German Word of the Day – Style special – “Speaking”

Hey everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day or to be more precise to a Style special which means you’re in for a a lot of vocabulary today. And I see we already have call here, Gertrud from Sweden… Gertrud how’s it going today?
“Hey Emanuel, it is great to be on the show.
How long have you been learning German?
“About 2 years… intermittently, though.”
Oh… uh… intermattentelly… uhm… yeah sure, understood… uhm… (oh god, her English is better than mine, she mustn’t know, quick, must change topic)…
so Gertrud
, how do you feel about a lot of new words?
“I love  it! Learning vocabulary is by far the most enjoyable, rewarding part of learning a new language.”
It most certainly is… so should we start?
Cool… the field we’ll explore today is speech. We’ll take a look on different ways or styles of speaking and we’ll start with one that gives foreigners a hard time. 


Nuschelnsdefn’tlysumamerrcansdoalot…. what????? Yeah… exactly this is nuscheln. It is the opposite of clear pronunciation. It is not particularly fast but it involves not opening your mouth, fusing many sounds into one and having a lot of s and sh...  now some might say, “Hey, that sounds like French.” and that is not all wrong. French is quite nuschel-prone. But even the word nuscheln itself can give you an idea of what it is. The pronunciation of the sch in nuscheln is actually ‘voiced’ so it sounds like the sh-part in jungle. So… no matter how crisp you try to pronounce nuscheln… it always sounds a bit … moist… again, just like French.
As for a translation dictionaries suggest to mumble, though I think nuscheln is shifted a little more towards the whole sh-thing.  It is hard to nuschel with your mouth dry, while you can mumble alright… but maybe that is just my interpretation of the word.
Here is something I remember my teachers say

  • Nuschel nich so!
  • Stop mumbling!

However, you shouldn’t accuse people of nuscheln… it is kind of offensive. So even if something nuschels like hell, just ask him or her to speak more „slowly“ (in sense of more clearly) but don’t say nuscheln!

The ge-form of nuscheln is genuschelt and the real past is nuschelte. Oh and here is the first sentence again … de-mumbled

  • Nuscheln ‘s def’n’tly sum amerrcans  do a lot.
  • Nuscheln is definitely something Americans do a lot.

murmeln (pron. moormlen)

Murmeln is not that far from nuscheln but it involves less…. spit. Generally murmeln means speaking with low volume, rather slow pace and everything sounding a little … well…darker than usual. Just think of this old crazy man in the metro talking to himself. This is pretty much murmeln.
Unlike nuscheln, murmeln is not just a mere quality of pronunciation. My teacher can’t really say:

  • Murmel nich’ so!

Murmeln is something you can read in novels fairly often:

  • Der Professor murmelte leise vor sich hin, während er den Bildschirm betrachtete.
  • Staring at the screen the professor quietly murmured to himself.

but to be frank you don’t need it that much in daily life.
By the way… have you seen that movie with Bill Murray where he has to live the same day over and over again… the original title is Groundhog Day and the German title is „Und täglich grüßt das Murmeltier.“

schreien (shruyun)
The word schreien is related to to scream but depending on the situation it can also mean to shout, to yell or to shriek.

  • Das Baby schreit.
  • The baby is screaming.
  • Ich schreie vor Schmerz.
  • I scream in pain.

I think schreien is a little more shrill and out of control than screaming. I wouldn’t say this in German.

  • I scream your name.
  • Ich schreie deinen Namen.

It is not wrong , but it sounds odd… the combination of schreien and one specific word doesn’t really work.

Now, if you want to scream at one specific person, which I am sure you want to,  you need to use the verb anschreien because schreien alone doesn’t take a preposition

  • Marie schreit Thomas an.
  • Marie screams at Thomas.
  • Marie und Thomas schreien sich an.
  • Maire and Thomas are screaming at each other.
  • Schrei mich nicht an!“
    „Ich ‘schreie’ dich nicht an.“
  • „Stop screaming/yelling at me!“
    „I am not ‘screaming/ yelling‘ at you.“
    „Oh but you are.“

Now, as any decent prefix-verb anschreien has not only one but 2 meanings and the second one is … totally different from the first. It means to boil vegetables at low temperatures.

  • I scream my carrots.

Okay no, I am kidding… it means to scream against something very noisy.

