Style Special – “Fridge”

rottenfood-specialHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day…. well, actually it’s German Words of the day because it is time for another style special. And after we’ve talked about walking, facial expressions and noise, this time it’s gonna be all about


Now you’re like “Really? Fridges?!”. And I’m like “Yeah, fridges!”
Because they’re the coolest home appliances ever…. get it? Get it?  It’s funny because cool can mean cold and awes… meh anyways, so today we’ll look at fridges or better we’ll take a look inside fridges. And in case you’re worried that this going to be some boring list of stuff that can be in the fridge – worry no more. We’ll look deep inside the fridge at the stuff in the rear. That black, wrinkly banana, that forsaken piece of brie, that thriving culture in the half eaten yogurt. You’ve probably figured it out by now… today, we’ll look at all the words you need to describe such treasures. And we’ll learn the vocab for what happens if we eat it.
So… are you ready to take a mouthful of rotten food? The words for it anyway?
Cool. Then let’s start with one of those awesome compounds.


Mindesthaltbarkeitsdatum is short for Lebensmittelmindesthaltbarkeitsindikationsda… okay, I’m kidding. It’s not short for anything and it’s often shortened to MHD. Literally translated Mindesthaltbarkeitsdatum is minimum “lastability” date and I think the proper counterpart in English is the best-by date. Many people kind of think of this date as a built in self destruct. Like… at midnight the yogurt that was all good until then suddenly turns toxic. But that’s not what the date is about. The MDH is the date until which the manufacturer of the product guarantees you a certain taste, texture. and quality. So … let’s say you buy salt, you can’t go to the company a decade later being like  “There’s not less iodine in your iodized salt than it says on a package. You frauds.” Most stuff is still edible way beyond the MHD.  And the ones that really go bad and turn harmful quickly, like fresh fish, ground beef or raw chicken, these do not have an Mindestsomethingsomething. Their date is called Verfallsdatum, literally fall-away date, and you should NOT eat it after that. I think it translates to expiration date but I’m not sure. Anyway, on the packages they usually don’t use the rather long nouns but verbs instead:

All right. Now let’s look at the verb that is about passing these dates.


Ablaufen has quite a few meanings but one important core is the notion of time passing, time running out. That’s how it came to mean to expire.

The web really is full with these kind of questions. And I’m like that, too.

  • Der Zucker, den du grad benutzt hast ist abgelaufen.
  • The sugar  you were just using was expired.

If you told me that I would be like “Ewww…” and my coffee would have this weird after taste all of a sudden and I’d feel nauseous. Well, okay… this is a bit exaggerated of course but abgelaufen definitely has this negative ring to it and even if it doesn’t mean to go bad, it sounds a bit like it.
And that brings us right to the next word… or words.

to go bad

Literally, to go bad  would be schlecht gehen but absolutely nobody would understand that. In German it’s doesn’t go bad… it becomes bad.

The result of schlecht werden,  gone bad,  is… just schlecht. But this is a little tricky actually, because just like the English bad,  schlecht can also be a general term for… well.. just not good.

It’s totally up to context which one it is and that might be a reason why in many situations people use nicht gut combined with a marker of passing time to express  gone bad.

I guess we should also mention verderben, which can also mean to go bad, to spoil.

In this sense it is only used in more formal contexts but verderben itself is still good to know because it’s also used in sense of spoiling appetite. Which is exactly what we’ll do now … we’ll get specific.


One of the most common signs of food gone bad is Schimmel which is basically  THIS …. oh… wait…  I meant more like  THIS.
Now, this is actually not one of my usual, failed jokes. Schimmel really can be a white elegant horse and gross mold. And it’s not even two words that are just spelled the same by coincidence. It’s really one word… Schimmel. Schimmel is quite closely related to shimmer and distantly related to shine and they all come from a root that was about pretty much that…. to shine, to gleam, to glimmer. A while the word der Schimmer is still about that, Schimmel specialized on the white fur of a horse or the white fur of a strawberry and the verb schimmeln turned from being white and gleamy to to mold.  Kind of funny to think of it in it’s old meaning actually :). The strawberry “shimmers”.
Anyway, there’s also verschimmeln, which sounds more complete than just schimmeln and the adjective schimmelig which means moldy.

