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LEARNING GERMAN

German word of the day: Tja

This useful German interjection will help you blend in with locals and make your conversation sound more natural than ever.

German word of the day: Tja
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Tja is one of the shortest but most versatile words in the German language. Close to the English ‘well’, you will hear it littered through almost every conversation.

Tja is sometimes described as a vocalised sigh or shrug, and is often used at the start of a sentence before you launch into the real meat of what you want to say.

Using this at the beginning of a statement sets the tone for your conversation, suggesting a slight sense of annoyance or resignation. Although the closest translation of tja in English is ‘well’, be careful using it too often, as it can have quite negative connotations in German. 

Tja can also be a way of sounding trotzig, or contrary. If someone asks you a question and you are about to give an answer they might not expect, you may begin your response with tja to let them know you are going to challenge their expectations – in this case it would mean something along the lines of ‘well, actually’. 

The word tja is highly colloquial, so you will almost never come across it written down or in formal settings. Nevertheless, it is probably one of the most used words in everyday speech. 

There is really no hard and fast rule when it comes to German particles, and this applies to tja too. If you really want to get a sense of when to use tja in your spoken German, the only way to do so is to spend time with native German speakers and listen out for when the word pops up naturally. 

READ ALSO: Das ist ja mal wichtig: The complete guide to German particles

There is a joke among German speakers that you could use tja to respond to any bad news, no matter how severe. The discovery of a missing ingredient for a recipe is just as likely to be met with a gentle tja as is the announcement of an apocalypse. 

Examples:

Tja, was soll ich sagen?

Well, what can I say?

Hast du dich heute früh mit Julia getroffen? -Tja, wir wollten uns treffen, aber sie hatte zu viel zu tun.

Did you meet up with Julia this morning? – Well, we wanted to but she was too busy.

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German word of the day: Kladderadatsch

Whether it’s a pile of clothes on the floor or even the downfall of a political system, this is a German word for all things messy and chaotic.

German word of the day: Kladderadatsch

The German language is full of wonderful words that don’t have a true English translation: a personal favourite is Verschlimmbessern, which means to try and improve a situation only to end up making it worse. Der Kladderadatsch is another word which defies simple translation, meaning something like “unholy mess” or “clutter”, but also “chaos”,  “collapse”, or “crash”.

The reason for this slightly strange combination of meanings is that Kladderadatsch is onomatopoeic: it describes the sound that disorganised things make. When the word is used to describe a crash, an English onomatopoeic equivalent would probably be “kerblam!” or something similar. When you’re explaining that your bedroom is a mess, however, you’re most likely instead hoping to convey the idea of clutter – not that your laundry is making a “kerblam” noise! 

In a political sense, Kladderadatsch can also mean a particularly messy scandal.

Although Kladderadatsch can most likely trace its origin back to early 19th century Berlin, the word only became particularly popular following the first publication of a satirical magazine called Kladderadatsch in 1848. This magazine, published weekly from 1848 until 1944, was born out of the radical student protests of the time, which many believed were the signs of the old political system collapsing. 

According to legend, the founders of the magazine – Albert Hofmann and David Kalisch – came up with the name after watching a dog jump up onto a tavern table, knocking over bottles and glasses alike. Watching the chaos before them, they recognised the parallels with their political times, and so Kladderadatsch was christened.

EXAMPLES:

Ich habe den ganzen Kladderadatsch in den Müll geschmissen.

I threw the whole mess into the rubbish

In unserer Stadt gab es deswegen einen großen Kladderadatsch

There was a big scandal in our town because of it

Seine Geschäfte endeten mit einem großen Kladderadatsch

His businesses ended in a big ‘crash!’

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