‘Lockdown’ voted Germany’s English word of the year

The term "lockdown," which has become common for closures and contact restrictions during the coronavirus crisis, has been chosen as the 2020 "Anglicism of the Year."

'Lockdown' voted Germany's English word of the year
A sign in a Düsseldorf bakery stating that service will continue during the Lockdown. Photo: DPA

“What convinced the jury about the word lockdown, in addition to the central role it plays in the discussion about measures to contain the pandemic, was its rapid integration into German vocabulary,” the panel led by Berlin-based linguist Anatol Stefanowitsch announced Tuesday. 

The term is also used in German compound words like Lockdown-Verstöße (violations of the lockdown) and Lockdown-Lockerungen (loosening of the lockdown).

The similar word “shutdown” refers to shutting down public life rather than on restrictions on freedom of movement, the jury said.

However, it has become less popular than “lockdown,” probably because it can't be used as broadly.

The Anglicism of the Year initiative has recognised “the positive contribution of English” to German vocabulary since 2010. 

Among the terms honoured so far were “influencer” (2017) and “shitstorm” (2011), or the phrase “… for future” (2019).

READ ALSO: Shitstorm 'best English gift to German language'

History of Lockdown

Regarding the history of the use of the word “lockdown,” the jury wrote: “After paraphrases such as 'Maßnahmen gegen die Corona-Pandemie' (measures against the corona pandemic) or 'Maßnahmen gegen die Ausbreitung des Coronavirus' (measures against the spread of the coronavirus) were initially used at the beginning of the pandemic, the word lockdown then quickly spreads from the second half of March.”

Its use sharply increased again in October, just before the country introduced a “Lockdown Light” or partial lockdown which only saw some businesses close but stores and schools stay open.

In English, the word has been in use regularly from the early 1970s onwards, initially for situations in which prison inmates were not allowed to leave their cells for a longer period of time, such as after a riot. 

From the 1980s onward, it also referred to situations in which an entire area was sealed off for security reasons. This meaning is also occasionally seen in German, for example in media reports about rampages at American schools.

However, it was only in the course of the Covid-19 pandemic that the meaning expanded to its current one.

A closed cinema in Stuttgart made a play on words with Lockdown in December. Photo: DPA

Runner-up words

According to the jury, words such as “social distancing,” “superspreaders,” “home office” (though not commonly used as a term in English) and “homeschooling” were also good candidates for 2020. 

With the term “social distancing”, however, there had been a discussion as to whether a restriction of physical contact could still be considered social restriction at all in the communication age.

The term is now being replaced more often by the German compound word “Kontaktbeschränkung” or “contact restriction.”

The word “superspreader” refers to an infected person who passes on the virus to a large number of people. It is also used with a moral undertone when referring to culprits of a particular outbreak.

READ ALSO: Why is Bavaria so concerned about impact of 'American super spreader'?

In 2020, the word “home office” had become a synonym for working at home on a lockdown basis – and there, due to the lack of a study, often rather in the kitchen or living room.

The word “homeschooling,” actually a term for a marginal practice in Germany in which parents teach their children at home in order to keep them out of the state school system, quickly became a catch-all term for school substitute activities by parents or else for teachers teaching via video.

From corona dictators to baby elephants

The Anglicism of the Year joins the ranks of the other international linguistic annual reviews. As Germany's “Word of the Year” 2020, the Society for the German Language in Wiesbaden already chose “corona pandemic” on November 30th.

On January 12th, the term “corona dictatorship” was proclaimed “Unword of the Year” by a jury in Darmstadt.

READ ALSO: 'Corona dictator' named one of Germany's ugliest words of the year

In German-speaking Switzerland, “Systemrelevant” was named word of the year, followed by “Maskensünder” (sinner who doesn't wear a mask) and the verb “stosslüften” (impact ventilation).

In Austria, “coronaparty” was the Unword. “Babyelefant” was the word of the year.

