Perfect German Words Americans Need To Describe Summer 2020

As a viral pandemic rages across the United States, many summertime activities have been suspended. Between beach closures, struggling restaurants, truncated sports seasons and cancelled concerts, 2020 is a summer unlike many previous. But, as in all things, there's a German word that can capture the feeling.

Sommerloch, which translates most literally to "Summer Hole," is a village in Germany's hilly and castle-strewn Bad Kreuznach, known for its valleys and vineyards (in this context, loch would better be translated as "gap," referring to the Nahe River valley in which the village sits).

But sommerloch has taken on a meaning beyond the tiny village. For German media, sommerloch has come to mean something similar to the English idiom "slow news day." It refers in particular to news media output during summer break, when German journalists are too busy fanning themselves and trying on really small bathing suits to provide substantial coverage. Instead, during sommerloch, the news tends to focus on fluff and other inconsequential stories.

"'Sommerloch' refers exlusively to the time of no news in the summer because people are on vacation," Eckhard Kuhn-Osius, associate professor in the German Department of Hunter College, told Newsweek. "There simply is no news, but the papers have to produce copy and are hard-pressed to come up with something to write about."

But the language learning app Babbel has highlighted the word as a particular useful one for Americans enduring the summer heat, expanding somewhat on the definition by describing 'sommerloch' as referring to the "'silly season' of summer when everything gets too hot to function."

There's another German word that might also approach the particular sensation of Summer 2020 in the United States, with its combination of deprivations and tiring heat: Sauregurkenzeit.

While not quite as euphonious to English-speaking ears as 'sommerloch,' sauregurkenzeit has a more expansive idiomatic usage, stretching back to the 1700s. Translated loosely as "sour cucumber time," the Lexicon of Proverbial Idioms traces its origins to Yiddish proverbs, referring to a time where food is scarce.

A woman dressed in regional folk garb sells organic pickles at a 2007 agricultural trade fair in Berlin, Germany. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

In one typical usage, characters in a 19th century German novel lamented that the beer got worse as the economy crashed. "Sour cucumber time," one character exclaimed. In other words, it was time to break out the pickled food stored for lean times.

However, 'sauregurkenzeit' has taken on broader uses since, most often as a joking expression for the middle of summer, when people on summer vacations leave the cities quiet and businesses closed. Similar to summerlochen, the expression is also used to describe the slow down of media coverage, as people set aside more frenetic business for the cooler months to come.

Summer fireworks over the lake of the Olympic park in Munich, Germany in July, 2013. CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images)

Both expressions maintain their currency in part due to the expansive time off provided German workers, who are typically guaranteed 24 paid vacation days per year. Throw in paid holidays and most German workers have more than 30 vacation days a year, many of which they use in the summer months. According to USA Today, U.S. adults work 20 percent more hours overall than Germans.

But just because the expressions rely in part on the extra summer recreation afforded German workers doesn't change how useful sommerloch and sauregurkenzeit can be in describing not just a season, but also a sensation. When it comes to summer doldrums and stultifying malaise, whether you're in a summer hole or just stuck in sour cucumber time, the Germans have got your back.