German Language Blog

Untranslatable Words: Die Hiobsbotschaft Posted by on Apr 17, 2020 in Culture, Language

If you get very bad news, how would you say that in English? Germans have a word for it, and it has quite the interesting origin story. It is the Hiobsbotschaft. Let’s have a look!

What does Hiobsbotschaft mean?

Hiobsbotschaft, sometimes Hiobsnachricht and historically Hiobspost, is a Botschaft (message) with very bad news for the Empfänger (recipient). In other words, an Unglücksnachricht (message of disaster). It comes from the character of Hiob (Job), who is mentioned in Islam, Christianity and Judaism. But what makes his Botschaft so niederschmetternd (devastating)?

The story of Hiob starts with a clash between Gott (God) and the Teufel (Devil). Hiob was a very fromm (pious) man, who was also very wealthy. He had a lot of Vieh (livestock), Knechte (servants), Kinder (children), possessions. The Teufel suggested to Gott that Hiob will only be so fromm as long as he is doing well. That, if bad things happened to him, he would verfluchen (curse) the Gott that would allow horrible things to happen to him. To prove him wrong, Gott allowed the Teufel to do terrible things to Hiob.

Hiob‘s Vieh and Knechte were killed, as well as his ten Kinder. He fell ill with a horrible Krankheit (disease). And yet, he did not verfluchen his Gott, saying: “Nehmen wir das Gute an von Gott, sollen wir dann nicht auch das Böse annehmen?” (Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?)

According to the story, these horrible things were brought to his attention by a Knecht with a Botschaft. And therein lies the origin of the word Hiobsbotschaft.

What would be a literal translation of Hiobsbotschaft?

The literal translation of Hiobsbotschaft would be “Job’s message”.

How would you use Hiobsbotschaft in a sentence?

Das Budget reicht nicht aus, um das Theater weiter finanzieren zu können. Für die Theatertruppe wird das eine wahre Hiobsbotschaft sein.

The budget is not enough to keep financing the theater. It will be a real Job’s message for the theater troupe.

What is the nearest English equivalent of Hiobsbotschaft?

Real bad news! (Image by kalhh at, edited by author)

Translating Hiobsbotschaft to Job’s message would have a different meaning in English. In English, the meaning would be more related to staying true to God, even in adverse circumstances. And while that may be the takeaway from the story of Hiob, that is not a Hiobsbotschaft in German.

The closest English equivalent, as far as I can tell, is simply “bad news” or “bad tidings”. However, neither of these two reflects the severity of a Hiobsbotschaft. A schlechte Nachricht (bad news) also exists in German, but a Hiobsbotschaft means that it is a lot worse than that.

Have you heard of the Hiobsbotschaft? Does your language have an equivalent or similar term? Do you know a fitting English equivalent? 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. Larry Sall:

    Dieser Ausdruck habe ab und zu in Nachrichten gesehen. Meine Überzeugung dafür ist „devastating message“.

  2. Graham:

    Not exactly the same but, given the religious origins of the phrase, I wonder if “devil’s curse” would be another way to translate the idea into English.

    • Sten:

      @Graham Yeah, I guess that could work.

  3. Alcazar:

    To not read you on this site or to view you on i. e. YouTube anymore would be a real Hiobsbotschaft 🙂

    De: Wenn man Dich hier nicht mehr lesen könnte oder z. B. auf YouTube sehen – das wäre wirklich eine Hiobsbotschaft 🙂