All right. Now let’s take a look at what’s going on under the surface layer of mold. The real rotting.

faulen and gammeln

Faulen is related to the English foul and already their mega ancient Indo-European root *pu had the meaning it has today….  to rot, to decay. Gammeln is based on an old Germanic word that simply meant old but today it means pretty much the same as faulen. Bacteria and other microorganisms having the time of their lives in that apple or that steak. Just like with schimmeln, there is also a ver-version of the verbs which just sounds more complete.  And there is also an adjective with –ig.

I think that faulen might be a bit more serious. And it’s more broad and it also works for wood or carcasses. (Ver)gammeln is pretty much limited to food. And I feel like verfault is more for fruits and veggies while vergammelt is for meat.  For instance, the term Gammelfleisch has become pretty much the unofficial word for old, slightly rotten meat that is put on sale.
But other than that they are really very similar. They actually both have a side meaning that kind of matches. Rumgammeln is a colloquial term for hanging around doing nothing and faul, well faul is the official German word for lazy (for more check this article about Faulpelz).

All right. So schimmeln, gammeln and faulen are the most important words when it comes to rotten food. But there are some other ones that are specific to certain kinds of food, so let’s look at these too.

some more ways to go bad

The first one is used for milk and in German the standard word for that is sauer .

This term is a leftover from back in the day, when everything was better. People would have their milk go sour on purpose to create all kinds of cool milk products like Quark or yogurt. This sour milk wasn’t as tasty as regular milk but it was totally drinkable. Today milk actually doesn’t really turn sour anymore…  it just goes bad and you shouldn’t drink it because it’s just random air bacteria that messes up the milk, not the awesome lactic acid bacteria. That gets killed during pasteurization.
But anyway, what happens to milk can also happen to fruit juices and this is called (ver)gären. (Ver)gären is actually the German term for to ferment and it’s not automatically bad. Actually, gären is awesome because it’s a key step of making beer and wine.  But if your orange juice tastes oddly sour and tingles on the tongue… well, it’s maybe time to throw it away.

Next up,  there is ranzig which is the word for fat and oil going bad and it’s obviously the same as the English word rancid.

Ranzig is also sometimes used to describe locations. A bar can be ranzig for example. And there’s also the rather colloquial verb anranzen which means to scold /to tell off.

The last, and possibly least harmful way of going bad is drying out. In German that’s called vertrocknen. And as the water goes out the apple gets more and more schrumpelig (shriveled, badly wrinkled) until it is completey verschrumpelt.
All right. So these are the ways of going bad. Now let’s see what happens if we eat it.

Eating rotten food – a case study

Usually our sense of smell and sight help us to avoid rotten food but sometimes we end up eating some anyway. Meet Thomas. After having had a demure soiree at the bar with some friends he somehow made it home came home and now he’s starving. He opens the fridge and there it is. Right there behind all that other stuff. That half eaten Chunegg Royal® (a sandwich with chicken tuna and egg) from … uhm… two days ago. Or was it two weeks? Meh, whatever. Still looks good and so down it goes into his tummy. Little does he know that it’s a Trojan sandwich. It has a payload and Thomas is the ones to pay.
It all starts with a slight nausea or in German die Übelkeit. Übel is one of the German words for bad. You can find it here and there and it’s especially common in context of being nauseous. .

Note that the phrasing used the same twisted logic as “I am cold”. You’re not saying that you are nauseous. You’re saying that it is nauseous to you.
All right. So Thomas is nauseous and his stomach will now just hurry up and see the visitors out… by making him throw up. German has 2 main words for to throw up:  sich übergeben and kotzen. Sich übergeben is the formal version and it literally means to hand oneself over.

