‘Impfdurchbruch’: What does the 2021 Swiss German word of the year mean?

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 7 Dec, 2021 Updated Tue 7 Dec 2021 17:17 CEST
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Vaccination protests and discussions over Covid measures have been a major influence on this year's Swiss words of the year.

On Tuesday, this year’s Swiss German word of the year was announced. What is ‘Impfdurchbruch’ and why was it given the nod?


Every December, the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) names its words of the year for each Switzerland’s linguistic regions. 

While over time these have tended to capture a social or cultural norm or quirk - with words chosen which have become more popular or regularly used - over the past two years the announcements have taken on a Covid flavour. 


What is this year’s Swiss German word of the year?

2021’s Swiss German word of the year - Impfdurchbruch - translates literally to ‘vaccination breakthrough’. 

ZHAW said the word was chosen to reflect a variety of sometimes inconsistent feelings expressed during the pandemic. 

While early on people were confident that the vaccines would provide a societal ‘breakthrough’ against the pandemic, the ability of the virus to ‘breakthrough’ to infect vaccinated people and even to make some sick led to fear and despair. 

“The virus cannot simply be vaccinated away, rather it breaks through again and again - be it with new variants or so-called vaccination breakthroughs,” ZHAW wrote. 

READ MORE: How many vaccinated and unvaccinated people have died from Covid in Switzerland?

“People react to it in different ways: for many, anger begins to break out, for some the ground falls out from under their feet and they fall into a depression, while others hope for the liberating blow from the booster that will finally bring the longed-for breakthrough.”

In second place was ‘Starkregen’ - translating as strong or heavy rain - while the bronze medal went to ‘entfreunden’, which means ‘unfriend’. 

ZHAW said Starkregen was chosen to reflect the massive rainfall felt across Switzerland this year, while entfreunden reflected how “friendships were put to the test by the vaccination debate”. 

UPDATE: How Switzerland’s flood planning helped it avoid disaster

What about in other linguistic regions? 

The French word of the year - iel - was chosen, which is a personal pronoun used to refer to people regardless of gender. 

This is defined by the authors as a "personal subject pronoun in the third person singular and plural, used to refer to a person regardless of gender".

The authors said the word was chosen to reflect the consistent evolution of the French language, while also encapsulating the paradox of a word created for the purpose of inclusivity which has had the effect of polarising and dividing some parts of society. 

The Swiss Italian word of the year - certificato - means certificate and also has a Covid flavour, with the authors saying the choice was reflective of the now central place Covid certificates have in society. 

The Romansh word was ‘respect’ which has the same meaning as in English and is reflective of the need for social cohesion to deal with the Covid crisis. 



The Local 2021/12/07 17:17

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