english-words-derived-from-german

The English Advantage: 76 Glorious English Words Derived from German

3 million Germans.

That’s the total number of immigrants who crossed the Atlantic and settled in the states after three major immigration movements in the ’50s, ’70s and ’80s, according to Energy of a Nation.

And before those waves, 8.6% of the U.S. population was already German!

From the German Belt in states like Wisconsin and Minnesota, to the German Triangle in cities such as Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Chicago, German settlers brought not only their families to the English-speaking world, but their language.

It’s not a surprise that many of these communities continued to speak their native tongue, but as other nationalities merged with these communities, and the Germans had children, many of these German words permeated into the English language, thus creating a wealth of English words derived from German.

What’s even better?

German-derived English words are amazing. They’re fun to say, pop up in various cultural references (like movies, TV shows and songs) and they even assist you with gaining fluency in German.

Keep reading if you’d like to learn about some intriguing, more commonly-used English words derived from German.

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Why Does It Help to Know English Words Derived from German?

Since so many English words have come from German, this offers a unique chance to learn quicker. Basically, if the English word has derived from German you have a better chance of remembering it, since it has the same—or similar—look and sound in both languages.

When you have a list of these words, you can commit them to memory rather quickly and cut out much confusion while learning down the road.

Learning about derived words also gives you a solid look into the history of Germany and its relationship with English-speaking nations, since many of the words have to do with politics, music and science.

Note: Unless the German definition is explicitly mentioned, the English definition described is the same meaning as the German word it came from.

76 Intriguing English Words Derived from German

1. Abseil

The word abseil is commonly used by rock climbers when they talk about descending by rope. Although you would generally say that you are abseiling, another less German way to refer to this action is by saying you’re rappelling.

2. Ansatz

An ansatz is similar to a hypothesis, in that it is used in math and science in reference to making an educated guess that will later be tested and verified. In German it has a more literal meaning about the initial placement of a tool for work purposes.

3. Autobahn

Referring to the famous highway in Germany where drivers abide by no speed limits, the word Autobahn has transferred to the English language to mean a mere expressway. Many tourist attractions use this name, such as the Autobahn Indoor Speedway in Alabama.

4. Anschluss

Although this word means connection, it comes from the forced integration of Austria with Nazi Germany.

5. Automat

This one is fairly simple, since it refers to a machine that takes money and serves food or drink, typically at fast food restaurants. It’s not that common of a word anymore, but we still see vending machines, which are a form of automat.

6. Achtung

The word achtung means “attention,” yet we’ve seen it in several cultural references such as the U2 album “Achtung Baby.”

7. Angst

The word angst implies a feeling of anxiety or depression in the English language.

8. Blitz

Blitz is an interesting word, because in English it technically means lightning, but I don’t know anyone who says blitz when they see a lighting storm. In German, it’s only used literally (lightning war), such as the rapid military ground attacks called Blitzkrieg in World War II.

A more common use of the word in English would be a blitz by the defense on an American football quarterback.

9. Bildungsroman

Both in German and English, a Bildungsroman is a coming of age story.

10. Bagel

Many English speaking people use this word every morning, and this tasty bread food actually comes from Poland, but Germans also called them bagels or beigels.

11. Bratwurst

As one of the most popular sausages in Germany, English-speaking folks enjoy grilling and talking about these as well. (Editor’s note: Shout-out to Madison, Wisconsin—home of the World’s Largest Brat Fest!)

12. Bretzel

A rather popular sandwich shop in the US is called Hannah’s Bretzel, and the word is referring to a pretzel. It can either be a hard or soft pretzel.

13. Carabiner

The German word karabinerhaken is a spring hook safety system used on German rifles. In English-speaking countries the word “carabiner” derived from that, but it’s mainly talking about a metal safety loop employed by rock climbers.

14. Cobalt

Cobalt is both an element and a color, and it’s found in the earth’s crust and on the periodic table at number 27.

15. Cringle

A cringle is an area of a boat in which you would pass a rope.

16. Delicatessen

You may know this as the word “deli,” yet you’ll still find many shops that have the word “delicatessen” plastered on the sign. It refers to a place that sells delicacies like cheeses and meats.