The animal's imagined size is supposed to describe the recommended distance in times of pandemic.


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The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your German

Once you've learned the basics of German, listening to podcasts is one of the best ways of increasing vocabulary and speeding up comprehension. Here are some of the best podcasts out there for German learners.

The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your German


Coffee Break German

Coffee Break German aims to take you through the basics of German in a casual lesson-like format. It is extremely easy to listen to. Each 20-minute episode acts as a mini-lesson, where German native Thomas teaches Mark Pendleton, the founder and CEO of Coffee Break Languages, the basics.

All phrases are broken down into individual words. After new phrases are introduced the listeners are encouraged to repeat them back to practise pronunciation.

The advantage of listening to this podcast is that the learner, Mark, begins at the same level as you. He is also a former high school French and Spanish teacher. He often asks for clarification of certain phrases, and it can feel as if he is asking the very questions you want answered.

You can also stream the podcast directly from the provider’s website, where they sell a supplementary package from the Coffee Break German Academy, which offers additional audio content, video flashcards and comprehensive lesson notes

German Pod 101

German Pod 101 aims to teach you all about the German language, from the basics in conversations and comprehension to the intricacies of German culture. German Pod 101 offers various levels for your German learning and starts with Absolute Beginner.

The hosts are made up of one German native and one American expat living in Germany, in order to provide you with true authentic language, but also explanations about the comparisons and contrasts with English. This podcast will, hopefully, get you speaking German from day one.

Their website offers more information and the option to create an account to access more learning materials.

Learn German by Podcast

This is a great podcast if you don’t have any previous knowledge of German. The hosts guide you through a series of scenarios in each episode and introduce you to new vocabulary based on the role-plays. Within just a few episodes, you will learn how to talk about your family, order something in a restaurant and discuss evening plans. Each phrase is uttered clearly and repeated several times, along with translations.


Learn German by Podcast provides the podcasts for free but any accompanying lesson guides must be purchased from their website. These guides include episode transcripts and some grammar tips. 


Easy German

This podcast takes the form of a casual conversation between hosts Manuel and Cari, who chat in a fairly free-form manner about aspects of their daily lives. Sometimes they invite guests onto the podcast, and they often talk about issues particularly interesting to expats, such as: “How do Germans see themselves?”. Targeted at young adults, the podcasters bring out a new episode very three or four days.

News in Slow German

This is a fantastic podcast to improve your German listening skills. What’s more, it helps you stay informed about the news in several different levels of fluency.

The speakers are extremely clear and aim to make the podcast enjoyable to listen to. For the first part of each episode the hosts talk about a current big news story, then the second part usually features a socially relevant topic. 

A new episode comes out once a week and subscriptions are available which unlock new learning tools.

SBS German

This podcast is somewhat interesting as it is run by an Australian broadcaster for the German-speaking community down under. Perhaps because ethnic Germans in Australia have become somewhat rusty in their mother tongue, the language is relatively simple but still has a completely natural feel.

There is a lot of news here, with regular pieces on German current affairs but also quite a bit of content looking at what ties Germany and Australia together. This lies somewhere between intermediate and advanced.

A woman puts on headphones in Gadebusch, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Photo: dpa | Jens Büttner


Auf Deutsche gesagt

This is another great podcast for people who have a high level of German. The host, Robin Meinert, talks in a completely natural way but still manages to keep it clear and comprehensible.

This podcast also explores a whole range of topics that are interesting to internationals in Germany, such as a recent episode on whether the band Rammstein are xenophobic. In other words, the podcast doesn’t just help you learn the language, it also gives you really good insights into what Germans think about a wide range of topics.


Bayern 2 present their podcast Sozusagen! for all those who are interested in the German language. This isn’t specifically directed at language learners and is likely to be just as interesting to Germans and foreigners because it talks about changes in the language like the debate over gender-sensitive nouns. Each episode explores a different linguistic question, from a discussion on German dialects to an analysis of political linguistics in Germany.