The meaning of “Kater”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: February 24, 2022

Hello everyone, some cats

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we will look at the meaning of the word:

der Kater


And when you look up this one in a dictionary, you get two different meanings. And by different I mean… VERY VERY different.
The first one is male cat.
There’s also the word die Katzewhich a female cat, but it’s also the word for the species in general. So when you say that you have a Katze, it can be either male or female. While a  Kater is clearly male.
Now, the other meaning of der Kater also includes fur (on the tongue) and it also involves a whole lot of sleeping and occasional vomiting on your rug. So that’s quite cat-ish.  But it also includes a bad headache and some “Oh, had I only rejected those last Tequila-shots“-regrets.
You might have guessed it by now…

… a Kater is a hangover.
In theory, there could be confusion, but I think the context makes it very clear most of the time.
When your roommate enters the kitchen at noon and mumbles the following line:

  • Ich habe einen Kater.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

then theoretically, that could be a confession that he has been hiding a cat in his room all this time.  But it’s much more likely that he is hungover.
And if you’re looking for a flat and you see an ad like the following…

“Hi, ich bin Maria und ich suche einen Mitbewohner/eine
Mitbewohnerin für ein schönes, sonniges Zimmer im Hinterhaus. Es
gibt eine große Küche und ein Bad mit Badewanne. Ich bin 31 und sehr
Achso, noch etwas: ich habe einen Kater.”

… then it’s very very likely that Maria has a cat. Like… why would you mention your hangover in the ad. Maybe it’s a really EPIC hangover. Or a never ending hangover. You could use the whole hangover-thing as an ice-breaker when you check out the apartment. Like… “Hey you mentioned that you have a hangover… does that mean that you have a drinking problem?”
I’m sure she’ll chose you as her new flatmate.

Seriously though, so Kater is male cat and hangover and the big question everyone is asking themselves is, of course: whyyyyyy. or hoooow?
How did German end up with such a double meaning?

Well, probably not surprisingly, the two were distinct words once. The origin of the liquor-Kater is the word Katharr  (catarrh), which is some sort of throat sickness and which was a well-trusted excuse by students of the 19th century to explain their absence or their hungover-ness. Just like Corona these days “Hey boss, I can’t come in tomorrow, I might have some of that Corona later on.”
Your boss will be really happy that you’re so responsible and he’ll give you extra sick pay.
So now you have a week off, sick pay AND a new apartment. There, you came for German, you stayed for the life advice.
Now, besides hangover, there’s also the adjective hungover and that in German is verkatert. Which you could literally translate as “put into the state of Kater”. Because one of the things ver- expresses is change of state. But that’s too much for today. We’re dealing with a hangover, after all :)
So here’s an example for verkatert.

  • I am sooo hungover.
  • Ich bin sooo verkatert.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Oh and of course we must also mention der Muskelkater. That is what you get when you do sports after having spent some months on the couch – your muscles are sore. So when you have aching muscles from sports in German you’d say that you have einen Muskelkater.

  • “Puh, ich hab mega Muskelkater.”
    “Von was denn? Vom Sitzen?”
  • “Maaan, my muscles are super sore.”
    “From what? Sitting?!”

And that’s it for today.
This was our little look at the meaning of der Kater.
As usual, if you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment.
I hope you enjoyed it and see you next time.

5 15 votes
Article Rating

German in your inbox

Sign up to my epic newsletter and get notified whenever I post something new :)
(roughly once per week)

No Spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.