17. Doppelgänger

“Doppelgänger” has gained much traction in pop culture (used quite a bit in “How I Met Your Mother”), and it means when you see someone who looks exactly like someone you know. It’s often used in literature and refers to a supernatural phenomenon where the person looks like they have been duplicated.

18. Dachshund

As you may know, the word Hund in German means dog. Pair that with Dachs and you get a badger dog, which simply means a breed of dog with a long body and short legs in English.

19. Edelweiss

Made popular by the “The Sound of Music” song by the same name, Edelweiss is a beautiful white flower that is seen quite a bit during the Christmas season.

20. Echt

There’s not much to this one. “Echt” means typical or authentic.

21. Eiderdown

This refers to the small, soft feathers of a duck, often used for blankets or comforters.

22. Einkorn

Einkorn is an ancient type of wheat, and it was grown in Germany, but many farmers around the world are trying to bring it back.

23. Ersatz

Ersatz is what some might call a knockoff, in that it’s a product that is created as an inferior substitute.

24. Fest

If you plan on going to a party or celebration, you can tell everyone that the word “fest” came from Germany, like when it’s used for the feasts of Oktoberfest and Maifest.

25. Flak

Has anyone ever told you, “Stop giving me flak”? The actual German definition for this is an air defense cannon, but English folks say it when talking about criticism. 

26. Feldspar

The Germans called this Feldspat, but in the English-speaking world it’s called “feldspar,” and it’s a type of rock that forms 60% of the world’s crust.

27. Fife

A fife is a small, high-pitched flute.

28. Gestalt

Gestalt is a theory of the mind, which is thought to have originated in Berlin. It refers to something that is more than the sum of its parts.

29. Götterdämmerung

The rather fun götterdämmerung word is used to talk about a catastrophic event in English, but in German mythology it marks the downfall of the gods.

30. Gedenkenexperiment

Although you may just use the word “experiment,” know that “gedenkenexperiment” is a fine alternative in the English language.

31. Gelandesprung

For those skiing fans out there, this word is referring to a ski jump, generally over an obstacle. You can even see it posted on the sign of the Gelandesprung Ski Club in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

32. Gesundheit

This means “bless you,” and people of all languages use it around the world.

33. Gestapo

This is an interesting word, because although it simply means a police force in German, Gestapo has a negative connotation throughout the rest of the world, because of how the World War II Gestapo lead the way to a mass genocide.

34. Graupel

You may hear a meteorologist use this word when talking about literal particles of snow, often called snow pellets or soft hail.

35. Hinterland

A word that means “backwoods,” or “the land behind,” hinterland mainly refers to wilderness areas in both the German and English languages.

36. Hamster

A hamster is the furry little creature many people keep as pets, but the word is considered to come from Germany.

37. Haversack

A haversack is a bag with one strap, which some working people or bicyclists use.

38. Homburg

Winston Churchill was known for wearing a homburg. It’s a felt hat with a dent in the top and an upward brim going around the sides.

39. Kitsch

A kitsch is something of low taste or quality, often used when talking about art or design. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with actor Taylor Kitsch.

40. Kaput

“This car is kaput!” If you say that in English, it means that the car is not working or broken. The word has the same meaning in German.

41. Kindergarten

This is the grade before first grade. In German the word literally means “child garden.”

42. Kraut

Kraut, as used in both English and German, is a type of cabbage.

43. Knapsack

One might call this a backpack or book bag.

44. Kohlrabi

Similar to kraut, kohlrabi is also a type of cabbage.

45. Kuchen

Kuchen is the actual word used for cake in German, but in English-speaking countries it could refer to a wide variety of desserts and pastries.

46. Leitmotif

As popularized by people like John Williams and Richard Wagner, a leitmotif is a short, recurring literary or musical theme.

47. Liverwurst

The Germans call it Leberwurst, but English-speaking people know this tasty sausage and spread as liverwurst.

48. Langlauf

Langlauf usually means some sort of cross country skiing, but others use it for cross country running as well.

49. Lederhosen

You’ll see these all over the place at Oktoberfest celebrations around the world. Lederhosen are the popular, and traditional, leather shorts worn by men.

