Word of the Day – Wundertütenspecial

wundertute-1Hallo ihr alle,

and welcome to our first (well, actually second) Word of the Day  Wundertüten-Special. Now you’re of course all like “What’s a Wundertüte”. Well, ein Wunder is a wonder or a miracle and eine Tüte is a bag. So a Wundertüte is literally a miracle bag and it’s no surprise that it’s a euphemism for a joint. But the main meaning is a different one. I don’t know if they’re still selling this but when I was a kid a Wundertüte was sold at a lot of kiosks and it was a sealed bag with a bunch of  surprises in it, like chocolate, chewing, a yo-yo, a sticker or a Sony Play Station. At least that one guy in the other class claimed he got one. Although… now that I think about it that makes me a bit suspicious because…  I doubt they  actually sold Play Station in East Germany. God, I was so naive as a kid. Anyway, so a Wundertüte is the same idea as an Überraschungsei.
And that’s pretty much what a Wundertüten-Special is. Instead of looking at one of the main stream words, we’ll leave the beaten tracks of learners and venture out into the wild a bit. And trust me, there are a lot of really really cool and super useful gems out there. So, are you ready to dive in and learn some words that will really make you sound like a native without being slang? Awesome.


Lästern is not something good. But man, it can be so much fun. What is it? Well, let’s just look at an example. Michelle and Alicia are working together. Here’s a recording of their smoking break

“God, Maria gets on my nerves so bad today.”
“Doesn’t she always?”
“Haha… yeah, but she’s so stupid. Like… in the meeting when she asked that question about that one thing I was just like duh. Like DUHHH.”
“Yeah she always asks dumb questions.”
“Oh and OH MY GOD, have you seen how she’s hitting on the new IT guy?”
“You gotta be kidding me… really?”
“Yeah,no shit. She’s all like asking about servers and stuff as if she would understand any of that and then, oh my god you’re not gonna believe this, then I caught her on the toilet stuffing her bra with toilet paper.”
“No kidding, and I was just like thinking like ‘Girl, you need to do something about your hair first.”
“So true, she has absolutely no style.

That is lästern. Talking shit/badly about someone behind their back just for the sake of bonding and for fun. Unlike talking shit, lästern is usually with things that are true and it’s not so much about the whining and complaining. It’s a mix between to slander and to gossip. Gossip is just much more about the latest news and the perfect translation for that would be tratschen (or klatschen). Tratschen is really like “Hey, have you heard the latest news about so and so??” Some magazines even have a section called “Klatsch und Tratsch” which is essentially the same as the “Gossip” section. Like… this celeb has new hair. This celeb is with this other celeb on the yacht and so on and so on. Lästern is not news related. You can always lästern about someone’s clothes for example.
Slander on the other hand is much stronger, much more negative than lästern and the better translations for that would be verleumden or üble Nachrede (the slander). Of course  lästern is not nice but for the it’s usually really enjoyable and everyone does it. It’s really everywhere… at school, at work, in the sports team, in the million dollar golf club, in the homeless shelter. It’s just something people do and everyone knows it. You can lästern about someone and still like them and you can admit to lästern.

  • Ich lass euch mal allein. Dann könnt ihr ein bisschen über mich lästern (zwinker).
  • I’ll leave you alone. Then you can talk bad/gossip about me a bit (wink).
    (what would be an idiomatic way to say this… I feel like “running your mouth” sounds a bit slangy)
  • “Na, was macht ihr grad?”
    “Wir lästern über dich.”
    “Oh. Kann ich mitmachen?”
  • “Hey, what are you up to?”
    “We’re talking shit about you.”
    “Oh, can I join in.”

Now, the verb lästern is actually quite old already and back in the day it was much  more serious. One example that made it to the present day is Gotteslästerung, which is not just bitching about God during lunch break but downright blasphemy.  The origin is the word das Laster, which once meant defamation,rebuke but over the years it has shifted toward the cause for a rebuke and  today  das Laster  is a bad habit like smoking, drinking or gambling.

