A Few Words in German I Stay Away from, and So Should You

Badshahi Mosque, Lahore, Pakistan. Photo: Wikipedia

Badshahi Mosque, Lahore, Pakistan. Photo: Wikipedia

It’s difficult to believe that spoken German is so difficult Just when you get close to understanding the grammar, have fewer holes in your vocabulary and you can begin to enunciate, you realize you can’t pronounce it! German sounds abrupt, and intense, with a sort of staccato sound of emphasis on the hard consonants like ‘k’ or ‘t’ or ‘z’.

Some sounds I can’t ever pronounce correctly, so I stay away from troubling words that contain them. And for very good reason. Two examples immediately come to mind.

The first pair is schwül and schwul. What could be so tricky about the two dots? The German ‘sch’ sounds like ‘sh’ in the word shoot, the German ‘w’ like an English ‘v’. So far so good. The two dots mean that there is an ‘e’ behind the ‘u’, so the first is actually ‘schwuel’. Most Americans (I think, I hope!) wouldn’t make much of difference between the two when saying them. It would be like trying to differentiate the vowel sounds of school and crude. Not much difference, if any at all. The first word means sultry or muggy or sticky. The second is gay, or more like gay and queer. Your situation has become very sticky but not gay for sure.

The second pair of words is Moshee and Muschi. Both words are nouns so they are capitalized. As we’ve already learned, the ‘sch’ is the same sound as an ‘sh’, perhaps a bit harder. A double ‘ee’ is about the same as the ‘i’. In fact the ‘i’ in German is pronounced ‘e’ as in be. The ‘o’ sounds like the ‘o’ in pot, the ‘u’ like ‘u’ in put. Sure there’s a difference but it isn’t very BIG. But in German it is, like, MONUMENTAL!  A Moshee is a mosque and a Muschi is a pussycat without the cat.

The one on the right has it, the one on the left doesn't. Photo: Wikipedia

The one on the right has it, the one on the left doesn’t. Photo: Wikipedia

Now, I realize that these words don’t come up that often in a normal conversation. But for me, if I can even begin to sniff that any of these words might be on the horizon, I excuse myself and go to he little boys room, where I feel more comfortable, that is, until the cleaning woman asks me to lift my foot as I’m standing at a urinal. That’s Germany!

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13 thoughts on “A Few Words in German I Stay Away from, and So Should You

  1. I never thought about these words so thoroughly because for us Germans they are quite different. Much more different in pronounciation than the homophones in English, which can be as hard as your examples for us. Many thanks for your funny point of view!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The Week in Germany: WWII Fiction, Winter in Bavaria, Empty Houses, & Difficult German Words | Young Germany

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