German Words of the Week: Angstschweiss and Angstlust

It is often said that Eskimos have over 40 words for snow. Which is bollocks. The Economist once said that "If Eskimos have dozens of words for snow, Germans have as many for bureaucracy." Which is not bollocks.

Germans also seem to have as many words for fear. People here break out in "fearsweat," (Angstschweiß), and just a few days ago, I read a glorious new German word in my fancy weekly newspaper: Angstlust (G). The enjoyment of fear. Not just horror-movie, roller-coaster fear, but everyday fear. In my experience, if you ask a German "What are you grateful for?", the conversation will last 30 seconds. If you ask one "What are you afraid of?", it will last 30 minutes.

So what are Germans afraid of? This handy chart says it all:


The source of the chart is this paper. For those of you who aren’t yet German-enabled™, the chart’s title is "Developments in Various Forms of Fear Since 1991" (no, really — that’s the title!) and the legend reads, in order:

  • Increase in cost of living
  • Worsening of the economic situation
  • Becoming unemployed
  • Serious illness
  • Become a long-term-care case when old
  • Terrorism
  • Lower living standard when old
  • Crime

The conclusion is clear. In the past six years or so, Germans have become much more scared about everything. Except crime.

But don’t feel sorry for them. First, it may well be the case, as most Germans say, that Germans seem much more scared than other people you meet simply because they are more honest about their fears. Second, do not immediately associate fear with misery. You cannot grasp the German character until you learn one profound fact: Germans enjoy being afraid (Angstlust, people!). Especially when they can all be afraid of the same thing, which produces feelings of Gemeinschaftsgefuehl, social togetherness.

2 thoughts on “German Words of the Week: Angstschweiss and Angstlust

  1. There goes Bismarck’s famous quote, I’m afraid.

    Honestly though, the cultivation of certain fears is obviously no specifically German invention. I mean, the word “Angstlust” comes from an article about Sweden. And even in America, which, as the stereotype would have it, is an ever-optimistic land, you can troll for votes by conjuring up the most frightful sceneries.

    The Economist once said that “If Eskimos have dozens of words for snow, Germans have as many for bureaucracy.” Which is not bollocks.

    As the Latin lovers say: Ex falso quodlibet.


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