50. Nazi

The word Nazi once denoted a person or idea associated with the National Socialist political party, but now it’s associated with tyranny and Hitler. Therefore, when someone calls another person a Nazi, it simply means they are a fanatical person.

51. Noodle

From the German word Nudel, this is a popular pasta food we all know and love.

52. Nosh

If you were to say, “I’m filling the cooler with some nosh,” you’d be talking about food.

53. Poltergeist

The “Poltergeist” film series is how most English-speaking people know about this word, but it refers to a noisy ghost or a spiritual force that moves around objects.

54. Putsch

A putsch is an attempt to overthrow a government, generally with violent force.

55. Panzer

Panzer technically means “armor” in German, but it’s become synonymous with the light German military tank.

56. Pitchblende

This is merely a form of the mineral uraninite.

57. Prattle

Foolish talking is all too common, so if you’d like to tell someone that they are talking too much nonsense, say they are spewing prattle.

58. Pumpernickel

Pumpernickel is a dark, compressed bread, sold all over the world.

59. Rucksack

Hikers generally use this word in English to mean a backpack. In fact, the most common use of the word is in the military. The literal German translation is “back sack,” but it’s still referring to the same item, a backpack.

60. Reich

In German, this word has use for the term “empire” or as part of the name of a nationalized service, like the post office. However, since the Third Reich, the word has deep connections with the tyranny of Hitler’s reign. This tyranny is the primary meaning in the English-speaking world.

61. Schadenfreude

Some might call this type of person a sadist, but the Germans gave English-speaking people another word for it: Schadenfreude. It means a person who takes pleasure from others’ misfortune.

62. Sauerbraten

Although it’s still technically a completely German word, many English-speaking people use it to refer to a German pot roast.

63. Schnauzer

This breed of dog comes straight from Germany, and the breed name typically means mustache or snout.

64. Schnapps

Anyone who drinks has probably heard of Schnapps at some point. The distilled beverage is spelled as schnaps in German.

65. Seltzer

The word seltzer means a type of soda or carbonated water.

66. Sparerib

A sparerib, often used as two words, is a pork or beef rib.

67. Spritz

You may think this is slang, but it’s actually a real English and German word. Do you want a spritz of water on this hot day? It means a small bit of liquid.

68. Ubermensch

Ubermensch comes directly from a philosophy by Friedrich Nietzsche that is basically the opposite of Christianity, in that he somewhat criticizes those who strive for other-worldliness, like heaven. An Ubermensch is one who sticks to the beauty of her own world and embraces it. This German meaning of Ubermensch is supposed to transcend to all languages, but the word causes much confusion, since the direct English translation of ubermensch is “superman,” which is not what Nietzsche initially intended.

69. Wanderlust

This is a common word nowadays, and it was also the title of a film with Paul Rudd. It means a strong desire to travel around the world.

70. Weltanschauung

Weltanschauung refers to what one might call a world view, or an all-encompassing view on existence as a whole.

71. Weltschmerz

The Weltschmerz word was coined by German author Jean Paul, indicating the impossible ability of the mind to comprehend our physical reality. The direct German translation is “world pain.”

72. Wunderkind

When your child pops out and starts playing the guitar like a pro at two years of age, you can start calling them a wunderkind. It means wonder child in German, or a child prodigy in English.

73. Wagnerian

If someone calls you a Wagnerian, you are a follower of composer Richard Wagner.

74. Waltz

The waltz is a formal dance in both German and English.

75. Zeitgeist

When someone talks about a zeitgeist in English, it pertains to a worldview or overall mentality of a large group of people. In German it means “time ghost.”

76. Zeppelin

A Zeppelin is a type of large airship named after its inventor, and English people use it the same way as Germans. Led Zeppelin is a nice cultural reference to the word. Legend has it that a friend of Jimmy Page said the band would either take off, or fall like a lead Zeppelin. Page took out the “a” in “lead” to complete his band name.

 

Now that you’ve had a chance to review some pretty cool English words derived from the German language, try to use them for easily remembering grammar while speaking German, or bring up how the words came to be as a conversation starter!

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