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German word of the day: Ungehorsam

Know someone with a rebellious streak? Then this German word will feel all too familiar...

German word of the day: Ungehorsam

Why do I need to know Ungehorsam?

Because it’s a word you may come across anywhere from the parents’ evening at school to media reports on recent protests. Plus, it can be used as both a noun and an adjective (though this version doesn’t have a capital ‘u’) so you’re basically learning two words in one!

What does it mean? 

In its noun form, der Ungehorsam (pronounced like this) means disobedience, while the adjective form can be used to describe a person (or perhaps a naughty pet) as disobedient. 

Ungehorsam can be used in any situation where someone is refusing to do what they’re told, though you’re most likely to use it to describe children, teenagers or animals who have a hard time following instructions. With adults, you might use a more euphemistic term, like hartnäckig (stubborn) or eigenwillig (headstrong) to imply that they don’t enjoy kowtowing to authority figures. 

Another context you’ll often hear Ungehorsam in is in the sense of ziviler Ungehorsam – or civil disobedience. This has been a major tactic of climate activists in recent months, who have used acts of civil disobedience as a means of protest. 

A major act of ziviler Ungehorsam, happened when a group of activists poured oil on Gustav Klimt’s “Death and Life” painting in the Leopold Museum in November 2022.

In a statement, the activists wrote: “We need immediate measures against #ClimateBreakdown NOW. Lowering the speed limit to 100km/h on highways costs nothing to implement, saves 460 million tons of CO2 per year in #Austria alone and leads to less noise, better air quality and safer roads.”

Another activist also glued himself to the protective glass in front of the picture.

READ ALSO: Eco-protesters pour black liquid on Klimt painting in Vienna museum

It’s a pretty long word – how can I remember it?

There are a few ways to remember this word that you may find helpful. One is to look a little bit at the structure of the word and its possible etymology. 

As you probably know, hören in German means “to hear” or “to listen”. Meanwhile, the word “gehören” has its roots in a Middle High German word meaning “to listen to” or “to obey”. These days, gehören is generally used to mean “to belong to” or “to be part of”. 

Looked at like that, someone who is ungehorsam is someone who may not be good at listening to others, or who doesn’t quite belong in their social group because they have hard time following the rules. To make it even easier to remember, imagine that person is called ‘Sam’. 

Use it like this: 

“Wenn du weiter so ungehorsam bist, gibt’s eine Woche Fernsehvebot!”

If you continue to be so disobedient, there’ll be no TV for a week!

“Ziviler Ungehorsam sorgt dafür, dass die Klimabewegung mehr Aufmerksamkeit bekommt.” 

Civil disobedience ensures that the climate movement gets more attention. 

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For members


Austrian German word of the day: Jause

Austrian German offers up plenty of its own linguistic treats not used in standard German. Here’s an easy one for a popular, everyday topic — food.

Austrian German word of the day: Jause

What does it mean?

A Jause is used by speakers of Austrian German to describe a little something they’ll have to eat in between meals — sometimes mid-morning but often mid-afternoon. That’s right, a Jause is wonderful Austrian German word for “snack.”

How do you use it or where might you see it?

Using Jause can give you a little more informal Austria street cred, since it’s specifically an Austrian word that even native German speakers who are not from Austria might not recognize. It can help you show that you’re down with Austrian lingo and willing to go a little further than someone who simply relies on standard German all the time.

Unlike certain Austrian German words, like Baba for “hello,” you’re not restricted to using Jause just in informal situations, as with many other words in Austrian German or other German dialects.

Jause is also versatile and can describe any kind of snack – both sweet and savoury, so you’ll need to be specific about what kind of Jause you want. You can also use it as the verb “to snack,” by saying jausen. You can also engage in some fun wordplay when going on a “snack break” – or Jausepause.

READ ALSO: The best words in Austrian German