Europe

Germany names its 'ugliest' word of the year: 'People's traitor'

A demonstrator holds a sign that reads Voksverraeter (people's traitor) Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A demonstrator holds a sign calling German Chancellor Angela Merkel a traitor of the people

Germany's ugliest word of the year is "traitor of the people" - or Volksverraeter, a panel has decided.

The word is seen by many as having Nazi overtones and has been used recently by right-wing groups.

The decision was taken as part of the Unwort des Jahres contest, which literally means "unword of the year".

The competition is held every year to pick a topical word that is deemed discriminatory, inflammatory or anti-democratic.

In recent times, members of Germany's anti-Islam movement Pegida and the right-wing Alternative for Germany party (AfD) have taken to using Volksverraeter as an insult.

The panel - four linguists and a journalist - called it "a relic of dictatorship".

The competition was established in 1991 under the state-sponsored Society for German Language, but it became independently run four years later.

'Ready-for-violence Nazis'

Head of the jury Nina Janich said the word was being overused in reference to politicians, making the "type of discourse that is essential to democracy impossible".

It is often used as the ultimate put-down, to discredit someone's opinions.

Chancellor Angela Merkel had the term shouted at her by demonstrators when she visited a refugee centre in August 2015.

The word, alongside other insults, was also hurled at Economy Minister and Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel in August 2016.

He sparked controversy by raising his middle finger at the hecklers, whom he described as "young, aggressive, swearing and ready-for-violence Nazis".

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Senior politician Sigmar Gabriel raised his middle finger after being called a traitor of the people

What is wrong with "voelkisch"?

The German word "Volk" means people and is a common, everyday word.

However, it also at the root of some more historically controversial vocabulary.

The Nazis used the term "voelkisch" ("people's" or "national") to set Germans apart from Jews and others they labelled "racially inferior".

AfD leader Frauke Petry has been criticised recently for trying to put a positive spin on "voelkisch".

She said it was wrong to assume the term is racist.


The 2016 "unword" prize was whittled down from a long list of almost 600 words. Many had links to the refugee crisis, which dominated the German news agenda in the past year.

Past recipients of the awards include the phrases "lying press", "god's warriors" and "ethnic cleansing". Nominations are open to the public.

The Society for German Language still runs its Word of the Year competition, which started in the 1970s. Its 2016 pick was announced in December: "Postfaktish", post-factual.

According to German news site Deutsche Welle, post-factual was chosen as a "reference both to Donald Trump's political campaign and the global growth of emotion-driven rather than fact-driven politics".

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