Style Special – “Bad mood”

german-bad-moodHello everyone,

and welcome to our German word of the Day. Spring is coming. The sun is warm. Flowers are blooming, birds are singing, new couples are tongue wrestling in public. Time to grump it out. Time to be miserable.
Nah… I’m kidding. Spring is nice. I just said that as an introduction. Yeah, I’m cheap like that.Today it is time for another Style Special. Style specials bring you heaps of vocabulary. Words you’d probably never look up but words that are part of the daily language of people. Will it get you an A in the exam? No. Will it get you a hot Spring fling? Well, usually I’d say yes, but not today because our topic is

Expressing bad mood and just being negative

And if that doesn’t tell you very much… Crying, whining, nagging, constant complaining… that is what we’ll talk about today. I just couldn’t think of a better title. But hey you know what.. if you don’t like it, that’ll be your very own problem and you might as well just stop listening. You’ll never learn German anyway, you know.
Nah I’m kidding. I’m just trying to set the mood right :)… oh wait… I mean
:(, or better yet :C… or :ç. The last one is grumpy because it has herp… okay that’s not very nice. Let’s just start.


In German you don’t say you ARE in a bad mood. You say you HAVE it.

There is also an adjective schlechtgelaunt which means the same but sometimes it is really handy.

A quite colloquial way to say the same thing is this

Which literally means “I am not good on it”. People use that a lot so I think you’ll probably hear it. It also works as a question

Next let me give you a list of words that describe how you are ranging from irritated to enraged.

  •  nicht gut drauf – angefressen – genervt / gereizt  – verärgert /sauer/angepisst – (stink-, scheiß-)wütend
  • not in the best mood – slightly annoyed – annoyed /irritated – angry / mad / pissed off – very angry/furious

And now let’s get to the verbs that kind of fall into that area… the first group is grummeln which is essentially a deep rumbling sound. It describes the mumbling and muttering a grumpy person does. There is also an adjective grummelig which would translate to mildly grumpy  but as far as adjectives go, my favorite one is muffig.  Muffig is originally a word for smell…. kind of… old air. A dark moist basement is muffig for example. But it is also used to describe how people are.

Now, of course a Morgenmuffel has to eat, too so I eventu… I mean … he eventually agrees to having breakfast. But there it goes again

  • “Das Ei ist zu weich.”
    “Tut mir leid.”
    “Und die Butter ist zu hart.”
    “Dann wart halt mal kurz.”
    “Ihh… da sind Stückchen in meinem Kaffee.”
    “Das ist normal bei Biomilch, das ist nur Rahm.”
    “Die Gurkenscheiben sind zu dick.”
    “Och jetzt hör doch mal auf..”
  • “The egg is too soft.”
    “I’m sorry.”
    “And the butter is too hard.”
    “Well, then just wait for a bit.”
    “Ewwww…. there are pieces in my coffee.”
    “That is normal, it’s organic milk, it’s just cream.”
    “The cucumber slices are too thick.”
    “Oh, could you knock it off…”

Quite a lot of complaints. Now, the dictionary translation for to complain is sich beschweren or sich beklagen.

For these two it is really really crucial to have the self reference there. They do not work without it. But beschweren is rather official… or at least… for more serious things. The better verb here for that is meckern. Originally meckern is the verb for the noise goats make. And I can totally see why this would become used for just general small scale complaining :) “Mäh äh äh äh” (that’s how a goat sounds in German)

A nice variation is the word (he)rummeckern which is kind of prolonged meckern about one particular subject.

And if you do that all the time.. then you are what we call a Meckerfritze.  Berlin especially has a renown to be filled with Meckerfritzen.  Like… there is no small talk… there is only “small  meckern”. Go ahead and ask the lady at the bakery if it is  really possible that public transportation has raised prices yet again (“schon wieder teurer geworden”)… you’ll be the best friends within seconds. If people don’t meckern, that already means something…

Some say this is the biggest compliment we’re able to give in Berlin. Of course that’s not true, but does sound very very affectionate to my ears :).
Now, meckern is not the only word for this small scale complaining. Another really nice one is nörgeln. It is a bit more restrained, more composed than meckern.  But negative nonetheless. The word nörgeln not only captures the tone of the voice, but also the face and the whole way of gesturing I associate with that kind of behavior. And of course there is also rumnörgeln.

