German Word of the Week: Muttermundschleim

In Planet Germany, American Eric T. Hansen notes that medical Latin and Greek took over daily discourse in English, so that even the "simplest peasant" in an English-speaking country has to try to pronounce words like esophagus, larynx, mucus, or gastrointestinal. 

German found a much better solution: it just took ordinary words and combined them in directly descriptive ways.  A nostril in German is a Nasenloch or "nose-hole", a larynx is the Kehlkopf "throat-head" (well, sort of), gums are Zahnfleisch or "tooth-meat."  Mucus is Schleim "slime," (crude but effective), and mucus membranes are Schleimhaut or "slime-skin."

Which brings us to Muttermundschleim, a word I didn’t know until I woke up one day to a radio feature on the Austrian gynecologist Hermann Knaus (G), one of the first physicians to popularize the rhythm method of contraception.  You already know that Schleim is mucus, but what on earth could Muttermund, or "mother-mouth" be?  What’s the kind of mouth only a mother could have?  Why, one that speaks babies, of course.  And lo and behold, the "mother-mouth" is the cervix, which all of us have seen once headin’ out, and only gynecologists (and certain other people who should generally be avoided) have seen headin’ in.

So putting it all together, yes, the subject of this week’s GWOW is, er, cervical mucus.  If you’d like to see a picture, just go below the fold.

What, were you really expecting a picture of cervical mucus?  Do you think I run that kind of blog?  Get help, my friend.  Now.

15 thoughts on “German Word of the Week: Muttermundschleim

  1. “the “mother-mouth” is the cervix, which all of us have seen once headin’ out”

    What about c-section delivery?

    One of the greek´s worst word to pronouce is “otorhinolaryngologist”. In German you can just say HNO-Arzt, and “HNO” stands for “Hals-Nase-Ohren”. So simple…

  2. Medical German may be sometimes repulsively descriptive, but it has the advantage of being easily comprehensible. When I first found out that an eye specialist is an “ophthalmologiste” in French, I thought that especially for children our word “Augenarzt” would appear a bit less scary.

  3. Great post! I have always been amused by the German word for entrepreneur — “unternehmer” — which literally means “under taker”! It lends a whole new creepiness to small-time capitalists…

  4. @Alex:

    “Zervixschleim” is more commonly used

    Possibly, because it’s a very specific medical term. The “average German on the street” (Josef Sechsergebinde?) has probably not the faintest idea what “Zervix” means, while in the case of “Muttermund” he should at least be able to locate the general area of the body where it’s found.


    I have always been amused by the German word for entrepreneur — “unternehmer” — which literally means “under taker”!

    Which is exactly what “entrepreneur” literally means. An enterprise is an undertaking. It’s French, mon ami.

  5. @Sebastian
    “Zervixschleim” is widely used by women who use the NFP (natürliche Familienplanung) method for contraception. I never heard or read “Muttermundschleim” anywhere. Of course people say “Muttermund” and not “Zervix” in other contexts, but hardly in this one.

    Josef Sechsergebinde heisst auf Deutsch übrigens Otto Normalverbraucher ;-).

  6. @Norbert and Ligia: The French shorten ophtalmologiste to “ophtalmo” and oto-rhino-laryngologiste to “otorhino” in every day’s conversation. I don’t think that sounds scary at all.
    One of the first things I have learnt in Germany was to ask the doctors to use the latin terms when talking to me, unless they wanted to conceal something…

  7. There is more in the same area of the female anatomy:

    Guess what a give-birth-mother may be? A part of it is called the give-birth-mother-neck.
    Or an egg-circuit/egg-conductor?


  8. @Thomas

    give-birth-mother-neck = Gebärmutterhals… How I suffered to learn this german word before going to the gynecologist! Kehlkopf is another part of my body that suffered in the german winter but I still can´t figure out what exactly the Kehlkopf is, after consulting some anatomy books. That might not have a ordinary word for that part of the larynx in portuguese…

  9. Did you know that nostril is actually originally English? It used to be ‘nose-thirl’, in which ‘thirl’ meant ‘hole’- just the same as in German!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.