I’m a bit of a fan of linguistics, the study of words, and the nuances of language. At school, I learnt German; at uni, I did an English sub-major; and in the Army, I studied Bahasa Indonesia.
The other day I wrote a blog post about the German word Gemütlichkeit, and it got me thinking about other German words that have made their way into the English language. I’ve also previously written about my commonly-mispronounced German surname.
As both are Germanic languages at their core, many English words have been borrowed from the German.
Here are my favourite words that have their origin in German:
Abseil: To rope/rappel one’s body down (a cliff, building)
Angst: Translates as ‘fear’, but is used in English to describe a feeling of apprehension, anxiety, or inner turmoil.
Berliner: A person or thing from Berlin, but also a jam donut. JFK famously said: ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ = ‘I am a jam donut’, when visiting Berlin.
Blitz: From Blitzen (lightning) and Blitzkrieg (lightning war), to do something lightning fast or vigorously
Bratwurst: A frying sausage, often served with onions and sauerkraut.
Dachshund: One of those funny sausage-looking dogs. Think Schnitzel von Krumm, with the very low tum, of Hairy Maclary fame.
Delicatessen: In German correct spelling is delikatessen; A fine food or smallgoods store.
Diesel: The fuel, named after its German founder Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel.
Donner and Blitzen: Two of Santa’s reindeer, in German: ‘thunder’ and ‘lightning’.
Doppelgänger: A look-alike or body double of a living person.
Edelweiss: Flower that grows in alpine regions of Switzerland, made famous by The Sound of Music.
Fest: Think Oktoberfest; short for ‘festival’.
Flak: I cop ‘flak’ all the time from my wife and it’s not unlike its original meaning; it comes from a German word for anti-aircraft artillery. Think also ‘flak jacket’.
Foosball Table: The tabletop game of ‘foosball’ comes from the German ‘fußball‘, which means ‘football’. The ß is an ‘eszett’ or a double ‘s’ in German.
Frankfurter: A type of boiled sausage (or a person or thing from the city of Frankfurt), often served in hot dogs.
Fräulein: Not strictly adopted into English, but often used in popular culture to describe a young woman in much the same way that the word ‘chick’ is used.
Gesundheit: Literally ‘health’, it is used in place of ‘bless you’ when somebody sneezes.
Gewürztraminer: An aromatic wine grape variety, used in white wines, and performs best in cooler climates. Too sweet for my liking.
Glitz: Ostentatious, showiness.
Glockenspiel: Percussion instrument in the orchestra. The instrument that the tone-deaf and musically-challenged kids – like myself – played in Year 10 Music.
Hamburger: A meat pattie in a bun (or a person or thing from the city of Hamburg).
Hamster: Rodents that make good house pets; the word hamster comes from a term that translates as ‘corn weevil’.
Hinterland: literally, ‘back land’. The land behind something.
Kaput: Buggered, stuffed, rooted, shot, finished, cactus.
Kitsch: Cheap, gaudy items of popular culture. I learnt this from my grandmother who wasn’t all that keen on the tacky souvenir I brought her back from Germany.
Kindergarten: Literally, ‘children’s garden’; a pre-school facility.
Kohlrabi: A type of cabbage that you might find in an upmarket fruit and veg shop.
Kris Kringle: A name for ‘Santa Claus’ in German; in Australia, it’s also known as ‘Secret Santa’ game: a silly workplace tradition at Christmas time whereby all staff members spend $10 buying a worthless gift for an undeserving person that they don’t like.
Lager: A type of bottom-fermenting beer that is stored (lagern = to store) in cold conditions for a period of time.
Lebensraum: One from the study of modern European history; literally ‘living space’, it was Hitler’s justification for invading Eastern Europe in World War II. Also used when fighting for space on the couch: ‘can I have a little more lebensraum over here please?’
Lederhosen: Those quaint leather pants that men wear at drinking festivals in Germany; you’d need all that alcohol to dull the pain from the chafing
Meister: Translates as ‘master’; often tacked on the end of somebody’s name to form a endearing nickname – ‘Bob-meister, how you doin’?’
Muesli: A breakfast cereal from Switzerland; good for keeping you regular.
Neanderthal: Literally, a person from the Neander Valley, near Düsseldorf, where the fossils of the Neanderthal man were found.
Nix: Anglified version of the German ‘nichts‘ – which means none, nothing, squat, zip, zero, zilch, nada.
Noodle: From the German ‘nudel‘.
Plunder: From the German ‘plündern’, which means to rob household goods.
Poltergeist: Meaning ‘noisy ghost’; an alleged paranormal phenomenon where objects appear to move of their own accord.
Pretzel: From the German ‘brezel‘; a salted, baked savoury shaped into a distinctive knot.
Realpolitik: ‘Real politics’; a pragmatic approach to politics and diplomacy, where the influence of power and money is recognised as a real factor.
Riesling: A white grape variety which originated in the Rhine region of Germany.
Rottweiler: A breed of dog.
Rucksack: A backpack. ‘Rücken’ = back
Sauerkraut: Fermented cabbage, a great accompaniment to a German sausage or schnitzel. Not to everybody’s taste.
Schadenfreude: This doesn’t have an English equivalent; it’s taking malicious satisfaction in the pain or misfortune of others.
Schnapps: Very strong, fruit-flavoured alcoholic drink. A couple of shots and you’re gone.
Schnauzer: A breed of dog; so named for its nose.
Schwerpunkt: Not common vernacular, but ex-military types like me know the ‘schwerpunkt’ as the centre of gravity or focal point on the battlefield.
Stein: A large German beer drinking vessel; one litre in volume is common.
Strudel: A sweet, filled pastry. Apple strudel, or Apfelstrudel, is perhaps the most common.
Über: Translates as ‘over’ in English; it has become synonymous with the Uber ride sharing service (minus the umlaut over the ‘u’).
Übermensch: Literally ‘over man’, or ‘superhuman’.
Verboten: Used often in popular culture, it means ‘forbidden’, ‘prohibited’ or ‘banned’ – ‘hey buddy, smoking is verboten’.
Volkswagen: Das Auto; literally ‘people’s wagon’.
Waltz: A smooth, progressive ballroom and folk dance, normally in triple time, performed primarily in closed position.
Wanderlust: A yearning to travel; from the German words wandern (to hike) and Lust (desire).
Weimaraner: A breed of dog.
Weltanschauung: This one’s a tough one: literally ‘world view’, it is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society’s knowledge and point of view.
Wiener: A sausage from the city of Vienna (Wien in German) – or a person or thing from Vienna.
Wienerschnitzel: A crumbed, deep-fried veal cutlet cooked in the Viennese tradition.
Wunderbar: Wonderful. Common exclamation.
Wunderkind: A child prodigy, literally ‘wonder child’.
Zeitgeist: The spirit of the time or age.
Any others that you’d like to add? Tell me in the Comments below…