A slightly lighter version of nörgeln is nölen… which perfectly captures the way you speak, look and move. Nölen is broader, more general  than nörgeln  and not always do you need to have a real complaint… you’re just “meh”-ing around so to speak.
Anyway… after breakfast our hero went to the store to get groceries. As he waits the kid in front of him spots the candy bars which unleashes a forceful series of requests to the mother who retorts with a series of “no”s. The kid pretends to let go of it but then starts muttering how mom is so unfair and never buys any candy and how mommy is mean. And then because kids are schizophrenic sometimes the kid turns back to mom and says something like: “Just a really small one, please please please… you buy a small one and I will bring down the trash, I promise.”
And all this is quengeln.

Quengeln is actually rather childish. You can use it for your friends or your partner but maybe more in a joking way. An adult alternative is nerven. Nerven  is quite similar to nagging as far as grammar goes… you can nerven someone or can just nerven.  But nerven literally means to go on one’s nerves. And there are a million ways to do that. Quengeln is quite specific. It implies that you appear to be not so far from crying AND it also implies that you do it because you want something… like a chocolate bar… which supermarkets put right at the cashier exactly for that reason. Mom and dad have to wait in line, kid sees colorful packaging and there we go… bitte bitte bitte bitt… oh … we have a call here, Hanson from Missouri, hello Hanson you’re on the air.
“Hey Emanuel, I was driving in my car and as I was checking the radio I heard you say something I want to object…”
Oh… which is…
“Well, I so happened to be a store manager of a supermarket chain and I can assure
the that the only reason the chocolate bars and sweets are where they are is because
we simply didn’t have room an
ywhere else.”
Ohhhh…. right, right… then I guess the fact that the area in front of the cashier is commonly called Quengelzone (nagging zone) in German is a coincidence…. hello? Hello Hanson? Hmmm… hung up. Couldn’t admit it, I suppose.  By the way, this article called “Well prepared into the Quengelzone” gives a few tips on how to react to your child’s tantrum.
The mom in front of me hasn’t read it and so I… god, why do I keep saying I… the fictional character watched the situation escalate. The kid decided to take the initiative and started loading the cart with Kinderüberraschung and other items. And that’s when mom lost her temper and scolded the child. And that is called schimpfen. It is basically a strong, serious and directed meckern.

You can also just schimpfen, then it is kind of like to rant but meckern might be the better choice.
Anyway… so the mom scolded and the kid started crying and that brings us right to the second part.
But first… a commercial, a banned commercial . It’s kind of dark but the acting is great.  (you might want turn down the volume a bit if your at work :)




The German word for sad  is traurig and the word for crying is weinen, and I have to say that I really like the sound of that… weinen… it’s really soft. The word is related to weh and woe which means something like pain and those are based on … well… just a cry. Kind of like what babies do… in German we write it as wuähh… so they use umlaut right from the start :). Now, weh is part of a very common German phrasing

Seems weird but this is really the way to express that something hurts and you should learn that… I’ll wait… … la la la…  got it? Great :).
What’s also interesting about weh and weinen is that the word wenig is derived from them. Germans are not aware of that anymore but wenig used to mean deplorable or with less Latin… “cry worthy”

But back to weinen. Weinen means to cry as in to cry tears (die Träne).

Now, one could think that weinen is related to whine but that seems to not be the case. To whine is related to wiehern which is the sound a horse makes in German. But even if they were related… weinen is much more genuine and deep. It has a lot of dignity and it is kind of sad that the word weinerlich has the negative spin it has.

There is also a very very nice way to say that a person cries easily.

All right. If a weinen gets really loud then it changes to heulen. Heulen is related to howl and it might be an imitation of the sound of an owl. Heulen is also used for wolves and for sirens and while there is of course nothing wrong with heulen if you have to the word itself is a bit negative…

You wouldn’t say that to a sad kid. That would be to harsh and disrespectful of the sadness. It is quite common among friends…

Another very common expression that basically does the same job is heul doch.