  • Endlich Nichtraucher: so werden Sie das Laster los.
  • Finally smoke free: here’s how you kick the bad habit.
  • Müßiggang ist aller Laster Anfang.(Sprichtwort)
  • The devil finds work for idle hands./Idleness is the beginning of all vice. (proverb)

In a way lästern could be called a Laster, too. You know it’s not particularly good but it’s fun. And when there’s nothing else to talk about… lästern always gets a conversation going :).
Anyway, here are some examples

  • Thomas und Maria lästern über ihre Freunde.
  • Thomas and Maria gossip/talk shit about their friends.
  • Nach dem Seminar treffen sich Anja und Johannes immer im Café um erstmal so richtig über ihre Kommilitonen abzulästern.
  • After the seminar, Anja and Jonathan always meet at the café for an intense session of bitching and complaining about their fellow students

All right. So this is lästern. There isn’t really the one perfect translation. Everything English has to offer is just slightly off (check out this comment for a good comparison between German and English). But I hope you got the idea. It’s talking badly about someone behind their back for fun. And unless you’re an absolute saint or super serious, you’ll enjoy some good “lästering” from time to time. And if you don’t… be sure that people will lästern about that ;).


Schummeln is a great word and for some reason I feel like the sound perfectly matches what it stands for. Schummeln  is basically cheating – small scale, cute cheating. Like… if you have a little cheat sheet for the adjective declension, that is schummeln. Or if  eat nothing all day and the you do a heavy work out before taking that (super casual) selfie with ‘dem abs all buff for your tinder profile . Or if you have to weigh your veggies in the supermarket and you casually lift the scale a bit with your finger. Or if you’re playing in a pub quiz and you’re secretly using your phone. All these small little cute cheats and lies are called schummeln.

  • I stretched the truth a bit in my CV about my work experience.
  • Ich habe in meinem Lebenslauf in punkto Berufserfahrung ein bisschen geschummelt.
  • “7,8,9… ha!! Kicked you out again!”
    “Nu-uh, you cheated. You went one space too far”
    “7,8,9.. ha!! Wieder rausgeschmissen!” (playing parcheesi/Ludo)
  • “Nein, du hast geschummelt. Du bist ein Feld zuviel gegangen.”
  • Da sich die Schauspieler nicht leiden konnten, musste bei der Kussszene geschummelt werden. Und so sind es garnicht ihre Lippen in der Großaufnahme.
  • Because the actors couldn’t stand each other, a bit of cheating was in order for the kissing scene. And so it’s  not actually their lips in the close up.
  • Der Manager gibt zu, bei seiner Steuererklärung geschummelt zu haben.
  • The manager admits to having cheated in his tax filing.
  • Ryanair soll beim Gewicht geschummelt haben.
  • Ryanair is said to have cheated with the weight.

The last example was a headline to a newspaper article that explained how Ryanair supposedly declared total weight of their planes too low, which apparently makes a difference in airport fees. Now, of course this is somewhat of a bigger cheat than using a dictionary in German class. But the use of schummeln makes it sound “cute”… or at least not as heavy as the alternative. Betrügen (to cheat) and the noun der Betrug is the German word for fraud sound really serious and negative and using them in a head line might cause Ryanair to sue the newspaper for defamation. After all, Ryainair didn’t do it on purpose.  So, this is schummeln. It’s not nice but we’re all no saints and we’ve all done it.
All right.
Now let’s move on to the next one and this is also one that gets you ahead. But it’s much more “rule compliant”…


Schleimen is based on der Schleim (the slime) and the literal meaning is about leaving slime somewhere. In daily life the word is used for behavior like this…

laughing about all of the bad jokes of your boss,
being all like “Yeah, brilliant idea boss”
going like “I can do the presentation on the weekend, no problem”
always raising your finger in class
asking for additional reading
saying that museum is a good idea for field day

All that is schleimen. You’re trying to get in favor of someone but … sucking up, crawling up one’s ass. The word is really wide spread in German and there are a few variations with it like rumschleimen or sich einschleimen.