  • Ich schreie gegen den Wind an.
  • I scream against the wind.
  • Ich schreie gegen den Strassenlärm an.
  • I scream against the noisy in the streets.

Originally I was planning to invite this anschreien to the show for a little interview but it didn’t have time because it just won the Most-Useful-Word-Ever-Trophy …yet again… so no interview.

There are 2 nouns for schreien. The first one is der Schrei, which is the German name of this famous creepy painting. In fashion the latest thing is also called Schrei.

  • Dieses Kleid is der letzte Schrei.
  • This dress is the latest yell. (lit.)
  • This dress is THE bestest thing evuh for now.

The second noun is das Geschrei, which is the screaming.

  • Das Geschrei geht mir auf die Nerven.
  • The screaming gets on my nerves.

And to give you another random word with schrei in it, how about Urschreitherapie … try this in your cubicle or during a quiz in school some time… helps you clear your thoughts.

rufen (roofen)

Rufen is kind of the composed cousin of schreien. It is not as loud, not as shrill and way more controlled and directed. Possible translations are to shout and to call.

  • Ich rufe über den Fluss.
  • I shout across the river.

Unlike schreien, rufen also works for a specific word.

  • Ich rufe deinen Namen.
  • I shout/yell your name.

But it can also be used in sense of to call so whoever being called will come.

  • Marie calls her dog.
  • Marie ruft ihren Hund.
  • Thomas calls Marie.
  • Thomas ruft Ma… wait a second… this is weird…

This brings us to anrufen, which is nowadays mostly used as to call on the phone.

  • Marie ruft ihren Freund an.
  • Marie calls her boyfriend.

Now if the boyfriend was standing like 10 meters away staring some skater supply she would probably not call him by pho… or maybe she would actually. Anyway… in German the an is what makes the calling per phone. Without an it is really just shouting.

The noun for rufen is der Ruf and naturally this can mean the call.

  • Call of Freedom.
  • Ruf der Freiheit.

Now what do we have to do to make this Ruf into a phone call? Right, we have to add an to it.

  • Ich habe einen Anruf von meinen Chef bekommen.
  • I got a call from my boss.

There is a second meaning to der Ruf , which equally importan, is reputation.

  • Er hat einen guten Ruf.
  • He has a good reputation.
  • Er hat den Ruf fair zu sein.
  • He has a reputation of being fair.

So, with Ruf being reputation what could Rufmord be?…. I’ll leave that up to you and I will give you the ge-form of rufen instead

  • Ich habe dich (an)gerufen.

Alright, I don’t know about you but I have had enough noise for now: I need something more quiet (hmmm…. that translation was lame… anyway)

flüstern (fluestunn)

Flüstern is speaking completely unvoiced. What’s that, you ask? Like, with signs? Well, no.
Many people do not exactly know what voiced and unvoiced mean so I will seize this opportunity to explain… makes sense in a speaking special after all.
You see, we all have vocal chords. But it is not like we have a whole lot of strings in our throat. I used to think that until I went to university. In fact the vocal chords are 2 lappets… kind of like 2 lips.
Now what happens when we speak? Well, first of all we exhale. Air runs from our lungs past these 2 lips. If we want to we can close them thus blocking the air. But our lungs are powerful. Pressure builds and eventually the lips will burst open to release some of the air. Pressure then decreases and the lips will close again producing a clapping sound. Building pressure – bursting open – flapping together.  This happens at a very high speed… like 100 of times per second so in our throat we produce a series of many many clapping sounds. Now, our hearing has a limited time resolution. So as soon as the claps occur frequently enough (like 30 or 40 times per second) they start to fuse and form one unpleasant sound.  The faster the clapping the higher the sound. The vocal chords of a screaming baby slap together about 2000 times per second.
So… this is our raw voice… a quick series of claps. The sound then gets molded by our throat, our mouth and our nose and out comes and a or an i, depending on how we arrange your jaw, lips and tongue. This effect is the very same like the one you can observe when you talk through a tube. The tube makes you sound differently. Close the end of the tube with your hand a bit and the sound will change. That is essentially what we do with our mouth.
Now, our vocal chords are not active all the time when we talk. For some letters, namely some consonants, we don’t need them… for instance for sh. So there we turn them of, that is we open our throat lips and let the air run freely. This is called unvoiced. Now what happens if we pronounce a sh and while doing this turn on our vocal chords? We will get is a voiced sh. Like the one in j… it is dshhhhhay with a voiced sh.
A nice way to observe how quickly we turn the vocal chords on and of is to put one hand to your throat while talking. Whenever they are active, you can feel vibration, when they’re off, there is nothing. You should try it and also play around with it and pronounce different things voiced and unvoiced.
Alright… so what were we talking about again??? Oh yeah, flüstern. When you flüster your vocal chords are inactive ALL the time. You just exhale in a noisy way and this noise gets molded by your mouth configuration so it’ll have certain features of the voiced version… it doesn’t by any means sound the same but it is characteristic enough for our brain to decipher it.