Not exactly fit for the apple store but I do say that… the nice thing about it is that you can give it this really inviting tone. Like…. as if it is a really good idea. That’s what makes it different from “cry me a river”. And it is super short… Heul doch! Snap. You could try it with your teacher…

Nah… better not :).
Similar to heulen is jammern which is related to to yammer. If I had to describe jammern I’d say it is a mix of crying and talking. It works in serious contexts but it is also used like the slightly derogatory  heulen.

A weak person is sometimes called a Jammerlappen (yammer cloth) and a “low” in life… like… money-wise or partner-wise can be called Jammertal (vale of tears).

And since we’re at styles of crying, there is also  wimmern (whimper) which is a rather quiet crying with your mouth closed. Winseln (to whimper) is what dogs do when they want something but it is also used for people and then last but not least, there is the word schlunzech. Yeah.. I know.. it does look hard to pronounce . Try to do it in two parts like schlun – zech … that should d.. OH MY GODhold on… I mixed up the letters.. the actual word  is schluchzen. That’s … uhm… probably even harder but I think I have an idea:
heul doch!
Hehe… probably saw that coming. Now.. schluchzen is related to schlucken which means to swallow and the translation is to sob.I think schluchzen is a bit stronger than sobbing though so let’s make that heavy sobbing. The -zen ending was inspired by seufzen by the way. Seufzen is to sigh and for me it is one of the most cumbersome German word to pronounce … especially the du -form.

I really have to focus to not say “säufst” which means “drink a lot of alcohol”. That won’t help against grief. It just procrastinates it.
All right. Now, that we’re all wet from tears let’s quickly look at two activities you can do if someone is sad. The first one is aufmuntern. Munter  is kind of the opposite of tired but it is also used in sense of jolly or lively. So it makes sense that aufmuntern means to cheer up.

This is something you’d do if a person is down or depressed. You wouldn’t really do it if someone is crying on your shoulder. That is an emergency and what you need to do is trösten.

Back then that would be done verbally but a much more efficient way is just buying something for the kid. That’s why it is called game console… okay okay, I know that wasn’t funny.
The noun for trösten is der Trost (comfort, solace) and there we can clearly see the relation to trust. And that’s it for today. The mom apologized to the kid, the kid settled for an apple, our hero bought his girlfriend some flowers on the way home, and spent the rest of the day reading a book about how to shoehorn a dumb story into a piece of non fictional writing lest the readers realize how boring it is.
This was our German Word of the Day style special on “bad mood”. I know, it was kinda all over the place and random but I hope you could take something away from it anyway. And of course, if there are other words from that area that you’d like to know or if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I’m out. I hope you liked it and see you next time.


further reading:

for members :)

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Nikolaus Wittenstein

“Your constant nagging/whining kinda gets on my nerves.”(is that word even used??)

I’m not sure which word you’re talking about, so I’ll just say… Yes. All of those words are used :)


A few more examples that have come to my mind while reading.

– Ich seh gleich rot. Lit.: I’m about to see red.
(Does this exist in English, too?)

– Ich raste gleich aus. (lit. I’m about to unlatch)
– I’m about to lose it.

or the very formal version:

– Jetzt verlieren Sie bitte nicht die Beherschung/die Fassung.
– Please, don’t loose your composure now.

And of course a child confronted with forbidden candy in the supermarket line can resort to terror and attract a larger audience.

– Das Kind hat voll den Aufstand gemacht.
– The kid so went off to riot.

– Mach hier keinen Terror!
– Don’t start any terror here.


Gute Arbeit!
Kannst du bitte den Unterschied zwischen “aufnehmen” und “annehmen” erklären?

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Emanuel, kannst du die Entstehung von Strukturen wie “du, der du … bist” / “ihr, die ihr … werdet” / usw. erklären? Wieso sehen sie so aus? Verwendet man die im Alltag?


