Have you ever noticed that English has many German words? You might know Bratwurst or Schadenfreude, but many other English words are German. This influence is in part due to widespread German migration to the United States.
Read on to find out which words German has brought to English. It may surprise you where Deutsch has found its way in!
Yes, you read that right – the English word “iceberg” comes from the German word Eisberg, or “ice mountain.”
What if we called a Kindergarten a “childrens’ garden”? That’s what this German loanword literally means, being made up of Kinder and Garten.
Kinder, the plural of Kind “child,” is an irregular plural – one of the German language’s funny quirks.
One of my favorite German loanwords, “kitsch” is the perfect way to describe something just the right mix of tacky and outdated. Where would we be without this word?
Gesundheit, the German word for “health,” is also used in the German-speaking world for “bless you.” In English, however, particularly in North America, there are also people who use Gesundheit after someone sneezes.
Yes, hamster is also originally a German word, borrowed around the 1600s from der Hamster. This word descends from Middle High German, which in turn borrowed it from Old Church Slavonic’s chomestoru.
You can read more about the linguistic origins of this fascinating term here.
Today, the verb hamstern in German can refer to storing large quantities. This meaning likely comes from hamsters’ tendency to store food in their cheeks.
How much cuter would English be if we said people “hamstered” toilet paper?
Another fun fact – apparently, before the word “hamster” caught on in English, it was called a “German rat”!
Zigzag is an anglicization of the German term zickzack, which means the same exact thing.
You may have known about words like Schadenfreude and Zeitgeist, but the German origins of zigzag is quite the surprise, isn’t it?
Another surprising entry, glitz is a more recent borrowing. According to several sources, it dates back only to the 60s, when it was borrowed from the Yiddish version of the German word glitzern, “to sparkle.”
Have you ever had Haribo gummy bears? Delicious, right? Well, did you know that the term “gummy bear” is a calque from the German Gummibär?
Calque is a linguistic term that refers to a direct translation from another language. So, basically, English took the two components of the German word Gummibär (Gummi + bär), translated them directly and slapped them together.
The next time you snack on a deliciously chewy gummy bear, remember to thank a German.
When you think of noodles, you might think of Chinese stir fry, a big bowl of ramen, or even a nice spaghetti. But did you know the English word “noodle” actually comes from German?
That’s right: although the word “noodle” existed in English, it was not until the 18th century that it referred to the starchy food we love today.
“Foosball,” or the tiny table-top version of soccer (or football), comes from the German word Fußball. But the German word refers to the actual game of football/soccer, not a miniature table version.
Bratwurst, beer, pretzels bigger than your face: who doesn’t love German food? Read further and learn more about Germany’s culinary contributions.
The German beer garden, or Biergarten, is a cultural institution. It’s so common, in fact, that we recognize the word in English today.
The frankfurter and the hamburger: what would an American picnic be without hot dogs and hamburgers? The names of both these foods come from places, the cities of Frankfurt and Hamburg. With the -er ending, they take on the meaning “of Frankfurt/Hamburg,” referring to the places where such foods were supposedly invented.
Most people believe the common hot dog was invented in Frankfurt, but some believe it comes from Coburg.
For the hamburger, things are more complicated. It could be that the meat came from Hamburg, but that German immigrants in the US invented the dish itself.
What is clear, however, is that these foods are both common and delicious.
Did you know the word “deli” is short for “delicatessen,” itself an English version of the German word Delikatesse?
In German, the word Delikatesse refers to a delicacy, like a luscious chocolate cake. It can also mean tact and sensitivity. In English, however, a deli is a specific type of restaurant.
But that’s not all – the German word comes from the French word délicatesse.
The pretzel, Brezel in German, dates back to the early 12th century, but only came into the English language around the 1830s. Ultimately, the word is related to the Latin word bracchium for “arm.”
In Bavaria, or Bayern, where the Brezel is most famous, it is also called Brezen.
Have you ever had muesli? A famous Swiss breakfast, it is similar to granola, but different in the fact that the oats are not cooked.
Muesli is a Swiss dialect word: it is the diminutive of the word Mues, or in Standard German Mus, which means something like “puree” or “mush.” So, literally, muesli could be translated as “little mush.” But muesli might sound a bit more delicious…
In German, the word is spelled Müsli. The English spelling derives from the German practice of sometimes replacing umlauts (the two dots over the u in Müsli) with an extra “e.” So, for example, Übersetzung, “translation,” can be written as Uebersetzung.
This is often used in internet addresses, where characters with umlauts are not allowed.
Sauerkraut, the beloved German side dish, is just one example of an ancient tradition. People believe that the Chinese were the first to pickle cabbage. In fact, it was an important source of nutrition for workers building the Great Wall.
