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German expressions in English

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This is a list of German expressions used in English; some relatively common (e.g. hamburger), most comparatively rare. In many cases, the German borrowing in English has assumed a meaning substantially different from its German forebear.

English and German both descended from the West Germanic language, though their relationship has been obscured by the great influx of Norman French words to English as a consequence of the Norman Conquest in 1066, and the second Germanic sound shift. In recent years, however, many English words have been borrowed directly from German. Typically, English spellings of German loanwords suppress any umlauts (the superscript, double-dot diacritic in ä, ö, ü, ä, ö and ü) of the original word or replace the umlaut letters with Ae, Oe, Ue, ae, oe, ue, respectively (influenced by Latin: æ, œ.)

German words have been incorporated to English usage for many reasons: common cultural artefacts, especially foods, have spread to English-speaking nations and often are identified either by their original German names or by German-sounding English names; the history of academic excellence of the German-speaking nations in science, scholarship, and classical music has led to the academic adoption of much German for use in English context; discussion of German history and culture requires knowing German words. Lastly, some German words are used simply to a fictionalise an English narrative passage, implying that the subject expressed is in German, i.e. using Frau, Reich, and so on, although sometimes usage of German words holds no German implication, as in doppelgänger or angst.

As languages, English and German descend from the common ancestor language West Germanic and further back to Proto-Germanic; because of this, some English words are identical to their German lexical counterparts, either in the spelling (Hand, Sand, Finger) or in the pronunciation (Fish = Fisch, Mouse = Maus), or both (Arm, Ring); these are excluded from this words list.


German terms commonly used in English

The German words of this category will easily be recognized by many English speakers; they are commonly used in English contexts. Some, such as wurst or pumpernickel, still retain German connotations, while others, such as lager and hamburger, retain none. Not every word is recognizable outside its relevant context.

Food and drink

Sports and recreation

  • Abseil (German spelling: sich abseilen, a reflexive verb, to rope (seil) oneself (sich) down (ab)) is also commonly called "rappelling" in America, "abseiling" in Australia, "roping (down)" in various English settings, and "snapling" by Israelis.
  • Blitz, taken from Blitzkrieg (lightning war). It is a team defensive play in American or Canadian football in which the defense sends more players than the offense can block.
  • Karabiner, snaplink, a metal loop with a sprung or screwed gate, used in climbing and mountaineering; modern short form/derivation of the older word 'Karabinerhaken'; translates to 'riflehook'. The German word can also mean Carbine.
  • Fahrvergnügen meaning "driving pleasure"; originally, the word was introduced in a Volkswagen advertising campaign in the U.S., one tag line was: "Are we having Fahrvergnügen yet?").
  • Kletterschuh, climbing shoe (mountaineering)
  • Rucksack (more commonly called a backpack in U.S. English)
  • Schuss, literally: shot (ski) down a slope at high speed
  • Turnverein, a gymnastics club or society
  • Volksmarsch / Volkssport, non-competitive fitness walking
  • Volkswanderung
  • Wunderbar

Other aspects of everyday life

  • –bahn as a suffix, e.g. Infobahn, after Autobahn
  • Blucher, a half-boot named after Prussian General Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher
  • Dachshund, a dog breed
  • Doberman Pinscher, a dog breed
  • Doppelgänger, "double-goer"; also spelled in English as doppelganger
  • Dreck, literally dirt or smut, but now means trashy, awful (through Yiddish, OED s.v.)
  • Dummkopf, dumm=dumb/not intelligent + Kopf=head; a stupid, ignorant person
  • Ersatz, replacement
  • Fest, festival
  • Flak, Flugabwehrkanone, literally: air-defence cannon, for anti-aircraft artillery or their shells, also used in flak jacket; or in the figurative sense: "drawing flak" = being heavily criticized
  • Gesundheit, literally: health; an exclamation used in place of "bless you!" after someone has sneezed
  • Kaffeeklatsch, afternoon meeting where people (most times referring to women) chitchat while drinking coffee or tea; Kaffee = coffee, Klatsch = gossip, klatschen = chitchatting
  • kaput (German spelling: kaputt), out-of-order
  • Kindergarten, children’s garden, day-care centre, playschool, preschool
  • Kitsch, cheap, sentimental, gaudy items of popular culture
  • Kraut, a derogatory term for a German
  • Lebensraum, space to live
  • Meister, Master, also as a suffix: –meister
  • Nazi, short form for National Socialist
  • Neanderthal (modern German spelling: Neandertal), of, from, and or pertaining to the "Neander Valley", site near Düsseldorf where early Homo neanderthalensis fossils were found
  • Oktoberfest, Bavarian Folk Festival held annually in Munich during late September and early October
  • Poltergeist, mischievous, noisy ghost; cases of haunting, involving spontaneous psychokinesis
  • Rottweiler, breed of dog
  • Schadenfreude (also Schadensfreude), delight at the misfortune of others
  • Schnauzer, breed of dog
  • Spitz, a breed of dog
  • uber, über, over; used to indicate that something or someone is of better or superior magnitude, e.g. übermensch
  • Ur– (German prefix), original or prototypical; e.g. Ur–feminist, Ursprache, Urtext
  • verboten, prohibited, forbidden
  • Volkswagen, brand of automobile
  • Wanderlust, the yearning to travel
  • Weltanschauung, world view
  • Wunderkind, wonder child, a child prodigy
  • Zeitgeist, spirit of the time
  • Zeppelin, type of airship named after its inventor

