Well, I didn't expect my very first question ever on this site to hit the Hot Network questions and in the meantime, I know that the concept of an unspeakable term is foreign to German culture and that is why I accepted the answer rather quickly.

However, I disagree with the opinion-based close reason the question now has, because I've been contacted through IM by various friends on the SE network with a bit more background, and I've been shown German law is quite clear: For educational and historical purposes, any speech is allowed ¹ so I would definitely not call that opinion-based.

And thanks again for everyone giving balanced answers: learning a language is learning more than just a language: It's also learning about the culture!


Note ¹: Which does not mean you should go skipping down the street singing the words in section 3.2.2. Parolen und Grußformen of the law, because that is indeed, Verboten and rightly so as it serves no purpose whatsoever.

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    In case any of the close voters chooses to make their point here, I would also be interested how they consider this question to differ from other questions tagged sociolinguistics. – Wrzlprmft Sep 12 '18 at 13:57

Just voted to re-open that question as it never was "primarily opinion based". That's because what's considered rude or what words should be avoided depends indeed a lot on:

  • who you're talking to (e.g., buddies after a few beers, parents, random strangers, your boss)

  • the role of the person saying it: politician in Bundestag, company representative, protester at a demo, musician at a rock concert

  • the context (as mentioned in some answers): Führer vs Bergführer vs Anführer

And all of the above points can be explained and sourced and referenced. That's then pretty much the opposite of primarily (&personal) opinion based.

If these points spell out "personal opinion" in any given variant of that question to a reader, I would have welcomed the effort to somehow steer the poster into the direction wanted here: Opinions are not off-topic, as long as they are presented as and explained at a certain layer of aggregation and abstraction.

To quote user_unknown from chat:

I'm pretty speechless, how many people think, that not analyzing and describing the language is way to go, but to perform education for the readers. "Don't say this, don't say that."

This was not "What do you think of Seehofer?" but I think it should be read as "What do Germans think of Seehofer's use of language? Are there any surveys or other analytic research into that matter?"

If someone feels offended by this kind of language, why is that so, what are the primary reasons given for that if you asked those offended by it?

Posting just your own opinion might be just a worthless grin of a Sphinx. But collecting, describing, analysing lots of opinions, their prerequisites and consequences etc, that should be science.

One personal opinion I do have about this question just surfaced into my mind: the close-voting and comment behaviour on this site could be greatly improved.


The question was:

Are there any words in German that are never to be used in polite conversation?

I voted to close this question because when you ask 10 people for a list of words that you shouldn't use in polite conversations, you will get 10 very different lists.

I wouldn't put any word on this lists. You can use all words you know when there is a context for it. You can have a very polite conversation with your bosses wife about the word "ficken" (to fuck) when you talk about etymology, and want to tell that ficken, einfügen (to insert) and Fuge (gap) developed from the same root, and that there even was a famous family of bankers from Augsburg in 15th and 16th century named Fugger who's name also is related to this word. You can have similar conversation also using other words like scheißen (to shit), which is related to scheiden (separate, divorce), scheitern (to fail, to founder) and even gescheit (clever), you also can talk about the change of the acceptance of the word Neger (previous: negro, now: nigger) within the last century.

Also this text here is a perfect example for a polite conversation where you can use all those words.

But other people might disagree. They might say, you never should use ficken, scheißen, Neger or some other words when talking with your bosses wife.

If you ask 10 different people, you will even get 10 different definitions of what a "polite conversation" might be.

This is exactly what I understand as "primarily opinion-based".

A quote from the description of this closing reason:

... answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.