Kotzen, which is probably related to the English version of the sound of crows (to caw),  is not formal.

But oddly enough die Kotze is the only word German has to offer for the vomit. Well, apart from the super high brow das Erbrochene which is based on the word brechen… which also means to vomit. But das Erbrochene gets adjective endings so Kotze is much easier to handle.

All right. So Thomas is nauseous and he pukes. A lot. Now, if were lucky he’d get it all out in time and just have a slightly upset stomach for a few days; which in German has the nice name Magenverstimmung (stomach disgruntlement). But lucky he is not. Next he gets Magenschmerzen (stomach pain) then Bauchschmerzen (tummy ache) that worsen to Bauchkrämpfe (cramps in the belly) and then something starts that is one of the most figurative words the German language has to offer… der Durchfall.  Literally it is the fall through  and the real meaning is… diarrhea… because… well, everything you put in on the top comes down at the bottom within the hour. Another, more  vulgar term for that  is Dünnschiss (thin shit) and there are many more I believe but Durchfall is really the standard and works in both, low and high register.
Thomas eventually decides to go see a doctor because he’s worried he might have a Lebensmittelvergiftung (food poisoning). But turns out he is okay and after a few days he’s back at full health and only the slight Übelkeit he gets when he sees the Chunegg Royal ad. And he lived happily without ever after….
Aaaaaaand… I think that’s it. That was our Style special on fridges which was actually a style special on rotten food and what it does to the body. As always, I hope you had a little fun and that one or the other word is going to stick. If you have any questions or suggestions or if I forgot a word from that field just leave me a comment.

I hope you liked it and see you next time. Guten Appetit :)

for members :)

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Zu verbrauchen bis: (Verfallsdatum)
•To be consumed by: (lit.)
•Use by: (is that correct??)
Yes it is. Oh, and everyone knows you don’t put bananas in the fridge! :-)


Great article. You put in a lot of effort in producing these articles. I just wanted to say how appreciated that all is, by this reader anyway. By the way, you’re bang on with ‘use by’ and ‘sour’ milk.
Then I spotted it – your deliberate typo – presumably to see if we were still reading, or just skimming.
-Die Butter tastes ranzig.
-The butter tastes ranzid.
Does that mean I win a prize?

Thanks again for all your work on this. It makes great reading.

Brian from Scotland


•I think the milk I drank was gone bad/spoiled.
Should be “had” gone bad/ but “was” spoiled.


Just have to comment again. I’d not quite finished reading the first time. I have to commend you and all Germans indeed anyone who has ever had anything to do with the language on this word you’ve given for diarrhea – Durchfall is so figurative it’s almost poetic. A beautiful thing!
Thank you.


You mean so “literal”. :)


Not really Alexviajero. I meant the word ‘paints a picture’ that is much better/clearer than the ‘literal’.


In the hallway it smells ‘of’ puke rather than ‘after’.
But I’d probably say ‘it smells of puke in the hallway.
But hey, we’re splitting hairs now. Incidentally ‘shitting through the eye of a needle’, is another term for diarrhea.
Incidentally, while we’re talking about ‘that stuff’, I have a couple of friends who refer to it as:

‘I’m about to go and feed the fishes’
‘He’s away dropping the kids off at the swimming pool’
and when ‘needing to go’ another says – ‘its so close, I’m touching cloth!!’

Enough now. I’m sure there are many other phrases used. Why don’t we share them?



Man, you could probably write a book of just English slang phrases for diarrhea. “The runs” or “the (Hershey) squirts” are maybe the most common American ones, or at least the first that come to my mind. Or just “the shits.” Then there’s tourist diarrhea, a.k.a. “Montezuma’s revenge” (obviously especially in Mexico).


I really love your articles, but I wish they were actually daily.


Just a note on a couple words from the post:
– “Tenability” doesn’t really work for food. It really only has a figurative sense: a position/opinion/view, for example, can be “tenable” (bzw. untenable, of course).
– I wouldn’t use “edible” with milk – would you use “essbar”? “Potable,” if you want to be a little fancy, means “drinkable.” “Edible” really only works for solid food, at least to me.

