Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
List of German expressions in English
Below is a list of German expressions used in English. Some are relatively common (such as hamburger or gestalt), but most are comparatively rare. In many cases, the German borrowing in English has assumed a substantially different meaning than its German forebear.
Although the English language was originally based on an Anglo-Saxon variant of the German language similar to Dutch before the Norman Conquest of England by Norman-speaking peoples in 1066 (see Old English), many modern German words have been borrowed into modern English in more recent years. Typically English spellings of German loanwords suppress any umlauts (the accent over Ä, Ö, Ü, ä, ö and ü) of the original artifact.
German words have been incorporated into English usage for various reasons. Common cultural items, especially foods, have spread to English-speaking nations and are often identified by their German names. The history of excellence among German-speaking nations in science, scholarship, and classical music has led to many German words being adopted by academics for use in English contexts. Discussion of German history and culture requires use of German words. Lastly, some German words are used simply to a fictional passage by implying that the thing being expressed is German, as in Frau or Reich, although sometimes the use of German terms has no German implication, as in doppelganger or angst.
English and German are descended from the same common ancestor, called Proto-Germanic. Because of this, a number of English words are identical to their German counterparts either in spelling (Hand, Finger) or in pronunciation (Fish = Fisch). These words are excluded from this list.
German terms commonly used in English
Words in this category will be recognized by most English speakers and are commonly used in English. A few, such as delicatessen and hinterland, are often used without awareness that they are originally German. It should be noted that some words in this list (hamburger, kindergarten) are more common than others (ersatz, wanderlust).
Food and drink
- Beergarden (German spelling: Biergarten)
- Delicatessen (German spelling: Delikatessen; abbv. deli)
- Lager (beer)
- Muesli (German spelling: Müsli, Swiss German Müesli)
- Pils, Pilsner, Pilsener
- Pretzel (German spelling: Brezel)
- Schnapps (German spelling: Schnaps)
- Strudel (e. g. Apfelstrudel)
- Wiener (abbreviated from Wiener Würstchen)
Sports and recreation
- Abseil (German spelling: abseilen, a verb)
- Foosball (German spelling: Fußball, which refers to the game called soccer in the United States) - in US English, foosball refers exclusively to the tabletop soccer games found in bars and pubs, which are called Tischfußball, Wuzzler or Kicker in German, and simply table football in the UK.
- Rucksack (more commonly called a backpack in US English)
Other aspects of everyday life
- Angst (though the meaning is much more specific in English.)
- Arseloch (German spelling: Arschloch)
- Dachshund (a word that Germans rarely use; they say 'Dackel')
- Doberman pinscher (German spelling: Dobermannpinscher)
- Doppelganger (German spelling: Doppelgänger)
- Ersatz, "substitute", derogatory
- Feinschmecker (gourmet)
- Flak (Flugzeugabwehrkanone), in the figurative sense: "drawing flak" = being criticized
- Gesundheit (in US English, only used as an exclamation used after somebody has sneezed)
- Jägers (German spelling: Jäger for singular and plural)
- Kaffeeklatsch - coffee culture (literally: coffee gossip)
- Kaput (German spelling: kaputt)
- Kitsch (also used in Yiddish, but derivative of German)
- Kraut, generally as a derogatory word for a German person.
- Lebenskünstler ("life artist", someone who masters life in a somewhat eccentric way)
- -meister (primarily satirical usage)
- schlepp (or schlep; carry or drag sth.)
- Schnorrer (a begger or scrounger)
- Schnauzer (a dog of a German breed with a close wiry coat and heavy whiskers round the muzzle)
- Volkswagen (proper name in English; pronounced folksvagen, people's car)
- Wanderlust, the yearning to travel
- Wunderkind, "wonder child", a prodigy
- Zeppelin, type of airship named after its inventor
German terms commonly used in academic contexts in English
German terms frequently appear in several academic disciplines in English, notably in history, psychology, philosophy, music and the physical sciences. Non-specialists in a given field may or may not be familiar with a given German term.
General academic language
(Some terms are listed in multiple categories, if they are important to each.)
