Saturday, June 18, 2011

Loanwords Part 4: German Words in English

Welcome to our final post about loanwords! We've previously talked about loanwords from French and Spanish, but I wanted to mention German loanwords. I studied German for nearly 10 years, and even though it's difficult, I really do like German.

Sauerkraut, anyone?
I didn't think so.

I originally was going to talk about how German is related to English, but I think that topic is much more complicated than just loanwords, so I'll talk about that in a different post in a day or two. Today let's just focus on German loanwords in English.

German and English share many historical similarities, so many vocabulary words are similar. However, the number of direct German loanwords in English is much smaller than the number of words from French or Spanish. (Click here for a partial list). There are a few areas where we can notice a higher concentration of German loanwords.

Like Spanish, German gave English some specialty words related to food; some examples are bratwurst, sauerkraut, delicatessen, schnitzel, and strudel. There are also words related to technology, such as autobahn, wunderkind and ersatz. Also, it's interesting to note German's contribution to philosophical and psychological vocabulary, with words such as gestalt, realpolitik, angst, and zeitgeist.

Unfortunately, many German words migrated into English as a result of World War II, and as a consequence they have an association with Nazis and/or war in general. Such words include blitzkrieg, fuehrer, lebensraum, flak and even Nazi (an abbreviation of "Nationalsozialist").

However, it's not all gloom and doom (or Sturm und Drang, if you prefer). German has many great words that made it into English, so here I present you with my list of...

Ryan's Top 7 German Loanwords in English*:

7. kindergarten: Literally meaning "children-garden," it makes going to school seem fun. Now I suspect it may have just been a trick.
6. poltergeist: It means "banging spirit." In other words, call the Ghostbusters.
5. kitsch: A dismissive word used to indicate something is tacky or uncool.
4. kaput: A synonym of "broken."
3. gesundheit: It literally means "health," but it's what you say when someone sneezes.
2. schadenfreude: It means "misfortune-pleasure," but it's a word to describe the sensation of being happy when bad things happen to other people. Very German.
1. wanderlust: Not as funny as "schadenfreude," but it's nicer. It means the desire to wander or travel.

Can you think of any others? What are your favorite loanwords, either from German or any other language? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!

So, that's it for today. Since we're already talking about German, I'll write a post in a few days exploring some similarities and differences between German and English, just in case you're interested. Thanks for reading, and have a great day! 

From the (English-language) comic Bizarro.

*A few of these words are spelled differently in German (like kaput/kaputt), and in German all of them except kaput would start with a capital letter, since German nouns are capitalized. 


  1. I don´t like german...but I like Spanish, haha, but...I didn´t understand how works the word aficionado in english, Does it mean the same? And how can I use it?

  2. Hi Sharon,

    Yep, aficionado works the same in English as it does in Spanish, which is why we'd call it a loanword. I guess the only difference is that in English, you wouldn't change the ending for the gender. So, you could say you're not an aficionado of German, then.

    Have a good one!


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