How Germans (don't) talk about money

10 German slang words for money

Flocken (flakes)

A German saying actually recommends avoiding talk of money: "Über Geld spricht man nicht." Yet there are countless ways to avoid the taboo — using slang. If the Inuit mythically have 50 words for snow, the German expressions for cash are probably countless. One word is even related to snow: "Flocken," or flakes.

10 German slang words for money

Kohle (coal)

"Der Schornstein muss rauchen" — the chimney has to smoke — was an 18th-century German idiom reminding that money is needed to keep the house warm. There are several German terms for money related to combustible materials. "Kohle" is one of those most commonly used, along with "Asche," ashes. Coal was a scarce commodity during war times and became an informal means of payment.

10 German slang words for money

Kies and Schotter (gravel)

The Yiddish word "kis," which means purse, could be mistaken with the German word "Kies" — small stones. That could explain why Kies became synonymous with coins, along with "Schotter," another word for broken stones, and simply "Steine" — stones. Let gravel jangle in your pocket next time you're broke, and see how it feels.

10 German slang words for money

Knete (putty or dough)

"Knete" is modeling clay, but it can also translate as dough. "Ohne Knete, keine Fete" — no party without dough. It appeared as a German slang word fairly recently in the 1970s, perhaps inspired by its long established use among students in English: A Yale fraternity publication already printed the term in 1851, mentioning "sufficient dough" as a way of avoiding "society's embarrassments."

10 German slang words for money

Moos (moss)

There's a German saying, "Ohne Moos, nix los!" (Nothing happens without moss.) One might think this word became slang for money because of the dense green texture of these plants growing in shady locations: It's a metaphor which could work well for green US dollars. But the word actually derives from the Hebrew word for coins, "ma'oth."

10 German slang words for money

Mäuse (mice)

Maybe the slang word "Moos" got confused with the similar-sounding word "Maus" — mouse — at some point. Pluralize that and it becomes "Mäuse." Yes, mice: A cute way to refer to cash in Germany.

10 German slang words for money

Kröten (frogs)

What do frogs have in common with money? The term "Kröten" was already in use in the 19th century to designate small change. It sounds a bit like "Groschen" and "Groten," coins from the Middle Ages. The unsightly appearance of the creature could explain it referring to a miserable sum.

10 German slang words for money

Lappen (rags)

If the English say "from rags to riches," the Germans use those rags to show how rich they are: The word "Lappen" refers to those larger bills you can demonstratively slap on the counter. Lappen is also a slang word for a driver's license.

10 German slang words for money

Riesen (giants)

The tallest person on Earth can probably get rich by exploiting his unusual height, but in German, a "Riesen" also means one thousand (insert currency here). Its equivalent in English is a grand.

10 German slang words for money

Pinkepinke

The term "Pinke" or doubled up as "Pinkepinke" derives from the Judeo-Aramaic language: Pinka was used in Slavic languages to refer to the "box for money paid by card-players to the innkeeper." A somewhat archaic term, it cannot be directly translated, but just like "cha-ching," it sounds like coins falling — hopefully in your own cash box.

According to a German saying, you shouldn't talk about money — but the language definitely offers many inventive slang words for it, from "ashes" and "coal" to "mice."

"Über Geld spricht man nicht, man hat es — You don't talk about money, you have it;

"Geld regiert die Welt" — Money rules the world;

"Die erste Million ist immer die Schwerste" — The first million is always the hardest... 

German proverbs related to money, along with the language's slang words used to describe it, offer insight into the country's relationship with cash.

For instance, Germans don't like to talk about how much they earn, presumably to avoid provoking envy. Some people simply have more than others; that fact shouldn't be questioned too loudly — at least in their view.

If you look into the idiomatic "Geld verdienen" — to earn money — it does reveal a certain culture of meritocracy: The verb "verdienen" also translates as "to deserve" or "merit."

Especially if you compare that with how Americans "make" money, and how the French, Italians, Spaniards and Bulgarians "win" their income ("gagner de l'argent"). The term used in Polish is "zarabiac" also refers to dough, since it translates as "earn" as well as "knead." Hungarians simply "look" or "hunt" for their salary: "penzt keres." 

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