German terms common in English academic context

German terms sometimes appear in English academic disciplines, e.g. history, psychology, philosophy, music, and the physical sciences; laypeople in a given field may or may not be familiar with a given German term.


  • Ansatz, basic approach
  • Festschrift, book prepared by colleagues to honor a scholar, traditionally presented sixty years after the first major work by the individual being thus honored.
  • Leitfaden, ('guiding thread') illustration of the interdependence between chapters of a book.
  • Methodenstreit, disagreement on methodology
  • Privatdozent



  • Gesamtkunstwerk, "the whole of a work of art", also "total work of art" or "complete artwork"
  • Gestalt "The Whole is greater than the sum of the parts"


Meanings of German band names

  • 2raumwohnung = 2 room apartment
  • Böhse Onkelz = this is the correct but idiosyncratic spelling of the name of the German band (the correct plural would be "Onkel" without the z or an s, and "böse" for the correct German word for 'evil') "evil uncles," a term used in German as a euphemism for child molesters. The peculiar spelling of the band is intended to "harden" the appearance of the name (h in this context amplifies the ö; z is pronounced ts in German, and sounds sharper than s). The umlaut over the o in Böhse is not a heavy metal umlaut.
  • Deichkind = dike (or levee) child
  • Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft (or D.A.F.) = German-American Friendship
  • Die Ärzte = the (medical) doctors, a German Punkrock band.
  • Die Sterne = the stars (celestial body)
  • Die Toten Hosen = literally the dead trousers. A slang expression for a boring place to be (phrase: "Hier ist total tote Hose.") (commonly used in the northern parts of Germany), it can also refer to impotence.
  • Dschinghis Khan = The German spelling of Genghis Khan.
  • Einstürzende Neubauten = "collapsing new buildings". For the band this evokes the image of buildings built during the postwar era, which were very hastily erected, hence supposedly prone to collapse.
  • Eisbrecher = Ice breaker
  • Erste Allgemeine Verunsicherung = "first public anti-insuance", unsicher may also refer to uncertainty
  • Fettes Brot = literally fat bread, but "fett" is also a Slang expression for cool
  • Juli = July.
  • Klee = not only the painter Paul Klee, but also German for clover.
  • KMFDM = "Kein Mehrheit Für Die Mitleid" [sic] (literally "no majority for the pity," which is a grammatically incorrect "headline clipping" style rearrangement of "Kein Mitleid für die Mehrheit" or "no pity for the masses.")
  • Kraftwerk = power plant
  • Massive Töne = massive sounds
  • Neu! = new!
  • Rammstein = "ramming stone" (literal) or "battering ram" (figurative), refers to the Ramstein airshow disaster. Some translate it as "[stone] hammerhead"
  • Silbermond = literally silver moon. A German Popband.
  • Virginia Jetzt! = Virginia now!
  • Wir sind Helden = we are heroes


Selected works in classical music

Carols and hymns

Modern songs








Minerals including:


(Some terms are listed in multiple categories if they are important to each.)

The Third Reich

See Glossary of the Weimar Republic and Glossary of the Third Reich.

