Fun with language: Germany chooses its ‘youth word’ of the year

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To the older listener, it can sometimes feel as if young people are speaking an entirely different language. But like it or loathe it, the language of youths contributes to the development of a country’s language and culture as a whole. Germans celebrate these contributions annually with Langenscheidt’s Jugendwort des Jahres (youth word of the year).

This competition invites young people to nominate and discuss their favourite new word of the year on their website www.jugendwort.de. The most popular are then put to an open vote, before the top 10 are whittled down to just 1 by a panel of judges. A similar set of criteria are used as would be for a standard dictionary entry, with added emphasis on creativity (of course).


This year’s winner, Smombie, refers to a teenager who is too engrossed in their phone to pay attention to where they’re going as they’re walking down the street. This appears to be a combination of the English Zombie and Smartphone. Whilst it is understandable that words coined by teenagers may specifically describe themselves, other nominees such as Discopumper (someone who works out at the gym with the sole intention of making their biceps bigger; presumably, to show off in the club) and Swaggertarier (someone who is vegetarian because they think it is fashionable, rather than for moral or health reasons) could resonate with some of the adult population too. There are even some references to current affairs, such as the verb merkeln (to be indecisive); a politically charged reference to Germany’s Chancellor.

As a German language graduate, I’ve kept an eye on Jugendwort des Jahres for a few years now, and I’d love to see this in other languages as well. So, readers: if there were to be a youth word competition in your language, what would you like to see make the nominations list? Alternatively, what would you want to see eliminated at all costs? Personally, I’d be quite happy to never hear the word Swaggertarier used in a sentence…

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