Is the verb “erbrechen” also really highbrow, or just “das Erbrochene”?


Oh, and I’ll jump in before any other English nitpickers…

Officially (or at least historically), “nauseous” means “causes nausea” and “nauseated” means “suffering from nausea.” Realistically, people use them interchangeably all the time. Nur zur Info… :)


Oxford English Dictionary says “affected with nausea; feeling inclined to vomit”, so this English nitpicker thinks Emanuel’s usage of the word “nauseous” is entirely correct. “Causing nausea” is “nauseating”.


My mistake – I’d read a few stickler screeds about this one over the years and assumed there was some actual basis for it, but apparently both usages are original.


“Ich glaube, ich habe was schlechtes gegessen.” Soll man ‘(et)was Schlechtes’ schreiben – mit großem ‘S’?

Nikolaus Wittenstein
Nikolaus Wittenstein

“I think the jogurt isn’t good anymore.”
I would totally say that, except with a y in yogurt :P
This sounds a little understated, though. Like if the yogurt is a solid block of mold, I might hold it out and say “I think it isn’t good anymore.”

“You shouldn’t eat this apple. It’s already decayed halfway.”
“Decayed” sounds like something that happened over a long time, probably while it was buried. I would say an apple was halfway decayed if I found it in the woods the next spring … or in a tomb or something. I think I would just use “rotten” here.

For “schrumpelig” I would use “shriveled”.

You mentioned “ist nicht mehr gut”—can you say “ist schlecht geworden”?

Thanks for the post! Love it as always.


Thank you for that adventure in decay.

What a glorious word Schimmel is. And there is even Schwarzschimmel. Aspergillus niger will look different now….. Google images for Grauschimmell are an interesting lot, too.

Durchfall is really very similar in meaning to diarrhoea (English, not American spelling). From Greek dia – through + rhein – to flow. Fall, however, does seem somehow more appropriate.


A good childhood friend of mine has the surname, “Schimmelpfennig” which he would tell us meant, “shiny penny or coin” auf Deutsch.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

“Erbrechen, auch (aus)spucken, (aus)brechen, sich übergeben, (aus)spei(b)en, kalbern, vomieren (medizinisch), kotzen, kübeln, göbeln, reihern (derb), die Fische füttern, wieder von sich geben sowie (dem) Neptun opfern (scherzhaft), koddern oder (eine) Platte legen”

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Nice fridge you got there. Open it, indeed.


Die Sonne! Sie kommt wieder auf!
Und die Vögel werden bestimmt glücklicher, weil sie im Schnee nicht mehr sitzen muss.


Great article but I’ve got to say you made my blood run cold. Not because of the food-related stuff (hey! 8 years in student flats in Aberdeen, if you can survive that you’re pretty much immortal) but because of the concept of Nouns which are declined like adjectives…

OK, some are kind of obvious (Ich möchte ein Helles) but ‘das Erbrochene’?


They’re not that unusual – kind of a pain, but not any worse than declining the adjectives in the first place. The ones that denote people are really common – “der Erwachsene,” say, or “der/die Vorgesetzte.” Or “der/die Deutsche.” :)

Neuter ones are often just noun-ified adjectives like in English: “gut, wahr, schön”/”good, true, beautiful” => “das Gute, das Wahre, das Schöne”/”the good, the true, the beautiful”.


I’ve been following you post for a couple of months now, and I’ve read almost all of them; just wanted to say that I appreciate all the effort you put in all your posts, they’ve really helped my with my weak German. Hope you never stop doing them.
Greetings from Egypt.


Hey Emmanuel,spitzes Blogpost wie gewöhnlich.
Kann man auch “verdorben” oder ” schlecht werden ” benutzen, wenn man von Lebensmitteln spricht?



hey a special request : could you please elaborate on the uses of ablaufen in the prefix verb shorts.thanks in advance