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    Actually I do not believe that the OP had a linguistic dispute on these words in mind. It is an entirely theoretical exercise you go here where I strongly disagree with the implication that Germans go out and have polite (sic!) talks on profanities and vulgar language. There is a common sense on politeness, and there are no-goes like everywhere. I do not know about Austria, but in Germany it is not 10 educated people with 10 differing opinions. This is a wrong impression you try to transport here. I however do agree that we should not answer with a list. That would be too broad. – Takkat Sep 13 '18 at 14:27
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    Same remark as over here: I'm not saying that these words are polite, but they're definitely not unspeakable. 0:-) – Fabby Sep 13 '18 at 14:34
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    @Takkat: You wrote: »I strongly disagree with the implication that Germans go out and have polite (sic!) talks on profanities and vulgar language.« Can you see it? This is exactly what I wanted to say: Your opinion about which words can be used is very different from my opinion. This per definition means, that the answer to the OP's question is "primarily opinion-based", and so the question has to be closed. We do not discuss here, it the words are polite. They are not. We want to to find out, if they are unspeakable, but the answer to this question depends on opinions. – Hubert Schölnast Sep 14 '18 at 5:29
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    @HubertSchölnast: yes, I do see it but if this were so then it may be a regional thing (Vienna? Berlin? Stuttgart?), or - more likely - an issue of education. I still don't believe that your words would be very much different from mine, except some difference from local dialect. All in all this would not be primarily opinion based but something we are able to nail down in few words, always as long as we don't start to create a list of such words (which would then be not only a matter of opinion for some words but mainly much too broad). – Takkat Sep 14 '18 at 6:23
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    @Takkat: At the end of the day it doesn't really matter if you close this question because it is opinion based or too broad. – Hubert Schölnast Sep 14 '18 at 6:32
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    @HubertSchölnast: it does because by simply removing "Please be so kind as to give a list with a short description" from the question it would no longer be too broad but the concerns if it was opinion based would still not be solved. We are not asked how to keep it closed but what to do to get it reopened, if I am not wrong. – Takkat Sep 14 '18 at 6:42

I voted to close that question as "primary opinion based" because what's considered rude or what words should be avoided IMHO depend a lot on:

  • who you're talking to (e.g., buddies after a few beers, parents, random strangers, your boss)

  • the role of the person saying it: politician in Bundestag, company representative, protester at a demo, musician at a rock concert

  • the context (as mentioned in some answers): Führer vs Bergführer vs Anführer

That said, you could argue that the answer would be "no, there are no forbidden words in German", but while technically correct, I'd consider that an oversimplification. Even in the items above people would draw the lines differently: compare Nahles vs Merkel for politicians, your father may have a higher disregard for the word "Scheiße" than mine, and so on.

That all spells "personal opinion" to me, especially in the original question, which was "how offensive are [these words]?"

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    I agree. The question asked specifically for a list of unspeakable words, while such an objective list cannot be generated. What seems to be a 10 words list in one register might be a 100 words list in another register. So coming up with such a list with a presumably fixed number of words (like the English list of words mentioned) for all registers would be impossible, or else an over-generalization which is wrong. And I think it is impractical to try and provide a ‘possible’ list for every context and register. – user34137 Sep 12 '18 at 16:50
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    Even for a specific context or register, it is very much opinion-based, while I think one word to be unspeakable even jokingly; another might think it is ok. In a few words, it is a context based in one hand and an opinion-based on the other hand. – user34137 Sep 12 '18 at 16:50
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    Agreed that we should not ask for a list of such words, because that would make the question too broad (but still not primarily opinion based IMO) – Takkat Sep 13 '18 at 6:27
  • In he meantime, I've had a lot of IM conversations and I've been led to believe that the concept of an unspeakable word does not exist in German. Trying to have this kind of conversation over on english.meta.stackexchange.com would have the entire conversation flagged as "rude" and subsequently deleted. Here, only the phrases noted in section 3.2.2 of § 86a StGB im Spiegel der Rechtsprechung fall under that category: Hardly opinion-based. IMHO. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ – Fabby Sep 13 '18 at 14:32

It is good you brought the issue up. Your question caused a lot of heated discussions and a lot of traffic too, which is goot for the site.

Still, people believe that your question is not a good fit for German Language SE. They closed your question as primarily opinion based with the argument that any list of words would individually differ, and can not be concise.

Nevertheless you received a good answer that refrained from listing such words. This answer shows that to answer your question a list of swear words is not needed. Any such list would not only be opinion based but more so always incomplete. We could never finish it. That is what we defined in our too broad close reason.

If you could narrow down your question to remove all possibly opinion-based concerns and to refrain from asking for a list of such words I am pretty confident that the community will eventually be able to reopen it.

  • I now know what I needed to know, so I'm not going to be an arse, just pointing out how I felt is all. I'm happy that LangLangC gave me the answer I needed before the question was closed and just wanted a re-open as I think the value of the answer might benefit other people. – Fabby Sep 14 '18 at 12:50
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    @Fabby: thanks for the notice. A reopen may have disadvantages too. So it really is all up to you. – Takkat Sep 14 '18 at 13:01

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