Word of the day


Umlottery [ˈʊm.lɑːɾɚɹi] (fr. umloterie, f; ger. Umlotterie, f.; it. umlotteria, f.; rus. умлотерия , f.).


A spur-of-the-moment and generally random decision, by a hesitant speaker of German talking in front of a (typically large) native-speaker audience, to pronounce the next intended word with, or without, an umlaut on the decisive syllable.

Example use

My programming teacher seems to play the umlottery a lot recently, and most of the time he loses.


In the German language some vowels change their pronunciation under the effect of the “umlaut”, a diacritical mark appearing as a double period, as in “ä” (pronounced like an “e” in “Ted“) versus a plain “a” (pronounced “Ah“). Many nouns and verbs add umlauts in some but not all of their inflections (declinations or conjugations).  Non-native speakers find it a challenge to remember when to umlaut and when not. The consequences of incorrect umlauting can be dramatic; for example “drucken” means to print and “drücken” to press. Imagine the consequences of a police chief telling a subordinate “Print a new copy of the witness’s statement” and being understood as “Pressure the witness into making a different statement“. The stress is consequently high on the public speaker who suddenly cannot remember, in the crux of a talk, whether the first syllable of his next chosen word should be umlauted  or not.  Umlottery is the widely practiced technique of taking a big breath, silently praying to some higher power for protection, and taking a chance (as if betting at the lottery) one way or the other.


Composite word made up from “umlaut” and “lottery”.


Precise origin unknown. First attested written occurrence in “Bertrand Meyer’s Technology Blog“, an obscure publication of dubious circulation, in October of 2012. Rumored, without independently confirmed evidence, to have been in common use in the early years of the 21st century among foreign-born professors at the ETH Zurich.

Alternative hypotheses

Some researchers have hypothesized that the word is related to the “Unified Modeling Language” (or “UML“, hence the suggestion), under the argument that using UML for a project is akin to betting on its success at the lottery. There is, however, no scholarly consensus in favor of such a connection.

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