German word of the day: Der Teufelskreis

Looking for the German version of ‘Catch-22’? This powerful compound word sums up a situation in which you feel stuck whichever way you turn. 

German word of the day: Der Teufelskreis
Symbol photo shows members of the Cirk La Putyka ensemble in Prague dressed as angels, devils and Father Christmas for a performance in December 2020. Photo: DPA

Der Teufelskreis literally means devil’s circle and describes a seemingly hopeless situation that is created by a chain of unpleasant, mutually dependent events. 

We have a version of this in English, a vicious circle, but the Germans go one step further with the expression. Getting locked in an inescapable cycle can be immensely frustrating, so the Germans suggest the devil must have some influence in this chain reaction.

The German word, like the English, has its origins in the latin circulus vitiosus. Though vitiosus is usually translated to vicious, it can also mean wicked or malicious, so the Germans choose to translate it to devil, the embodiment of evil. 

Unfortunately, a Teufelskreis can be quite common. Most of us are familiar with being so worried about a work presentation or school exam that we spend more of our time being anxious than actually preparing for it. 

The below tweet reads: “Motivation to learn for the Abitur (up), anxiety because I haven’t learned anything for the Abitur (down). It’s just a vicious circle.”

You may also encounter a common Teufelskreis when learning a new language. If you find you are nervous to make mistakes and don’t push yourself to speak the language with locals, you will not improve as quickly and so are more likely to make basic mistakes, building upon the initial anxiety. This is a Teufelskreis; a sequence of events that worsens your initial situation. 

READ ALSO: How to overcome five of the biggest stumbling blocks when learning German

Der Teufelskreis is a fairly everyday term and often appears in popular culture. In 2008, the German rapper and hip hop artist Alligatoah released his hit track Teufelskreis, which explores the vicious circle of violence. 

The word Teufel, meaning devil or demon, actually crops up in German colloquialisms more than you might expect. Examples include der Teufelsgeiger, meaning a passionate virtuoso violinist, and die Teufelskunst, or black magic. 


Es handelt sich um einen Teufelskreis.

It is a vicious circle.

Er konnte aus dem Teufelskreis von Hass ausbrechen.

He was able to escape the vicious circle of hate.

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German phrase of the day: Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen

Anyone struggling with learning German (or any big skill) could use this popular piece of reassurance.

German phrase of the day: Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen

Why do I need to know this?

If you’re getting down on yourself for not doing something you are still learning just right – be it playing the piano or speaking German – you can gently comfort yourself with this phrase. Or you can confidently cite it to reassure your perfectionist friend or family member that they are indeed making great strides towards their goal.

What does it mean?

Literally translated as “There is still no master which has fallen from the sky,” the expression gets the idea across that no one is born – or comes pummeling down from the heavens – as an expert at something.

Rather they become a Meister (or at least halfway decent) through continuous hard work and discipline. 

READ ALSO: 12 colourful German expressions that will add swagger to your language skills

The saying is similar to the also widely used “Übung macht den Meister” (Practice makes the master) or the English version: Practice makes perfect. 

Not surprisingly, Germans – who pride themselves on industriously reaching their goals – have several other equivalent sayings. They include “Ohne Fleiß kein Preis” (There’s no prize without hard work) and “Von nichts kommt nichts” (Nothing comes out of nothing).

Where does it come from?

The popular phrase can be traced back to the Latin “Nemo magister natus”, or no one is born a master. Another version is “Nemo nascitur artifex” or no one is born an artist. This explains why so many languages have similar expressions.

What are some examples of how it’s used?

Sei nicht so streng mit dir selbst. Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. No one is born perfect. 

Mein Trainer sagte, es sei noch kein perfekter Schwimmer vom Himmel gefallen.

My coach said that no one is born a perfect swimmer.

READ ALSO: Six German expressions to entice your Wanderlust