Other historical periods

Military terms

  • Blitzkrieg, Lightning war. Phrase invented by a Spanish journalist to describe mobile combined arms methods used by Nazis in 1939–1940.
  • Flak (Flugabwehrkanone), anti-aircraft gun (for derived meanings see under Other aspects of everyday life)
  • Fliegerhorst, another word for a military airport
  • Karabiner type of a gun. For the climbing hardware, see carabiner above
  • Kriegsspiel, in English also written "Kriegspiel", war game (different meanings)
  • Luftwaffe, air force
  • Panzer refers to tanks and other armoured vehicles, or formations of such vehicles
  • Panzerfaust, tank fist anti-tank weapon, a small recoilless gun.
  • Strafe, punishment
  • U-Boot (abbreviated form of Unterseeboot — submarine, but commonly called U-Boot in Germany as well)
  • Vernichtungsgedanke (thought of annihilation)



Mathematics and formal logic



Physical sciences


  • Machtpolitik, power politics
  • Putsch, overthrow of those in power by a small group, coup d'etat. (Although commonly understood and used in contemporary High German, too, the word putsch originates from Swiss German and is etymologically related to English "push".)
  • Realpolitik, "politics of reality": foreign politics based on practical concerns rather than ideology or ethics.
  • Rechtsstaat, concept of a state based on law and human rights
  • Berufsverbot
  • Vergangenheitsbewältigung


  • Angst, feeling of fear, but more deeply and without concrete object.
(Many think the meaning is much more specific in English and the German Angst equals "fear". Yet, this is not true, as the German Furcht means fear. The difference is that Furcht is provoked by a specific object or occurrence, while Angst is a more general state of being that does not need to be initiated by anything concrete. It can happen autonomously, e. g. influenced by prior experience of Furcht without reason. Angst is more appropriately equated to the English concept of "anxiety.")
  • Sorge, a state of worry, but (like Angst) in a less concrete, more general sense, worry about the world, one's future, etc.
  • Gestalt (psychology); much narrower meaning than in German, where it is a generic word with meanings like shape, form, likeness, figure
  • Schadenfreude, gloating, a malicious satisfaction obtained from the misfortunes of others
  • Umwelt, environment
  • Zeitgeber (lit. time-giver), something that resets the circadian clock found in the Suprachiasmatic nucleus
  • Weltschmerz, world-pain or world-weariness
  • Wunderkind, child prodigy



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:

  • Autobahn — particularly common in British English and American English referring specifically to German motorways which have no general speed limit.
  • Achtung — Literally, "attention" in English.
  • Frau and Fräulein — Woman and young woman or girl, respectively in English. Indicating marital state, with Frau — Mrs. and Fräulein — Ms.; in Germany, however, the diminutive Fräulein lapsed from common usage in the late 1960s. Regardless of marital status, a woman is now commonly referred to as Frau, and Fräulein has come to be perceived as insulting.
  • Führer (umlaut is usually dropped in English) — always used in 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 or guide, (i.e. Bergführer: mountain guide, Stadtführer: city guide (book), Führerschein: driving licence, Flugzeugführer: Pilot in command, etc.)
  • Gott mit uns, (in German means "God be with us"), the motto of the Prussian emperor, it was used as a morale slogan amongst soldiers in both World Wars. It was bastardized as "Got mittens" by American and British soldiers, and is usually used nowadays, because of the German defeat in both wars, derisively to mean that wars are not won on religious grounds.
  • Hände hoch — hands up
  • Herr — evokes German context; In modern German either the equivalent of Mr./Mister, used to directly address an adult male person or used in the of "master" over something or someone. (ex.: Sein eigener Herr sein: to be his own master) Derived from the adjective hehr, meaning "honourable" or "senior", it was historically a title noblemen were entitled to, equivalent to the english word Lord. (ex.: Herr der Fliegen is the German title of Lord of the Flies) In a religious environment used to denote God, there in a colloquial context often contracted into Herrgott (Lord-God).
  • Lederhosen (Singular Lederhose in German denotes one pair of leather short pants or trousers. The original Bavarian word is Lederhosn, which is both singular and plural.)
  • Leitmotif (German spelling: Leitmotiv) Any sort of recurring theme, whether in music, literature, or the life of a fictional character or a real person.
  • Meister — used as a suffix to mean expert (Maurermeister), or master; in Germany it means also champion in sports (Weltmeister, Europameister, Landesmeister)
  • Nein — no
  • Raus — meaning Out! — shortened (colloquial) (depending on where the speaker is, if on the inside "get out!" = hinaus, if on the outside "come out!" = heraus). It is the imperative form of the german verb herauskommen (coming out (of a room/house/etc.) as in the imperative "komm' raus"!). [6]
  • Reich — from the Middle High German "rich", as a noun it means "empire" and "realm", which may still be seen in the English word "bishopric". To English speakers, Reich does not denote its literal meanings, "empire" or "rich", but strongly connotes Nazism and is often used to suggest Fascism or authoritarianism, e.g., "Herr Reichsminister" used as a title for a disliked politician.'
  • Ja — yes
  • Jawohl a German term that connotes an emphatic yes — "Yes, Indeed!" in English. It is often equated to "yes sir" in Anglo-American military films, since it is also a term typically used as an acknowledgement for military commands in the German military.
  • Schnell! — Quick! or Quickly!
  • Kommandant — commander (in the sense of person in command or Commanding officer, regardless of military rank), used often in the military in general (Standortkommandant: Base commander), on battleships and U-Boats (Schiffskommandant or U-Boot-Kommandant), sometimes used on civilian ships and aircraft.
  • Schweinhund (German spelling: Schweinehund) — literally: Schwein = pig, Hund = dog, vulgarism like in der verdammte Schweinehund (the damned pig-dog). But also used to describe the lack of motivation (for example to quit a bad habit) Den inneren Schweinehund bekämpfen. = to battle the inner pig-dog.

