Do you feel lonely? On a scale of 1 to 10, how lonely do you feel? If it’s a 10, Germans have a special word for this type of extreme loneliness: mutterseelenallein.
Directly translated, the term means “mother’s soul alone”, indicating a severe level of loneliness. If you’ve ever reached that level, you might have felt that you were so alone that even your mother’s soul was not there for you.
But even though it may sound like it’s related to your mother’s company (or lack thereof), it actually has little to do with her.
The word can actually be traced back to the French idiom “moi tout seul”, which means “me all alone.” When the Huguenots (persecuted French Protestants) fled to Germany in the 18th century, they allegedly used the term “moi tout seul” to describe their feelings. Germans apparently misunderstood this phrase as Mutterseelen (“mother’s souls”) and combined it with allein (“alone”) to obtain this new word. It quickly stuck in the German language. The Brother’s Grimm even used it in their works – including the story of Snow White.
Unfortunately there is no English translation for mutterseelenallein. So try to imagine an extreme state of loneliness with no human contact, and you’ll understand what it’s like to feel mutterseelenallein.
By Nicole Glass, German Embassy