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“Cringe”: (not) a youthful word that makes others feel ashamed

“Cringe”: (not) a youthful word that makes others feel ashamed

Last year in the final – this year on the winners’ podium: after the adults have been picking the word youngsters for years and causing a lot of “confusion”, the word itself won the race this year.

“Niveaulimbo,” “Smombie,” and “Underage” — some of the youthful words of the past few years have been somewhat awkward. Since 2020, young people have been able to make themselves heard. The terms have been less embarrassing since then, but the shame of others remains: “Cringe” was chosen on Monday by Langenscheidt-Verlag in Stuttgart as the youth word of the year for 2021.

Literally translated from English, “to cringe” means “duck” or “wince”. In the language of young people, the term is used more in awkward situations or feeling foreign shyness. With ‘confusion,’ it has become possible to refer to embarrassing things carefully and in a somewhat diluted manner,” says 21-year-old Dario Schramm of the Federal Conference of Schoolchildren (BSK).

Linguist Annette Clausa Kokelhaus of the Leibniz Institute for German is not surprised that the “confusion” has spread. The term made it into the top three for young people last year, and the institute in Mannheim has been following it since 2019. “It’s still an expression of youth language, but that may change soon,” the language expert said.

There is indeed a tendency to use the term in sentences to describe nouns. “This next level is exciting,” said Klosa-Kückelhaus. “If, for example, a ‘swinging’ image suddenly appears, the word has reached the German language.” Once an expression emerges outside of social media and youth culture, it can be added to the German language and dictionary. It happened, for example, with the word “awesome”.

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If the term became a youthful word, Langenscheidt-Verlag said, it might be better known and possibly used by older people as well. “A few years ago, the word youth was used in advertisements – and that was probably embarrassing!” said Klosa Kuklehaus.

Langenscheidt has been publishing the Young People’s Word of the Year since 2008, which has been criticized as an advertising campaign by the publisher in the past. In theory, all age groups can vote in the elections, but since 2020 only young people’s votes have been evaluated, said Sandra Speer, press spokeswoman for the publisher. However, we cannot “really” guarantee a lifetime. For data protection reasons, we cannot obtain any personal data.” This year 1.2 million young people would have voted.

So is this year’s youth word of interest more than just foreign shame? “It’s actually a funny expression you wouldn’t have thought otherwise,” said BSK’s Schramm. From a 21-year-old’s point of view, it’s a term that young adults already know and use – perhaps no longer just around the corner when it comes to word choice youngsters.