  • Der neue ist voll der Schleimer.
  • The new guy is a total suck-up.
  • Ich will mich vor der Klausur bei dem Professor ein bisschen einschleimen. Irgendwelche Tips?
  • I’d like to kiss up to my professor a bit before the exam. Any recommendations?
  • “Hmm, deine Suppe ist heute aussergewöhnlich lecker.”
    “Du brauchst garnicht rumzuschleimen.”
    “Wir gehen heute in Shades of Grey und Schluß.”
  • “Hmm, your soup is exceptionally good today.”
    “No need for brown nosing, we’ll go see Shades of Grey, period.”

What’s good about schleimen is it is kind of very visual while not being as vulgar as many of the English counterparts and so it’s also used in newspapers and even book titles.

  • Runter von der Schleimspur. (newspaper article in “Die Zeit ” about how NOT sucking up can help your career)
  • Leave the slime lane.(lit.)
  • No more brown nose.
    (as readers have pointed out in the comments, this would actually work as a head line in English)

So that’s schleimen and that’s also it for today. The Wundertüte is empty. But we got three cool words that are all quite common and still they’re somewhat off the radar . We learned lästern, which is talking bad about someone for the purpose of bonding, schummeln, which small scale, slightly cute cheating and schleimen which is to kiss up to someone. There are definitely many more such words so if you found this interesting let me know and we can have word-Wundertüte every now and then in between the heavy grammar stuff. And of course if you have any questions or suggestions or some ideas how to translate the words, then just leave me a comment too.
I hope you liked it. Schöne Woche und bis nächstes Mal.

By the way… if you’re wondering what the differences are between the various German words for bag… by far the easiest way to find out stuff like that is to use Google image search. Here’s are the links if you’re too lazy to type :)
die Tüte, die Tasche, der Beutel, der Sack.

Oh and by the wayer… I updated my link page, in particular I added links to a great podcast, a great video series and a sample test of the DSH


for members :)

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Fun Wundertüte, danke. The last line confused me. Bis takes Dative but you wrote bis nächsteS Mal. Why isn’t it bis nächsteN Mal?


It is interesting that the word “sack” brings images of a rustic, burlap bag in German and English. Any word etymology? Who had the word first? English or German?


Ich will mich nicht einschleimen, aber der war ein super Blog-Eintrag :) Ich würde gern weitere “Wundertütenspecials” lesen.

Nikolaus Wittenstein
Nikolaus Wittenstein

“Nu-uh, you cheated. You went one field too far”
In English, we’d say “one space too far”.

Nikolaus Wittenstein
Nikolaus Wittenstein

“Finally smoke free: here’s how you stop the bad habit.”
This is pretty much perfect. I could imagine seeing this on a billboard. I might add the word “can” to the sentence, but it works as it is.


I’d say “break the habit” is a little more idiomatic, though.


Or, with smoking especially, it is usually, “kick” the habit.


Umm, sorry no. Not idiomatic I’m afraid.

“Smoke free at last. Now you can kick the habit”.

Habits always get kicked.


I would also be more likely to say “break a habit,” if it is a bad one. Either would be idiomatic in that a habit can not be affected physically by breaking or kicking.


I’ve been thinking about this, and I would definitely agree that “kick the habit” is the more common idiom for something like quitting smoking. To me, “breaking a habit” is more general, maybe even neutral – you can “break” a good habit, or a habit of doing something that’s not necessarily bad in itself.

