Brow Beat

Sexmonster and Other Compound Words the Germans Are Using to Describe Donald Trump

Leave it to the Germans and their infinite repository of creative compound words to describe the rather indescribable odiousness of what just may be their country’s worst export of all time: the Drumpf family, and its scion. A Friday headline in Bild caught the attention of American Twitter:

Thanks to German’s close relationship with English, Sexmonster is not difficult to parse. But German speakers take special delight in the subhead, Schlammschlacht am US-Wahlkampf. That first phlegm-summoning word, Schlammschlacht, means “mudslinging,” but its literal translation is where German word-compounding really shines: Schlamm means “filth” (with connotations of “slime”), and Schlacht, in addition to meaning “fight,” as it’s used here, also means “slaughter” (which you may remember from Schlachthof-fünf in the Vonnegut classic).

Bild isn’t the only German publication to get in on the compound-word Trumpenfreude, however. Over at the center-right Die Welt, the latest Trump piece talks about Wahlmanipulation (Wahl meaning “vote”) and uses the formidable compound word for “accusations of sexual abuse,” which is Belästigungsvorwürfen. This, you may guess, is actually a compound of compounds, with the second part, Vorwurf, or “accusation,” literally meaning “a throw forth.” Over at Frankfurter Allgemeine, an op-ed warns us that that Donald Trump alone can’t break the American Republican party; the word the magazines editors use for “to break” is kleinkriegen, which possesses an uncanny orthographic similarity to Kleinkrieg, meaning both “feud” and “guerilla warfare,” der Kleinkrieg; literally “little war.”* The FAZ subhead also claims that Trump wirft das Parteigefüge der Republikaner über den Haufen, using an idiom that means “to mess something up” but literally translates “throws the Republican party line onto the [trash] heap.”

But it’s a noncompound word in a headline that had every German speaker snickering on Monday: Der Spiegel’s Die Scham des Donald Trump or, “The Shame of Donald Trump.” Not only does this have a prescient callout to the last line of Franz Kafka’s The Trial (als sollte die Scham ihn überleben, or “as if the shame of it would outlive him”—you’re telling me), but its use of this German word for “shame,” die Scham, packs a wallop. Its magisterial double entendre of this headline fits squarely in the tawdriest election in American history: die Scham, you see, also has another meaning, one that will likely come to define the 2016 election for posterity. That meaning is “vulva.”

But back to the old Sexmonster. Germans are a reserved people, not generally prone to name calling, so when they use Sexmonster for Trump, it’s bad. It implies behavior beyond the pale; it’s recently been used to describe both Catherine the Great and Ariel Castro. If you’re wondering how this historic election is viewed from elsewhere, just take a look at the headlines: America should probably be experiencing some Sexmonsterscham right now.

*Correction, Oct. 18, 2016: The original version of this post suggested that the verb kleinkriegen was directly related to the noun Kleinkrieg. It is not.