German Loan Words in English

German Language

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)

Language Borrowing

Young children attend a Kindergarten (children’s garden). Gesundheit doesn’t really mean “bless you,” it means “health” — the good variety being implied. Psychiatrists speak of Angst (fear) and Gestalt (form) psychology, and when something is broken, it’s kaputt. Although not every English-speaker knows that Fahrvergnügen is “driving pleasure,” most do know that Volkswagen means “people’s car.” Musical works can have a Leitmotiv. Our cultural view of the world is called a Weltanschauung by historians or philosophers. Such terms are commonly understood by most well-read English-speakers, and all of them have been borrowed from German.

See the related music video below.

More English words borrowed from German:
(Notice how many have to do with food!) – blitz, blitzkrieg, cobalt, dachshund, delicatessen, ersatz, frankfurter, glockenspiel, hinterland, kaffeeklatsch, Munster and Limburger (cheeses named for German cities), pilsner (glass, beer), pretzel, quartz, rucksack, sauerkraut, schnaps, (apple) strudel, waltz, wiener. From Low German: brake, dote, tackle.

Germanic cognate terms:
(Shared 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, das Wort (word).

English in German:

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

Loan Words from Latin (Latein)

Both English and German 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 loan words: 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

Here's an A-to-Z sample of German loan words in English:



