“Humid” or “gay”?: How one little ‘ü’ can completely change the meaning of a word

I still have a few problems with German. I still get genders of words wrong. I keep stumbling over weird and wonderful idioms I’ve never heard of before. And there are still words I struggle to say with a decent accent (“angerufen” is one of them… that bloody ‘r’!). But there is one particular thing I struggle with sometimes, and that is the difference between ‘u’ (pronounced like, well, ‘u’ in English) and the ‘ü’ (pronounced like ‘ue’).

I can hear the difference between ‘a’ and ‘ä’, and ‘o’ and ‘ö’, but for some reason, when there’s a ‘u’ or ‘ü’ in the word, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference. When reading, I know exactly what’s going on (obviously, because I can see those two little dots). When I’m listening to others, it’s also fine – because you can get the gist of what’s going on in the conversation. But when it comes to speaking – you could accidentally end up saying that the weather is gay instead of humid. On the positive side, it can lead to Germans having a good chuckle (and, obviously, you chuckle with them and don’t feel embarrassed).

So I thought I’d list some examples of how two little dots above the ‘u’ can completely change the meaning of a word. Hopefully, if you’re a learner of German, you’ll hopefully understand, if you’re a speaker of German, you can have a good laugh, and if you can’t speak German at all, you’ll see how fun and yet dangerous the German language can be. Here goes!


führento lead/guide
Example: “Wir führen das Team zusammen.” (We lead the team together.)

fuhren = drove (imperfect, 1st and 3rd person plural)
“We drove the team together.”

(OK, a little unlikely, as the Germans don’t really use the imperfect when speaking, but nevertheless those two little dots change the meaning!)


Muckemusic/gig
Example: “Die Mucke war super!” (The music/gig was great!)

Mücke = mosquito
“The mosquito was great!”

(“Mucke” is not such a common word, at least in the Frankfurt area, but those two little dots are the difference between music and damn mosquitos!)

4584117897_dd55fd9595_b
Ew, God. No sorry, you’re definitely not great. Image credit: — Tom (https://www.flickr.com/photos/turkletom/) – Subject to CC 2.0 License.

lügento lie
Example: “Die lügen doch immer!” (But they always lie!)

lugen = to peep
“But they always peep!”

(“lugen” is also not such a common word, at least not in the Frankfurt area. But still – damn those pesky peekers!)


schwül = humid
Example: “Es ist sehr schwül heute.” (It is really humid today.)

schwulgay/homosexual

IMG_1430
The weather is so gay today!


druckento print
Example: “Kannst du es bitte beidseitig drucken?” (Can you print it double-sided, please?)

drücken = to hug (also: press/push)
“Can you hug is double-sided, please?”

(N’awwww!)


Druckerraum = printing room

(Yep, just like above)
Drückerraum = “hugging room”

(I just Googled this to see if it’s “Drückerraum” is an actual word… turns out it’s one of the few words for an area for drug addicts to safely take drugs in a supervised area. In English: “supervised injection site”. The things you learn! So yeah, make sure you say you’re just going to the printing room if you’re at work!)

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