Kimchi, the Korean answer to pickled cabbage, may taste different, but it’s based on the same concept. And if you’re suddenly feeling tempted by Korean cuisine, take a look at this piece on Korean cuisine!
Yes, that’s right! If you go to Deutschland and need some schnapps, don’t worry about a translation: you’ll be understood in no time.
If you look closely, you can see the German roots of this word through the “sch” consonant cluster at the beginning, a common sound im Deutschen (“in German”).
Apple strudel, cherry strudel, toaster strudel, you name it – they all owe their existence to the German language.
If you’re still hungrig for some more German food, check out this article on eating in Germany!
Perhaps surprisingly, many names of dog breeds are of German origin. Rottweiler, schnauzer, the list goes on. Read below to see some of these German dog breeds.
The name for this dog breed originates from the city of Rottweil in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Although the origin of the breed is unclear, they are famous for being great watchdogs.
Whether giant, miniature, or just standard, the schnauzer’s name comes from the German word for “snout” or even an informal term for “mustache.” These loyal hounds originated in Germany between the 14th and 16th centuries.
Literally meaning “badger dog,” the adorable dachshund has a German name. In modern-day Germany, however, the more common name is Dackel.
I sometimes call this dog a wiener dog. The word “wiener” happens to be a German loanword, coming from the word Wiener, “of/from Vienna.” Fun fact, right?
The name for this smart and loyal dog breed is a calque of the German term Deutscher Schäferhund.
This uncommon breed is a “monkey terrier,” coming from the German word Affe for “monkey.” Do you think this dog looks like a monkey?
Germany is sometimes referred to as the Volk der Dichter und Denker, or “the people of poets and thinkers.” This is because of its influence on philosophy, psychology, and many other fields. This influence is easy to see in the loanwords below.
Now a common word in English, the term Doppelgänger dates back to the late 18th century. Jean Paul, a German writer, is credited with coining the term in 1796.
He originally wrote it as Doppeltgänger and defined it in this way: So heißen Leute, die sich selber sehen (“That’s what people who see themselves are called”).
The Bildungsroman, translated as “coming-of-age novel,” comes from the words Bildung and Roman.
The two words are attached by an -s in the middle, known in German as a Fugen -s. This -s is added to make the word easy to pronounce.
If you’re looking for a German Bildungsroman, you can try Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. It is sometimes referred to as the first Bildungsroman.
Have you ever noticed something unpleasant happening to someone you don’t like? Did you feel guilty for feeling happy? That’s the essence of Schadenfreude, “damage joy,” one of German’s gifts to English.
Are you a fan of The Office? If so, you may remember one episode where Ryan gets promoted to a corporate position. In that episode, he says that others keep calling him a “wunderkind.” (He claims he doesn’t really know what it means.)
Made up of “wonder” + “child,” a Wunderkind is a person with great knowledge or talent despite their young age.
Leitmotif, sometimes spelled “leitmotiv”, is a leading or dominant feature in a work of art. You can find leitmotifs in books, music, and other types of art.
The word comes from leit + motif, where leit derives from the word leiten, or “to guide, to lead.”
The concept of Dasein is from the German existential philosopher Martin Heidegger. In English, it is usually translated as “existence.”
Dasein translates to “there-being,” where da is “there” and sein is the infinitive form of the German verb “to be.”
Blitzkrieg, translating to “lightning war” in English, refers to a German military strategy. The German military found that concentrating on one area was more effective than spreading out their forces.
Although the term became popular around World War II, the idea is older. Check out this article to read more.
Though this German prefix is not widely used in spoken English, it is common in academic contexts. In German, the prefix means “proto, original”. See these examples:
- Ursache (Ur + thing): cause
- Urbild (Ur + image): archetype
- Urenkel (Ur + grandchildren): great-grandchildren
In English, we sometimes refer to the “Ur-example” of something. This means the earliest known appearance of a certain phenomenon.
Bauhaus, a 20th-century German architecture school, stands for functional design. The combination of bau (building, or “build!” in the imperative) and haus (“house”) denotes a commitment to simple, functional design.
Merriam-Webster defines the zeitgeist as “the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.” In German, the word comes from Zeit (“time”) plus Geist (“ghost, spirit, mind”).
The term was coined by the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). The English poet Matthew Arnold, however, was the first to use it in English. The idea of the Zeitgeist contrasts with the “great man” view of history.
We might not always know it, as you will have realized throughout this post.
German certainly has given English many words, in ways that don’t always appear obvious. I hope you learned something new from this article to help you on your language learning journey!
To learn more about these words, or any other German word, you can check out this website. Here, you can check out definitions, etymology, related words, and more!