The 'Worst' German Word of the Year

What the return of Lügenpresse, a phrase most recently used in the era of the Nazi, says about political developments in Germany and Europe.

On Tuesday, a panel of linguists in Germany declared Lügenpresse the dubious winner in the annual "Unwort des Jahres" competition. The annual, politically charged "non-word of the year" event critiques phrases that have taken on a pernicious meaning in the country over the course of a given year.

The coronation of Lügenpresse represents a troubling trend. The phrase, which means "lying press" and found most recent use in the Nazi era, has become something of a watchword among Germany's increasingly vociferous anti-immigrant (and largely anti-Muslim) activists. In recent months, these demonstrators have called on the media to "tell the truth" about what immigrants are doing to Germany.

Other recent winners include Sozialtourismus ("social tourism"), which in a certain context also relates to immigrants who come to Germany to indulge in state benefits, and Döner-Morde (Döner murder), which dismissively refers to murders of Turkish and Greek people. (For a compelling contrast, consider that just last week, the American Dialect Society named #blacklivesmatter as 2014's word of the year—the first time a hashtag has won.)

The non-word announcement came one day after the anti-immigrant group PEGIDA, the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, staged a massive, 25,000-strong rally in the German city of Dresden. The event, scheduled before last week's shootings in Paris, doubled as a tribute to victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and a rally to promote an anti-immigration platform. According to Reuters, the crowd marched to chants of Lügenpresse, halt die Fresse ("Shut up, lying press").

PEGIDA has inspired even larger counter-demonstrations across Germany, including one in Dresden this past Saturday, which drew 35,000 participants. (Hours before the rally, arsonists firebombed the offices of Hamburger Morgenpost, a German tabloid that had republished cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad in solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack.)

As The New York Times reported, a group of cartoonists known as Caricaturists Against PEGIDA also disseminated cartoons slamming the PEGIDA for capitalizing on the events in Paris to further stoke anti-immigration fervor.

In a statement, the group said: “PEGIDA is cynically seeking to exploit the Paris attack. We reject that the memory of our friends is being exploited and dragged through the mud in this way.”