So what is flüstern? It is to whisper. To me an important feature is that it is unvoiced but others may disagree. Anyway.. examples:

  • Marie flüstert mir etwas ins Ohr.
  • Marie whispers something into my ear.

Now, flüstern is really limited to speaking. Wind doesn’t flüster. Wind does something else… wispern, yes… this is a German word, too :).

  • Der Wind wispert in den Zweigen.
  • The wind is whispering in the branches.

And before we move on I have a nice word for you: die Flüstertüte. A Tüte is a bag. So what could it be? Exactly, you all got it right. Flüstertüte (whisperbag) is an ironic demona… denimo.. name for megaphone… a nice word, but I think with the punk era passed it’ll wither away. What a pity.

lispeln (lisplen)

Lispeln is a speech defect and as the word suggests it is to lisp in English. Some people do it by default but generations of teenagers do it on account of their retainer. Now here is a link to a video of a German girl with a modest retainer induced lisp.

  • Das Mädchen lispelt wegen ihrer Zahnspange.
  • The girl lisps because of her retainer.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but our current chancellor has a slight lisp, too… here is a video from her personal Youtube channel.
Anyways, here is a nice sentence to lisp:

  • Ich lispel’ ein bisschen.
  • I have a slight lisp.

As you can see, in German we use the verb rather than the noun. What’s missssssing… the ge-form:

  • Als Kind habe ich stark gelispelt.
  • As a kid, I had a bad lisp.

stottern (shtottun)

Stottern is also a speech defect and while lispeln just makes you sound funny and probably causes for people to take you less seriously stottern is a real problem. Not so much for the listener… just takes some time… but for the speaker who has the speech defect. It must be hell for them not being able to say the words as fast as they’d like to.
I think every one of us stotters once in a while be it because we’re nervous or because our thoughts are too fast for our mouth to follow.

  • Ich stottere ein bisschen wenn ich nervös bin.
  • I start stuttering a bit when I am nervous.

And then of course cars do it…

  • Mein Motor stottert.
  • My enginge splutters/stutters.

Note, that this doesn’t apply for German cars. Those never stutter. Their engines run ever so smoothly because our brilliant engineers conceived ’em that way. If any of you guys is listening now… you really know how to build cars.  They’re not even cars.. they’re wheeled awesomeness, a glimpse of the divine… and if you’re wondering what is wrong with me… well, I am trying to give you an example for our last word.

säuseln (zoyzelln)

Säuseln is done with a low voice but it is not as quiet as flüstern... flüstern is just quiet. Säuseln is more than that. It is usually very melodic, you can hear a smile in the voice, it can sound a bit salacious and it if it were food it would be the sweetest stickiest candy imaginable. If you want your partner to do something for you, just säusel nice things into his or her ear. Sure you can just flüster things, but then the content has to do all the persuasion… Säuseln can be of strong support for your cause ;).
So what’s the translation you ask? Well, dictionaries suggest anything from to sigh, to whisper, to purr or to rustle. That seems pretty broad but it makes sense once you know that säuseln is also used in context of nature… for wind or for wells in sense that whatever quiet noise they are making sounds pleasant.

  • Das Säuseln der Blätter im Wind ist beruhigend.
  • The rustling of the leaves in the wind is soothing.
  • Marie säuselte “Hallo Thomas”.
  • “Hello Thomas.”, Marie purred.

If you want more examples for this I’d refer you to (yet again) to… a really great website.

So… this was our German Word of the Day Style special on speaking. Sure, this was not a complete list and some words are not exactly every day vocabulary but I hope it was a nice overview anyway. If you have any questions or suggestions, leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.