Das Dritte Reich (The Third Reich)
Other historical periods
- Dorfwüstung, used to describe the return of wilderness to towns after the Black Death
- Kaiser, "emperor"
- Realpolitik (also political science)
- Reichstag (Imperial Diet; see Reichstag (building) and Reichstag (institution))
- Völkerwanderung (pronounced folkervanderung)
- Freiherr, roughly equivalent to an English baron, the lowest rank of nobility
- Fürst, "prince", but see entry for notes and qualifications: in German use refers to leader of a principality, not an heir to a throne
- Graf, "count"
- Kaiser, "emperor"
- Landgraf, count with princely (sovereign) powers, see entry for relation to "Graf"
General military terms
- Flak (Flugabwehrkanone), anti-aircraft gun
- Panzer (abbreviated form of Panzerkampfwagen)
- U-Boot (abbreviated form of Unterseeboot)
- Feldwebel (Sargant)
- Fähnrich (Ensign)
- Hauptmann (Captain)
- Oberst (Colonel)
- Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant-Colonel)
- Dreimorengesetz, "three-mora law", the rule for placing stress in Latin
- Grenzsignal , "boundary signal"
- Leitmotiv, a recurring theme
- Sitz im Leben (Biblical linguistics mainly; the study of Pragmatics has a similar approach)
- Nihilartikel, a deliberately fictitious article in an encyclopedia or dictionary
- Sturm und Drang, "storm and stress", a literary movement
- Urtext, "original text"
- Wahlverwandtschaft (pronounced with a v) (from Goethe's Die Wahlverwandschaften )
- Zeitgeist "spirit of the times"
Mathematics and formal logic
- "Eigen-" words such as eigenfunction, eigenvector, eigenvalue
- Hilbert's Nullstellensatz
- Ideal (originally "ideale Zahlen", defined by Ernst Kummer)
- Ansatz (roughly equivalent to "approach")
- Biedermeier, era in early 19th century Vienna
- Glockenspiel, a percussion instrument
- Heldentenor , "heroic tenor"
- Hammerklavier, "hammer-keyboard", an archaic term for piano or the name of a specific kind of piano
- Kapellmeister, "music director"
- Leitmotif (German spelling: Leitmotiv)
- Lied (pronounced "leet"), "song"; specifically in English, "art song"
- Lieder ohne Worte , "songs without words"
- Minnesinger (German spelling: 'Minnesänger') "Love poet"
- Rosenkavalier , "cavalier of the rose", an opera by Richard Strauss
- schmaltz (sentimentality, esp. in music and drama; schmaltzier, schmaltziest)
- Sprechgesang, form of musical delivery between speech and singing
- Sturm und Drang, "storm and stress", a brief esthetic movement during the Classical period
- Urtext, "original text (of the composer)"
- Volksmusic (German spelling: Volksmusik)
- Waltz (German spelling: Walzer)
- Gott ist tot!, a popular phrase from Nietzsche; more commonly rendered "God is dead!" in English.
- Übermensch, also from Nietzsche; the ideal of a Superman or Overman.
- Weltanschauung, Worldview or View of the world
- Weltschmerz, World-weariness, angst; despair with the World (often used ironically in German)
- Wille zur Macht, a central concept of Nietzsche's philosophy; it means "the Will to Power."
- Aufbau principle (physical chemistry)
- Bauplan = body plan of animals
- Gedanken experiment (German spelling: Gedankenexperiment; more commonly referred to as a "thought experiment" in English.)
- Gerade and its opposite ungerade (quantum mechanics)
- minerals like Quartz (German spelling: Quarz), Gneiss and Feldspar (originally "Gneis" respectively "Feldspat")
- Umpolung (organic chemistry)
- vierbein, and variations such as vielbein
- Ansatz, an assumed for for a function that is not based on an underlying theory
- Gestalt (psychology; much narrower meaning than in German.)
- Zeitgeber (lit. tide-giver; something that resets the circadian clock produced by the SCN.)
German terms mostly used for literary effect
There are a few terms which are recognised by many English speakers but are usually only used to deliberately evoke a German context:
- Frau and Fräulein
- Führer (umlaut is usually dropped in English) — always used in (American) English to denote Hitler or to connote a Fascistic leader — never used, as is possible in German, simply and unironically to denote a (non-Fascist) leader, i.e. Bergführer just means Mountain Guide
- Hände hoch — "hands up"
- Herr — evokes German context; but used with military titles ("Herr Oberst"), immediately connotes Nazi era to (American) English listeners.
- Lederhosen (Singular Lederhose in German denotes one pair of leathery trousers. The original Bavarian word is Lederhosn, which is both singular and plural.)
- Meister — used as a suffix to mean expert, or master
- Nein, "no"
- Reich — to (American) English speakers, "Reich" does not denote its literal meaning, "empire", but strongly connotes Naziism and is often used to suggest Fascism or authoritarianism, e.g., "Herr Reichsminister" used as a title for a disliked politician. German "reich" as an adjective means rich, as a noun it means empire.
- Jawohl has no literal translation in English, but is often equated to "yes sir".
- Schnell! — Fast!
- Kommandant — officer or person in command, especially of a military camp or U-Boat. (Applies regardless of military rank, in distinction to the English "commander".)
German terms rarely used in English
This is the unsorted, original list. If a term is common in a particular academic discipline, and there is no more commonly used English equivalent, then please move it to the list above.
- Autobahn — particularly common in British English referring specifically to German motorways which have no speed limit
- Fahrvergnugen (German spelling: Fahrvergnügen, literally pleasure of driving. Coined for a Volkswagen advertising campaign.)
- Götterdämmerung, downfall of the once mighty (literally: Twilight of the Gods)
- ... Über Alles (originally "Deutschland über Alles"; now used by extension in other cases, as in the Dead Kennedys song "California Über Alles")
- Ur- (as a prefix to mean "proto-")
- Zweihander (German spelling: Zweihänder)
For terms used in music, see above.
Meanings of German band names
- Einstürzende Neubauten = collapsing Neubauten, Neubauten literally "new buildings" being the name of an architectural style
- Böhse Onkelz = (correct German spelling:) böse onkels = evil uncles.
- Kraftwerk = power plant
- Rammstein = named after Ramstein Air Base, but could mean "ramming stone"
- Die Toten Hosen = literally dead trousers. A slang expression for a boring place to be.
- Die Ärzte (DÄ)= the doctors or medcines, a popular German singing rock band.
Classical Music Works
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