The term ‘Sprachkultur’ is common in German-language academic and lay discourse, but what exactly does it mean? Is it used in the same way by trained and lay linguists? This article defines the term and traces its history, before going on to compare and contrast its use by both groups. Data taken from lay-linguistic works are analysed and two recurring motifs (i. the link between morality and linguistic usage and ii. accuracy/clarity) are discussed to see what light they throw on conceptions of language and language use. The concluding section sums up the similarities and differences between lay and academic linguists. The latter tend to concentrate on ‘Sprachgebrauchskultur’ whereas the former are prepared to criticise the language system as well. The stress laid by lay linguists on accuracy and the link between morality and linguistic choices reflects a ‘telementational’ view of language which has major shortcomings, and appears to be rooted in a world-view that equates diversity with cultural and ideological fragmentation rather than seeing it as enriching. However, the study of pronouncements by trained linguists shows that their work, too, reflects ideological assumptions about the nature of standard and other varieties of German.