Word of the Day – “der Mut”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: March 23, 2022

Mut-pictureHello everyone,

and welcome to a new German Word of the Day. This time we will have a look at the meaning of:

der Mut


Mut... 3 letters that can make all the difference. Mut can get you a date with that really awesome person, Mut can make you ask for a pay raise or/and tell your boss what you REALLY think about him. Mut can make you speak up in German class, it makes you stand up for your beliefs and – if you have too much of it –  Mut can even make you poke a sleeping lion with a stick in the middle of the savanna. Exactly.
Mut is the German word for courage. And Mut is 114% hairy, testosterone laden, beer drinking, weight lifting, ubermasculine “D E R” … of course! Men do brave things. Women do crave rings. That’s why it is der Mut and die Ring. And since we’re on tha… what? Oh, it is der Ring? … oh… … that’s confusing. Not as much as THIS though….
Back to language.
Here’s an example for der Mut:

  • Mut kommt von innen.
  • Courage comes from within.

It sure does.  But there is another path to Mut  that is much faster …  alcohol. Already the munchkins knew that. “A drunk lion is not a cowardly one.”, they said. And… what do you think why people who want to encourage you say “Just give it a shot.”… haha.
Anyway… what makes the word Mut interesting are the many many words that are built with it. For one thing, there is the adjective mutig which means couragieuouuous … or simply brave.

  • Der Löwe ist nicht mutig.
  • The lion is not brave.

The opposite of mutig is feige. But that has a pretty negative sound to it. Maybe that’s why in the German version version the book I’ve been alluding to (“Harry Potter und der Zauberer von Oz”) they changed it to ängstlich…. so it is der ängstliche Löwe, not der feige Löwe….  we could actually skip the adjective all together and just say “the lion“. Because at the end of the day, EVERY lion is but a big pussy.
But let’s be serious now and  get to the nouns… and oh my goodness are there many different kinds of Mut. Of course there are not too many different kinds of courage. But courage is not the original meaning of Mut. Mut is related to mood and they come from an Indo-European root *mē- which conveyed the idea of “to really really want something”. From there, the words slowly shifted in meaning toward the feeling aspect. Mut used to be the feeling that drives you, the desire for something. In English it then softened quite a bit and today it is your emotional state. In German, Mut also took this path at first but eventually it ended up as the word for the thing that let’s you overcome your fears… which makes sense. If you really really want something you’ll risk more to get it.

So this what Mut means today . But the old meaning of “temporary state of mind and soul” is still around… in the compound nouns.

moody nouns

Take for instance the word Unmut. Un– expresses the idea of not… for example, unreadable is unlesbar.
And sometimes the German un- is used to add the very general idea of negativity. Unwetter (thunderstorm) is a “negative weather”, Unzeit (untimeliness) is an inconvenient or bad time. And so Unmut is just sort of  a negative mood (displeasure, resentment). So here, Mut doesn’t mean courage. It is just the mindset basically. Same for  Hochmut  which means something like arrogance or hauteur.  It’s not high courage, it is basically a “high mindset” … high in a negative way… as in stuck up. There is a nice idiom in German which sounds really dramatic :)

  • Hochmut kommt vor dem Fall.
  • Pride goes before a fall.

Or take Übermut. Über means over so literally our mindset is over. Over what? Over target. It is beyond what is good for us. Here, we could also think of Mut as courageover-courage. I looked up Übermut  on Leo  and I actually don’t like any of the translations there (presumption, high spirit). But there is a nice idiom with Übermut so here you go

  • Übermut tut selten gut.
  • Being overly confident is rarely a good thing.
  • Over-courage seldom serves well.(lit.)

Now… I don’t want to talk about all of the Muts in detail. Many of them are kind of rare anyway. So we’ll just do a quick list. I’ll add a translation but they are what I deem is the least ambiguous word after cross-checking on Leo. So some words are really really weird and might be totally not idiomatic in English… so just focus on the explanations.
What’s also important is that you can almost always create an adjective by just saying… blah-mütig. With Umlaut? Yes, with Umlaut. Why with Umlaut? Because that’s how German rolls. I’ll use either adjective or noun here, depending on what’s more common

