Word of the Week: Torschlusspanik

Mar 2, 2012

Every Friday, Germany.info and The Week in Germany highlight a different "Word of the Week" in the German language that may serve to surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers.

Torschlusspanik

Lovers hang a padlock with their names inscribed on it at the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne. Enlarge image Lovers hang a padlock with their names inscribed on it at the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne. (© picture-alliance/chromorange) When a German soccer player scores a goal the ball has been shot into the "Tor." But when somebody experiences "Torschlusspanik" (gate-shut panic), they are worried about missing out on a different kind of chance to "score" in life.

Comprised of three nouns - the possibilities for compound nouns in the German lanugage do seem limitless - this word is used to connote the sense of urgency some people have in seeking a partner to settle down with or get married to, before it is simply "all too late" - the definition of which is of course open to interpretation in an era of late marriages and late parenthood across the western world.

"Tor" (goal), "Schluss" (end, closing), and "Panik" (panic) all combine to parlay this feeling.

So if you hear a German person say "wir haben uns getraut da ich auch etwas Torschlusspanik empfunden habe" (we got married because I was experiencing some 'gate-shut panic'), then you will know that are on about.

The origin of this expression, which was originally spelled "Torschlußpanik," dates back to the Middle Ages. Back then it was used in a more literal sense to connot the feeling that medieval peasants had when the castle gates were closing for an upcoming onslaught by your mortal enemies. Of course you wanted to be inside the gates when they closed, lest you be left outside of the castle walls to fend for yourself in the surrounding forests.

In this vein, "Torschlusspanik" used to literally describe the fear that time is running out to act, specifically in regards to a border closing.

Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth (left) and Hugh Grant (right) as they appeared in "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" (2004). Enlarge image Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth (left) and Hugh Grant (right) as they appeared in "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" (2004). (© picture-alliance/dpa/dpaweb)

Today "Torschlusspanik" is often used to describe that classic "ticking of the biological clock" which primarily afflicts young, unmarried women may as they approach middle age, as satirically portrayed in modern pop culture via books and films such as "Bridget Jones's Diary" or the "Sex and the City" franchise.

It is also used to express the feeling that afflicts some men as they approach middle age and experience the classic "midlife crisis" that has been known to destroy first marriages as these men "find themselves" catapulted into the arms of younger women who make them "feel alive" again.

On a broader, societal level, "Torschlusspanik" could also refer to the panicked behavior of investors who race to act one way or another on the stock market in the classic herd mentality that can make playing hardball in the global marketplace such risky business.

Regardless of how it is interpreted, one saying in German should give anyone who might be experiencing an initial inkling of "Torschlusspanik" pause: "Torschlusspanik ist ein schlechter Ratgeber." (Torschlusspanik is a bad advisor.)

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