German Words in English
A-F | G-L | M-Z
alpenglow s Alpenglühen a reddish glow seen on the mountain tops around sunrise or sunset
Alzheimer's disease e Alzheimer Krankheit brain disease named for the German neurologist Alois Alzheimer (1864-1915), who first identified it in 1906
angst/Angst e Angst "fear" - in English, a neurotic feeling of anxiety and depression
Anschluss r Anschluss "annexation" - specifically, the 1938 annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany (the Anschluss)
apple strudel r Apfelstrudel a type of pastry made with thin layers of dough, rolled up with a fruit filling; from the German for "swirl" or "whirlpool"
aspirin s Aspirin Aspirin (acetylsalicyclic acid) was invented by the German chemist Felix Hoffmann working for Bayer AG in 1899. > More
aufeis s Aufeis Literally, "on-ice" or "ice on top" (Arctic geology). German citation: "Venzke, J.-F. (1988): Beobachtungen zum Aufeis-Phänomen im subarktisch-ozeanischen Island. - Geoökodynamik 9 (1/2), S. 207-220; Bensheim."
autobahn e Autobahn "freeway" - The German Autobahn has almost mythical status. See Hitler and the Autobahn for more.
automat r Automat a (New York City) restaurant that dispenses food from coin-operated compartments
pl. Bildungeromane
r Bildungsroman
"formation novel" - a novel that focuses on the maturation of, and the intellectual, psychological, or spiritual development of the main character
blitz r Blitz "lightning" - a sudden, overwhelming attack; a charge in football; the Nazi attack on England in WWII (see below)
blitzkrieg r Blitzkrieg "lightning war" - a rapid-strike war; Hitler's attack on England in WWII
bratwurst e Bratwurst grilled or fried sausage made of spiced pork or veal
cobalt s Kobalt cobalt, Co; see Chemical Elements
coffee klatsch (klatch)
r Kaffeeklatsch a friendly get-together over coffee and cake
r Konzertmeister the leader of the first violin section of an orchestra, who often also serves as assistant conductor
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
e Creutzfeldt-Jakob-
"mad cow disease" or BSE is a variant of CJD, a brain disease named for the German neurologists Hans Gerhardt Creutzfeldt (1883-1964) and Alfons Maria Jakob (1884-1931)
  Also see: The Denglisch Dictionary - English words used in German
dachshund r Dachshund dachshund, a dog (der Hund) originally trained to hunt badger (der Dachs); the "wiener dog" nickname comes from its hot-dog shape (see "wiener")
also: gauss
s Gauß to demagnetize, neutralize a magnetic field; the "gauss" is a unit of measurement of magnetic induction (symbol G or Gs, replaced by the Tesla), named for German mathematician and astronomer Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855).
s Delikatessen prepared cooked meats, relishes, cheeses, etc.; a shop selling such foods
diesel r Dieselmotor The diesel engine is named for its German inventor, Rudolf Diesel (1858-1913).
dirndl s Dirndl
s Dirndlkleid
Dirndl is a southern German dialect word for "girl." A dirndl (DIRN-del) is a traditional woman's dress still worn in Bavaria and Austria. More > Clothing Glossary
Doberman pinscher
F.L. Dobermann
r Pinscher
dog breed named for the German Friedrich Louis Dobermann (1834-1894); the Pinscher breed has several variations, including the Dobermann, although technically the Dobermann is not a true pinscher
r Doppelgänger "double goer" - a ghostly double, look-alike, or clone of a person
Doppler effect
Doppler radar
C.J. Doppler
apparent change in the frequency of light or sound waves, caused by rapid movement; named for the Austrian physicist who discovered the effect
r Dreck "dirt, filth" - in English, trash, rubbish (from Yiddish/German)
edelweiss* s Edelweiß
Song Lyrics
a small flowering Alpine plant (Leontopodium alpinum), literally "noble white"
ersatz* r Ersatz a replacement or substitute, usually implying inferiority to the original, such as "ersatz coffee"
Fahrenheit D.G. Fahrenheit The Fahrenheit temperature scale is named for its German inventor, Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736), who invented the alcohol thermometer in 1709.
Fahrvergnügen s Fahrvergnügen "driving pleasure" - word made famous by a VW ad campaign
fest s Fest "celebration" - as in "film fest" or "beer fest"
flak/flack die Flak
das Flakfeuer
"anti-aircraft gun" (FLiegerAbwehrKanone) - used in English more like das Flakfeuer (flak fire) for heavy criticism ("He's taking a lot of flak.")
frankfurter Frankfurter Wurst hot dog, orig. a type of German sausage (Wurst) from Frankfurt; see "wiener"
Führer r Führer "leader, guide" - a term that still has Hitler/Nazi connections in English, more than 70 years after it first came into use
*Words used in various rounds of the Scripps National Spelling Bee held annually in Washington,
German Words in English G-L
Gasthaus s Gasthaus "guest house" - an inn, bed-and-breakfast
also: degauss
s Gauß Old unit of measurement of magnetic induction (symbol G or Gs, replaced by the Tesla), named for German mathematician and astronomer Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855), who invented the magnetometer.
the Gegenschein
pron. GAY-ghen-shine
r Gegenschein "counter glow" - The "opposition effect," a diffuse, faint light sometimes visible almost directly opposite the sun in the night sky, thought to be sunlight reflected by dust particles in the atmosphere. Web: Photo of the Gegenschein
Geiger counter r Geigerzähler Instrument for measuring radioactivity, named for German physicist Hans Geiger (1882-1945)
Gemeinschaft e Gemeinschaft "community" - A societal form of association giving precendence to personal relationships, kinship, and membership in a community, as opposed to Gesellschaft (below).
gemütlich gemütlich cordial, cozy, comfortable, warm
gemütlichkeit e Gemütlichkeit an atmosphere of cozy comfort, warm cordiality
Gesamtkunstwerk s Gesamtkunstwerk "comprehensive art work" - In Richard Wagner's aesthetic theory, an ideal synthesis of performing arts (music, drama, staging, etc.) forming a kind of total theater, which equals opera.
Gesellschaft e Gesellschaft "society" - A societal form of association giving precendence to rational order and obligations to institutions, as opposed to Gemeinschaft (above).
gestalt e Gestalt "shape, pattern" - in psychology any of the structures and patterns that make up a person's experiences
gesundheit* e Gesundheit "health" (not "bless you")
Gewürztraminer r Gewürztraminer "spice of Tramin" - A dry, fruity Alsatian white wine named for the northern Italian town of Tremeno ("Tramin" in Ger.) where this variety of wine grape is thought to have originated.
"glittering, sparkling" - gaudiness/gaudy, glittery, ostentatious(ness)
glockenspiel s Glockenspiel "bell play" - an instrument played by striking tuned flat metal plates
(pron. NYCE)
r Gneis (geology) metamorphic rock resembling granite; in German the "g" is pronounced
