German Word of the Week: Lichterloh


The one nice thing you can say about forest fires is that they bring mention of one of my favorite German words, lichterloh. Lichterloh is an adverb almost always used in conjunction with the verb "burn," and indicates that something is completely consumed in flames.

Lichterloh is one of those odd orphan words with few relatives in its language — something like 'disgruntled' in English. Lichter means 'lights,' which would seem to have something to do with fire, but nobody is really sure where the rare suffix 'loh' comes from, except that it may be a color. And lichterloh is not only exotic, but easy on the ears. The 'ch' in the middle is the special German 'ch', a breathy consonant is located about halfway between the English 'h' and 'ch,' and you can savor the long 'oh' at the end.

12 thoughts on “German Word of the Week: Lichterloh

  1. Nice word pick, Andrew :).

    As far as I know “Lohe” means the fire a smith is using for softening the metal. But it’s a very old and rarely used word, so I’m not really sure.


  2. Duden, Das Herkunftswörterbuch, 3. Auflage 2001 (etymology): “Lohe: Flamme, flammendes Feuer; das seit mhd. Zeit bezeugte Wort gehört zu der unter licht dargestellten idg. Wurzel.”

    “Lohe” thus means “flame”, “lichterloh” is a compound of “licht” (bright, fair, sparkling, light) and “loh” (flaming fire) in opposite to a fire which glows, whose flames aren’t visibile whatsoever.

    You don’t need to weep about the “orphan” word. There are indeed quite a few cities, that have “loh” or “luhe” or “lohe” or “luhe” in it (e.g. Gütersloh), which indicates, that some fire put that miserable town down.


  3. Yes indeed, why weep about this supposedly orphan word? Just a few days ago I was eating “mit Rum lichterloh gebrannte Crêpes”, like I do every now and again.


  4. @bosso:

    There are indeed quite a few cities, that have “loh” or “luhe” or “lohe” or “luhe” in it (e.g. Gütersloh), which indicates, that some fire put that miserable town down.

    It indicates nothing of the sort, as that is of course an entirely different “Loh”, meaning “wood” or “grove”. Oslo and Waterloo also belong in this lot.


  5. Reiner Grißhammer from Germany
    Waldsiedlung LOHELAND: Unweit der Barockstadt FULDA – umrahmt von der rauen Natur des Biosphärenreservats Rhön – liegt in einer reizvollen Waldlandschaft das Kleinod Loheland.
    Lohe lodernde Flamme
    type WALDSIEDLUNG + type LOHE:


  6. Dutch seems to have a few words with the same stem: ‘lichterlaaie’ as equivalent for ‘lichterloh’, but also ‘laaien’ (=’lodern’), as in ‘laaiende vlammen’ = ‘blazing flames’.


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