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.

  • Aha-Erlebnis literally "aha experience" eg "Eureka".
  • Besserwisser[7]
  • Fahrvergnugen (German spelling: Fahrvergnügen, literally pleasure of driving. Coined for a Volkswagen advertising campaign; caused widespread puzzlement in America when it was used in television commercials with no explanation.)
  • Gastarbeiter — a German "guest worker" or foreign-born worker
  • Kobold — a small mischievous fairy creature, traditionally translated as "Goblin", "Hobgoblin, and "Imp"; the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons has included reptilian Kobolds (as well as creatures called "Goblins", "Imps" and "Hobgoblins" in completely separate forms) as part of the bestiary for a number of editions, including the current edition, D&D d20 v3.5. Kobold is also the origin of the name of the metal cobalt.
  • Schmutz (smut, dirt, filth). This term is, however, particularly popular in New York, reflecting the influence of the Yiddish language.
  • ... über alles (originally "Deutschland über alles" (this sentence was meant originally to propagate a united Germany instead of small separated German Territories only); now used by extension in other cases, as in the Dead Kennedys song California Über Alles). This part (or rather, the whole first stanza) of the Deutschlandlied (Song of the Germans) is not part of the national anthem today, as it is thought to have been used to propagate the attitude of racial and national superiority in Nazi Germany, as in the phrase "Germany over all".
  • Vorsprung durch Technik ('headstart through technology'): used in an advertising campaign by Audi, to suggest technical excellence
  • Zweihander (German spelling: Zweihänder)


Many famous English quotations are translations from German. On rare occasions an author will quote the original German as a sign of erudition.

  • Muss es sein? Es muss sein!: "Must it be? It must be!" —Beethoven
  • Der Krieg ist eine bloße Fortsetzung der Politik mit anderen Mitteln: "War is politics by other means" (literally: "War is a mere continuation of politics by other means") — Clausewitz
  • Ein Gespenst geht um in Europa — das Gespenst des Kommunismus: "A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism" — the Communist Manifesto
  • Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch!: "Workers of the world, unite!" — the Communist Manifesto
  • Gott würfelt nicht: "God does not play dice" — Einstein
  • Raffiniert ist der Herrgott, aber boshaft ist er nicht: "Subtle is the Lord, but malicious He is not" — Einstein
  • Wir müssen wissen, wir werden wissen: "We must know, we will know" — David Hilbert
  • Was kann ich wissen? Was soll ich tun? Was darf ich hoffen?: "What can I know? What shall I do? What may I hope?" — Kant
  • Die ganzen Zahlen hat der liebe Gott gemacht, alles andere ist Menschenwerk: "God made the integers, all the rest is the work of man" — Leopold Kronecker
  • Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir. Amen!: "Here I stand, I cannot do differently. God help me. Amen!" — attributed to Martin Luther
  • Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent" — Wittgenstein
  • Einmal ist keinmal: "What happens once might as well never have happened." literally "once is never"; theme of The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

See also


  1. ^ liederkranz
  2. ^ "Productivity Measures: Business Sector and Major Subsectors". BLS Handbook of Methods. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (2007). Retrieved on 10 April 2008.
  3. ^ Rutherford, Prof. Thomas F.. "Modeling Unanticipated Shocks: An Illustrative GAMS/MCP Model". MPSGE Forum. Retrieved on 10 April 2008.
  4. ^ "Drude" (9 February 2006). "Economic Curiosity. [Solow model]". Retrieved on 10 April 2008.
  5. ^ Lequiller, François; Derek Blades (2006). "ch. 6" (PDF (4MB)). Understanding National Accounts. Economica. Translator: F. Wells. Paris: OECD. pp. 160. ISBN 92-64-02566-9. Retrieved on 11 April 2008. "“K” (for the German word “kapital”) indicates capital accumulation items." 
  6. ^ Hinaus or Heraus
  7. ^ Urban Dictionary: besserwisser

External links

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Published - January 2009

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