Learning German

The German Way: German words claimed by English

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You probably speak more German than you know – both German and English have liberally borrowed from each other and claimed words as their own.

Languages are not pure. Dig a little deeper into any language and you'll find many words that have been borrowed from another language and taken as its own. You might just realise you are more fluent in German than you think.

'The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.'
'Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt.'
– Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951), Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922)

English-language borrowing from German

Many terms are commonly understood by most well-read English-speakers, yet have been borrowed from the German language.

When you see German words like über spelled 'uber' in English (as in 'uber-cool'), you’ll know the writer hasn’t a clue about the source language.

Young children attend a Kindergarten (translated from Germany as 'children’s garden').

Gesundheit doesn’t really mean 'bless you' but it means 'health' – the 'good' being implied.

Psychiatrists speak of Angst (fear) and Gestalt (form) psychology.

When something is broken it’s kaputt but you could use an ersatz (substitute) thing instead.

The English expression 'doozy' (also 'doozie') – as in, “Man, that one was a real doozy!” – comes from the name of German-American car maker Frederick S. Duesenberg (1877–1932, born in Lippe, Germany) and his luxurious high-powered Duesenberg roadster.

Although not every English-speaker knows that Fahrvergnügen is 'driving pleasure', they may know that Volkswagen means 'people’s car'.

Musical works can have a Leitmotiv (recurring musical phrase), which you might hear while dancing a waltz.

Our cultural view of the world is called a Weltanschauung by historians or philosophers, and blitz and blitzkrieg were once German war terms.

When ordering certain foods from a Delicatessen, you are in fact speaking German – Frankfurter, Munster and Limburger (cheeses named for German cities), pretzel, sauerkraut, (apple) strudel, or wiener.

If you head to the hinterland with you dachshund, don't forget your rucksack but you might want to leave the glockenspiel at home. Take a photo if you see any quartz, or cobalt

If you're not a fan of pilsner (in German meaning a glass or the beer), you can always opt for a kaffeeklatsch (social gathering with coffee served).

And we can thank 'low German' for brake, dote, and tackle.

Germanic cognate terms

German and English also have a lot of words in common, mostly family-related words, parts of the body, and old basic words: der Arm, der Ball, der Bruder, die Hand, das Haus, das Ende, das Gold, gut (good), der Finger, lang, der Mann, die Maus, Montag (Monday), die Mutter, der Vater, die Schwester (sister), der Sohn, die Tochter (daughter), das Wasser, and das Wort (word).

English words in German

English isn't the only language that's borrowed a word or two. Your knowledge of English will help your German fluency as well.

The following German words have been borrowed from English, and usually the only difference is the use of the German article (the – der, die, or das – masc., fem., neu.) and the capitalisation used for all German nouns. Even the pronunciation is usually similar to English, but sometimes with a unique German twist. They are usually German’s more recent borrowings and modern words.

English terms in German: das Baby, der Babysitter, babysitten (to babysit), das Bodybuilding, das Callgirl, der Clown, der Cocktail, der Computer, fit (in good shape), die Garage, das Golf (der Golf is 'the gulf' or a VW model), das Hobby, der Job, joggen (to jog), der Killer, killen (to kill), der Lift (elevator), der Manager, managen (to manage), das Musical, der Playboy, der Pullover, der Rum, der Smog, der Snob, der Streik, das Team, der Teenager, das Ticket, der Tunnel, der Trainer (coach), der Waggon (train car).

Loan words from French (Französisch)

The following German words might look like English words, but they are actually words from French that both English and German have adopted. They are more recent than the Latin borrowings below.

French borrowings include: das Abenteuer (adventure), die Armee, das Ballett, die Chance, fein (fine), galoppieren, der General, die Infanterie, die Kanone, die Lanze (lance), der Offizier, die Parade, die Parole (saying, motto), der Platz (place, square), der Preis (prize, price), der Prinz, die Prinzessin, der Tanz (dance), and die Uniform.

Loan words from Latin (Latein)

Both English and German, among many languages, have borrowed heavily from Latin. Latin was the language of the universities in Germany and the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages. Because such words are very old and have undergone changes over the centuries, some are not very obvious equivalents. For example, the German word Birne comes from Latin pirum which gave us the English word pear.

Some other Latin words on loan: aktiv, der Altar, der Atlas, die Disziplin, der Esel (ass, donkey), das Examen, die Feige (fig), das Fieber (fever), der Kaiser (Caesar, emperor), die Kammer (chamber), die Kamera, der Kanzler (chancellor), der Keller (cellar), das Klima, das Kloster (cloister), das Kreuz (cross), die Lilie (lily), der Markt (market), die Meile (mile), das Münster (minster, church), die Münze (money, coin), opfern (to offer, sacrifice), die Pforte (portal), das Pfund (pound), die Rose, der Student/die Studentin, die Tafel (tablet), der Wein (wine).

Video: Die Prinzen – 'Be cool, speak Deutsch'

A music video by the German group 'Die Prinzen' (The Princes).


Reprinted with permission of The German Way.

Hyde Flippo- The German Way:For expats living in Germany

For 10 years, Hyde Flippo was the Guide for German Language at About.com, a position he left in 2008 to spend more time writing and developing his website, The German Way. Hyde spent some years in Berlin to learn more about German language and culture, and continues to travel with his wife in Europe and German-speaking countries doing research for his books, which include The German Way, When in Germany, Do As the Germans Do, Perfect Phrases in German, and Deutsche Sagen und Legenden (German Legends).

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1 Comment To This Article

  • Peter posted:

    on 9th December 2015, 16:45:44 - Reply

    I now in despite previous attempts to learn German. I have given up. What is the most practical way for a busy and active o fills his time with work as a management consultant, singing, farming and generally organising social events in the village.
    In addition to books are there background language discs, songs (leider) pictures et al that would allow the language to be absorbed by a process of osmosis as much as by the read, listen, pronounce method?
    I would be grateful for any reply but particularly from someone who has been in similar circumstances to my own.

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our expat forums.]