I’d use “kick the habit” with something like an addiction or vice, a habit that’s a source of pleasure but that you know is bad for you, and I’d tend to use it more when I’m talking about quitting entirely. It sort of sounds weird to me to imagine “kicking the fingernail-biting habit” (more a compulsion than a vice) or “kicking the habit of checking my phone every minute” (the problem is the frequency, not the behavior as such). But that might be my own idiosyncrasies.


Great post! Thank you! I’d love to see more of these. My German friends are always so impressed when I correctly use words you’ve explained. You make me sound so much cooler ; )




I think “No more brown nose” would be a perfectly fine headline in English (at least in American English). The idiom is so idiomatic that we’ve lost any sense of where that brown on the nose might have come from.


I was going to say this – Google “brown nosing at work” and one of the top results is a Time article called “6 Ways To Brown Nose Your Way To the Very Top.” (Subtitle: “Without getting a reputation for being a kiss-up”). I wouldn’t say we’ve lost the sense of where the brown comes from, just that it’s an indirect enough reference not to be considered that off-color (so to speak).

By the way, I’d totally understand “crawling up someone’s ass,” but that wouldn’t occur to me as a normal way to express the idea. To my mind, these are all the most common expressions (more or less in order from least to most profane):
– kissing up
– sucking up
– brown nosing
– kissing (someone’s) butt/ass


“Wundertüte” sounds a lot like the “Schultüte” my German teacher would present to all of her students on our first day of class (except we got X-boxes, not Play Stations.”)
The dialog you created to explain, lästern reminded me of the hilarious lyrics to the Blondie song, “Rip her to Shreds”… Too funny!


Also, mein Sohn hat eben jetzt ein Buch bekommen, das «Autos und Laster» nennt. Stellen Sie sich meine Verwirrung vor, als ich den Titel gesehen hab, lol. Also Laster bedeutet auch “big truck(s)”, usw, und die zu magen ist ein “Laster”? haha


*mögen meinte ich.


“DER Laster” heißt “(big) truck”, glaube ich – abgekürzt von “Lastkraftwagen” (= LKW).

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

“das «Autos und Laster» nennt”

Wer nennt was? ;)

ein Buch namens/genannt/betitelt[?] «Autos und Laster» bekommen
ein Buch bekommen mit dem Namen/Titel «Autos und Laster»


– Müßggang ist aller Laster Anfang.

Häufiger als “the devil finds work…” (die Version kannte ich nicht) ist “Idle hands are the devil’s tools” (oder “workshop”, “playthings”, “playground”).

– Nach dem Seminar treffen sich Anja und Johannes immer im Café um erstmal so richtig über ihre Kommilitonen abzulästern.
– After the seminar, Anja and Jonathan always meet at the café for an intense session of bitching and complaining about their fellow students (no idea how to translate that… help please )

Finde ich sehr gut. “Bitching and complaining” ist ein bisschen doppelt gemoppelt aber es geht sowieso.


Fun words!

If I were saying “I lied a bit in my CV about my work experience.” I would probably say “I fibbed a little…” or “I stretched the truth…” To use “lied” sounds a too harsh for just a little bit of a cheat.


Hi, i’m a little bit confused…Playstation was first introduced in 1994! So yes it couldn’t have been sold in DDR…right?
Great post though


I’ll leave you alone. Then you can talk bad/gossip about me a bit (wink).
(what would be an idiomatic way to say this… I feel like “running your mouth” sounds a bit slangy)

I think you’re already using the best word when you say ‘bitch’ although this does come with the connotation of being done more by women than by men:
“I’ll leave you alone. Then you can bitch about me for a bit (wink)”.

Another option is to say ‘slag off’ which is equally applicable to men or women. I’m maybe showing my age here but ‘bitch’ is a fairly recent American import to the UK and in my youth it would have been:
“I’ll leave you alone. Then you can slag me off for a bit (wink)”.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Soll es nicht Müßiggang heißen?

Random german reader
Random german reader

Just read “crawling up one’s ass”.
We have this in german too – “jemandem in den Arsch kriechen”.