Dass ich schon im Laufe dieses Artikels und der Kommentare drei mal mit der Meldung von der Telekommunikationsbehörde konfrontiert werden muss, dass die Youtube-Videos nicht mehr erreichbar sind, nervt mich aber wirklich sehr. Die türkische Regierung soll aufhören zu quengeln und sich gut mit Meinungsfreiheit und Transparenz vertragen.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Genau. Und alle Diktatoren müssen sterben ;)


Hoffentlich sterben sie eines natürlichen Todes. Zuerst müssen sie für ihre Verbrechen zahlen :p

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Emanuel, ich habe neulich angefangen, ETA Hoffmanns “Die Elixiere des Teufels” erneut zu lesen (das Buch habe ich schon als Kind vor … Jahren auf Russisch gelesen, und erinnere mich nur daran, dass ich damals davon begeistert war), und ich stolpere ab und zu nicht nur über neue bzw. veraltete Wörter, was ja zu erwarten war, sondern auch über seltsame grammatikalische Strukturen. Z.B.:

Ich lachte und schwatzte zum größten Vergnügen der Äbtissin und der Schwester, die im Zimmer geblieben.

Als ich einige Tropfen des süßen Getränks, das mir bis jetzt ganz unbekannt gewesen, gekostet, kehrte mein munterer Sinn…

Meine Mutter schrieb mir, wie sie es längst geahnet, …

Was soll das denn? Ich konnte mir bisher so was in Gedichten vorstellen, aber in Prosa? Dies scheint aber nur in Nebensätzen aufzutreten.

PZ: darüber hinaus liegt in diesem Text eine unübliche Verwendung von “worden” vor, das lasse ich aber aus.


I am going to have days of fun reading and re-reading this article! I love that you have collected these ideas together. One thing that caught my eye. You translated meckern as bitching. We actually use it just like the German – bleating, which is the direct English translation for the goat sound. We seem to like goats (!) We call our children kids, we ask who you are kidding and tell you tell to stop bleating when you get annoying about something, then if you are an old man, might call you an old goat. Bleating is more neutral than bitching. It expresses that one is going on about something, and not just thecomplaining/being nasty aspect, which is the tone of bitching.

And whingeing – North Americans tend not to know this word, but its classic use is from Australia, “whingeing Poms”. I see whingeing and whining as the same, but whining is also like bleating in that it gets across the tone of the carrying on, as well as the content.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk!


There’s a Kitz? No kidding? I learned something too. Fox and ferret young are a kit, or plural kits (or cubs for foxes, more usual). Deer young, though, are fawn. Kids was a cruder/affectionate term for children but is now so common it is neutral.

Alex Hussak
Alex Hussak

Nur in Deutschland% 2C dieses Blog ist super. Ich habe eine Menge gelernt dies lesen!


Hello Emmanuel,
I am confused by the use of ‘vor lauter’ as in Ich komme vor lauter Arbeit nicht mehr zum Lesen.
At first I thought that it was related to ‘laut’ as in laut (according to) Angaben der Polizei (accordin to police reports)… which is false (there is no declination of laut),
Then I thought that it meant ‘in the face of’ (vor) loud work, meaning because there is a lot of noise at work, I am not able to (cannot bring myself to) read, but this is also false.
A waiter in a restaurant who kindly took the time to answer my question, told me that it means BECAUSE (vor lauter) I have SO MUCH work (Arbeit, but where is the ‘so much’ part?), I am not able to read. The waiter also told me that ‘vor lauter’ is a fixed combination.
I was surprised to find very little about ‘vor lauter’ in dictionaries.
My questions are :
– is there a reason why the usual ‘because’ was not used (weil, da, (des)ewgen, aufgrund, denn)
– assuming that vor lauter means because, where in the sentence does it say ‘so much’ work. If von lauter means because, the sentence would read ‘because of work’ and it could simply mean that I cannot read at work for any possible reason, such as it would not be safe (for a bus driver), or regulations at work forbid reading, etc
– what is the ‘logic’ behind vor lauter and when is it used ?.
– could one have said ‘zu lesen’ instead of ‘zum Lesen’?
Finally, I would just like to say that I am learning german because I immigrated to a german speaking Switzerland. I am not asking you to help with homework.
Herzlichen Dank and thanks again for your excellent post,


This would have been the perfect article to introduce the word “Fernweh” while doing the perfect translation with another German word “Wanderlust”.
Man that would have been awesome :( I mean, when do you get the chance to translate a German word with another German word? :)


Excellent use of language. I just love the way you have explained the easy way to learn languages. It’s really great.


Typo in the first German sentence: “Ich haben…” Egads!