  • die Schwermut (melancholia, gloom) – your thoughts and feelings are
    “heavy” (schwer), you’re depressed and feeling blue
  • die Wehmut (wistfulness) – close to melancholy  but here you’re really
    genuinely  sad about something
  • die Gleichmut (stoicism) – your mind is balanced, equaled out, you’re okay
    with whatever comes at you
  • der Langmut (longanimaty, patience) – your mind set is ready to wait,  to
    give things time
  • die Großmut (magnanimousness… yeah… I have no idea either) – you’re
    willing to give, forgive and be lenient
  • die Sanftmut (gentleness) – you’re acting “suave, mild and kind”, you
    don’t scream or shout or bitch at people, you’re basically like  a warm
    comfy blanket
  • der Edelmut (nobleness) – your mind set is that of a noble man… in a
    positive way. All the good stuff you know about medieval knights…
    that is edelmütig
  • gutmütig (of good nature) – you’re friendly and nice and you  don’t
    want to do bad
  • kleinmütig (fainthearted)  – your mind set is small and doesn’t allow for
    bold visions. Things are as they are and you’re just a little tiny nobody
    who can’t change it
  • missmutig (ill-humored) – that is self explanatory I think… and yes,
    there is no Umlaut here ;)
  • wankelmütig (fickle) – your views change all the time, you can easily be
    swayed and swayed back… for those of you who are into cars… you
    may have heard of the Wankelmotor.. same wankel :)
  •  freimütig (up-front, frank) – you’re open and say what you know and
    think… not always a good thing
  • reumütig (rueful, remorseful) – the word Reue means remorse, bereuen
    means to regret, so reumütig is “to be of a regretful mind

So… quite a few words. And there are actually 3 more which don’t really fit the system. The first one is Demut which means humility. This word is actually based on the really old meaning of Mut … you know, idea of wanting something. The de-part comes from the same root as the German word dienen. Dienen means to serve so Demut is kind of  “the will to serve”… not too far from humility I guess.
Then, there is the word die Anmut which means grace. Hmmm…  An often means on… so let’s try this.

  •  on + courage = grace?

Not really….

  • on + mood = grace?

not quite… what else could we try

  • on + really really want something = grace?

I don’t know… grace can lead to really really wanting something but the other way around… like… people at the 70% off pile… not all that graceful.
In reality the word Anmut is actually based on a verb anmuten. And that brings us to the verbs with Mut.
Just one last noun real quick… there is die Armut and this means poverty. That seems like quite a stretch and in fact, it has nothing to do with Mut. The parts are actually arm and ut. But now on to the verbs.

verbs with Mut

Back a few centuries, there used to be a verb muten. And that basically meant to want something. People wanted all kinds of things back then… but ironically not this verb. So it disappeared. But there were prefix-versions of it too… of course. And those survived.
The first one is anmuten and that used to be something like to lead on, to tease… you make someone want you. And that is where Anmut(grace) comes from.
Today, the words anmuten has changed quite a bit. It is just a rare word for to seem or to appear…. the use cases are really limited and it often doesn’t work so it’s enough to have it as a word you can just understand.
The next verb, and by far the most important one, is  vermuten . It means to suppose or to guess. Oh dear ver-prefix… thank you for another “how on earth”-moment :).

  • Ich vermute, dass morgen gutes Wetter wird.
  • I suspect/suppose that tomorrow the weather will be good.
  • Vermutlich kommt Thomas wieder zu spät.
  • Presumably, Thomas will be late again.
  • “Weißt du, wieso der Kaffee immer so schnell alle ist?”
    “Ich weiß es nicht aber ich habe eine Vermutung… der neue nimmt immer was mit nach hause.”
  • “Do you know why the coffee runs out so fast.”
    “I don’t know it for fact but I have a surmise/theory.. the new guy always takes some home.”

So… the ver-prefix sometimes, I repeat, sometimes expresses the idea of for. For example to forgive means vergeben. And if we now say that whatever we “suppose” is one of 2 alternatives and we “want” that alternative… like… that would be our choice if we had to bet money on which alternative will become reality… then we kind of muten (want) for that alternative … like, that’s what we would put our money on because we consider it likely and that doesn’t mean this is also the outcome we personally would wa… what? That explanation is confusing and hard to follow? Well… I’m sorry… it’s not my fault that German prefixes are so overly demanding…. and speaking of overly demanding… that brings us to our last verb… zumuten or die Zumutung. Once again it comes from the old want-muten and the prefix zu then adds the.. ah screw it… I won’t even try.

  • Diese Suppe ist eine Zumutung.
  • This soup is an impertinence /imposition.
  • Mein Pferd war müde. Ich konnte ihm nicht zumuten, die Nacht durchzureiten.
  • My horse was tired. Riding through the night would have been too much to ask.
  • My horse was tired. I couldn’t impose on it to ride the whole night through. (lit.)

So we took a rest and continued the next day. Little did we know we were being watched…
And that’s it. We’re done for today. Sure there is more to say… there is the word Gemüt which means something like character or personality. 

  • Dieser Film ist nichts für sanfte Gemüter.
  • This movie is not for gentle(sensitive) minds.

and there is the famous German gemütlich which means cozy or comfy. But hey… every languages need its little secrets. Keeps it interesting… okay, frankly I am just too lazy :). I’d rather do a little ridle… if Mut is courage, what is the word for the person who has it?
So—-this was our German Word of the Day der Mut. It means courage but there are dozens of compound nouns in which it still has about the same meaning as it’s English brother mood.
If you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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