Götterdämmerung* e Götterdämmerung "twilight of the gods," the total, violent collapse of a regime, society, institution; term borrowed from Wagnerian opera
hamburger r Hamburger orig. a "Hamburg steak," a fancy name for ground beef
hamster r Hamster burrowing animal often kept as a pet
heiligenschein* r Heiligenschein "halo glow" - a halolike optical phenomenon around an observer's shadow; also see "gegenschein"
hertz (Hz)
s Hertz International unit of frequency (Hz = one cycle per second), named for German physicist Heinrich R. Hertz (1857-1894)
hinterland(s) s Hinterland "back country" - remote area; land bordering on coastal land
Kaiser* r Kaiser "emperor" - an Austrian or German emperor; from Latin "caesar"
kaput kaputt broken, not working; defeated
kindergarten r Kindergarten "children's garden" - The first kindergarten was created in Blankenberg (Thüringen) by Friedrich Fröbel (1782-1852) in 1839.
r Kitsch
something gaudy or pretentious, in poor taste (art, literature, furnishings)
e Knackwurst a thick, highly seasoned sausage named for the cracking (knacken) sound it makes when bitten into
kriegspiel s Kriegsspiel "war game" - game for teaching military tactics with small figures representing troops, tanks, etc. moved about on a large map
Kris Kringle s Christkindl "Christ child", an English corruption of Christkindl, the angel-like figure who brings gifts to German children on Christmas Eve; now a synonym for Santa Claus
lager s Lager "storeroom, warehouse" - lager beer gets its name from the fact that it is stored for aging
Lebensraum* r Lebensraum "living space" (historical) - territory for political or economic expansion; originally related to German imperialism
lederhosen e Lederhose leather pants
leitmotiv s Leitmotiv dominant or central theme (music, literature, etc.)
pron. LEE-vyes
Levi Strauss
Named for the German-born inventor of jeans
lied (pron. LEET)
pl. lieder
s Lied "song" - a German lyrical song, usually based on classical German poetry
e Leberwurst "liver sausage" - sausage containing ground liver
loess r Löss a fine-grained, fertile loam
*Words used in various rounds of the Scripps National Spelling Bee held annually in Washington, D.C.
German Words in English
Part 2 (M-Z)
e Machtpolitik Similar to "realpolitik" below. The English term "power politics" is derived from the German.
masochism r Masochismus Named for the Austrian novelist Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch (1836-1895)
Mergenthaler press Ottmar Mergenthaler
Named for the German-born inventor of the Linotype printing process
Neanderthal s Neanderthal Germany's "Neander valley," where the remains of ancient man were found; the valley was named for Joachim Neander (1650-1680) - Audio
nickel s Nickel nickel, Ni; see Chemical Elements
pinscher r Pinscher a dog breed; see "Doberman pinscher"
poltergeist poltern + Geist a ghost that makes mysterious noises, from the German poltern, to make noise
quartz r Quarz
(pron., kvartz)
quartz, a crystalline mineral/rock, SiO2 (silicon dioxide)
quartzite r Quarzit
(pron., kvartz-it)
quartzite, a type of hard sandstone
e Realpolitik "realistic politics" - historical term for power politics and foreign policy based on expediancy rather than ethics or public opinion
Reich s Reich "empire, realm" - usually used in reference to the "Third Reich," the Nazi realm
Reichstag r Reichstag "imperial diet" - Der Reichstag was the German parliament prior to WWII. The word is often used in English, somewhat inaccurately, for the building (das Reichstagsgebäude) that now houses the Bundestag (federal parliament) in Berlin. See Reichstag photos.
Rottweiler r Rottweiler a dog breed named for the German town of Rottweil
rucksack r Rucksack "back pack"
sauerbraten r Sauerbraten "sour roast," a marinated beef roast
sauerkraut s Sauerkraut "pickled cabbage"
Schadenfreude e Schadenfreude enjoyment over someone's misfortune
r Schnaps "dram, nip" - Any strong, distilled alcoholic drink (brandy, whiskey, vodka, etc.); a strongly flavored Dutch gin (Hollands)
schnauzer r Schnauzer A breed of dog that takes its name from the German word for "snout" (die Schnauze)
schnitzel s Schnitzel "cutlet" - see "wienerschnitzel" below
r Schuss "shot," a straight run in downhill skiing
(pron. SPITS)
r Spitz
"pointed" - A spitz is a breed of dog with erect, pointed ears; a Pomeranian
strudel r Strudel a type of pastry made with thin layers of dough, rolled up with a fruit filling, as "apple strudel"; from the German for "swirl" or "whirlpool"
uber- / über-
(pron. OOBER)
(over, above)
a German prefix used to indicate a "super-something" or a "mother of all" whatevers, as in "Martha Stewart, the über-diva"
Übermensch r Übermensch superman, a super/superior being; from the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche
umlaut* r Umlaut dieresis, a diacritical mark (two dots) over a vowel indicating a change in sound; in linguistics, a change or shift in the sound of a word element
ursprache** e Ursprache original language, proto-language; a reconstructed, hypothetical source language
urtext r Urtext original text (literature, music)
verboten verboten forbidden
vermouth r Wermut vermouth (aperitif)
waltz r Walzer/walzen "waltz, to revolve" - a dance in 3/4 time that evolved from the traditional German Ländler folk dance in the 18th century; the Viennese waltz music of Johann Strauss, Jr. helped popularize the waltz in the 19th century.
Waldsterben s Waldsterben "forest death," a term used for the decline of the world's forests
Wanderjahr s Wanderjahr "wander year," a year of travel before settling down in one's vocation; orig. a custom for German journeymen
wanderlust e Wanderlust impulse or longing to wander or travel
Wehrmacht* e Wehrmacht "defense force" - name of the German armed forces during World War II; today's German armed forces are known as die Bundeswehr.
Weimaraner r Weimaraner "from Weimar" - a dog breed named for the German city of Weimar; the name derives from the Kurfürst (electoral prince) of Saxony-Weimar who favored and bred the dogs in the 18th century, but the breed goes back to the 15th century or earlier.
Weltanschauung e Weltanschauung "world view," a philosophy or conception of the world, universe, and human life
Weltschmerz** r Weltschmerz "world pain," melancholy over the state of the world
(pron. WEE-ner)
pron. VEE-ner
"of Vienna" - Viennese sausage (Wienerwurst), a "hot dog"
wiener dog r Dachshund See "dachshund" for more
Wiener schnitzel
s Wiener Schnitzel
s Wienerschnitzel
"Viennese cutlet" - breaded veal cutlet (not a hot dog, as many English-speakers mistakenly think); also made with pork or turkey
wunderbar wunderbar wonderful
wunderkind s Wunderkind "miracle child" - a child prodigy; plural: Wunderkinder
Zeitgeist r Zeitgeist spirit of the age/times
zeppelin* r Zeppelin rigid airship named for its inventor, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin
zinc s Zink zinc, Zn; see Chemical Elements