leave a comment and let us know. Let’s find a word for mutterseelenallein in English. 😉

Schönes Wochenende!

Constanze x

PS. If you like these untranslatable words, why not try my quiz on them?

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About the Author: Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze and I live in the UK. I'm half English and half German, and love writing about German language and culture. I also work as a group fitness instructor.


Comments:

  1. Brightstar:

    Hi Constanze
    I like your idea of untranslatable words in German.

    I don’t find the way to access previous word in this section, I only can acces today’s word Mutterseelenallein

    I assume there are more words of the kind because the quiz.

    How can I find them?

    Regards

    Brightstar

    • Constanze:

      @Brightstar Hey! Glad you like the untranslatable words. If you click on the tab at the bottom of the post named ‘untranslatable German’, this should take you to all of my previous words (there are quite a few). Alternatively, you can type in ‘untranslatable German’ into the search bar on the right hand-side of the blog page. The quiz will come up, too. 🙂 Constanze x

  2. bree:

    “Abandoned”?

  3. Martin John Mills:

    Cute, but probably not true. Has all the hallmarks of folk etymology: a neat little anecdote, cross-linguistic mishearings, and absolutely no evidence to back it up.

    “Moi tout seul” isn’t even grammatical, unless it’s the answer to “how many people?”

    People love to regurgitate these, but that doesn’t mean there’s any truth in them. Sorry to be a spoilsport.