Friend or Foe? – German Coronavirus Terms to Confuse or Bemuse You

The German language enjoys borrowing English words. For example, ‘Manager’ and ‘Job’ are often used instead of ‘Leiter’ and ‘Arbeitsstelle’. Other English-sounding words, such as ‘Handy’, also exist; this means ‘mobile phone’, even though no English-speaking person would use this to describe their phone – a false friend indeed.

The COVID-19 crisis has created a vast array of terms in the UK and the German-speaking world. The Leibniz Institute for the German Language has compiled a list of vocabulary, available at: This includes a number of English-sounding words. Just as with the virus, we need to approach some of these with caution though.

When it comes to living under strict restrictions, where England has Tier 1, Germany calls this ‘Lockdown light’. A ‘Megalockdown’ is the opposite of this with the most extreme restrictions, such as ‘Tier 4’. Restrictions might arise not only from governmental legislation, but also be forced on you by prolonged snowfall with the rather delightful ‘Flockdown’.

For appearance, Germany insists on a ‘Mask-have’ (a mandatory face mask) with this being ‘Coronafashion’. If you have to manage your own hairstyle, this is referred to as a ‘Coronacut’.

(One of my own masks, above)

While ‘Zuhause’ means ‘at home’, domestic work and entertainment have happily adopted ‘home’. So, ‘Homeclubbing’ means ‘dancing at home to music via the Internet on a video call with friends’. Why not? Confusion might start though when asking about how things are going in the ‘Homeoffice’ – not a UK governmental department, but the official German term for homeworking.

If you can leave your home, you might like to cycle on a ‘Pop-up-Bikelane’ (the term ‘Pop-up-Radweg’ is also available). When the option of long-distance travel is no longer possible, you might like a ‘Holistay’, more commonly known in English as a ‘staycation’.

A recent term, which might be added to the official list soon, is ‘Impfluencer’. With ‘impfen’ meaning ‘to vaccinate’, an ‘Impfluencer’ is someone who can influence others to get a COVID-19 vaccine. While we wait to be vaccinated or have to shield, both German and English speakers will have to continue ‘Social Distancing’, but can also indulge in a few ‘Quarantini’.

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