Ah, German. The language of consonants, a ludicrous case system and oh so many articles… Well, you might think, at least as an English speaker I’m already using many words that are German, so I won’t have to re-learn them, right? (Insert wrong buzzer sound here.) Sorry to break the news, but the following words you THOUGHT were German are not used in Germany in the same way as they are in English.
What you say: Stein
What you should say in German: Krug, Humpen or Maß
While I can’t deny that Germans do love their beer (not me though, sorry, I’m a cider kind of gal), there are some misconceptions we should clear up about German beer-drinking culture:
- Not all Germans celebrate Oktoberfest. This tradition is specific to Munich alone! There are also a lot of different beer festivals in the south of Germany.
- Most of us don’t dress up in a Dirndl or Lederhosen when drinking. Some people in southern Germany might do that for beer festivals, going to church or for a wedding.
- Oktoberfest actually takes place in September.
- People don’t really drink from Steins that much. In fact, there are all kinds of glasses in whimsical shapes and sizes depending on what kind of beer is served to you and in which region. Steins are more of a traditional thing, again, in the south of Germany.
- We don’t actually call the famous German beer vessel a Stein, as that means “rock” in German. Say Krug, Humpen or Maß instead — by the way, that funny “ß” at the end of Maß is not just a sloppy “B”. It’s called an “SZ.” The “SZ” is pronounced like a voiceless “s”, and it indicates that the preceding vowel should be pronounced with a long sound.
What you say: Brat
What you should say in German: Bratwurst
Many Germans love meat just as much as beer, and you will definitely be invited to a barbecue (“Grillparty”) at some point. But if you want to bring something, don’t go looking for brats at the supermarket — because that word doesn’t mean anything in German, it’s only the first part of the German word Bratwurst. If German speakers were to shorten it, they’d rather use the latter part of the word: Wurst. That goes for most shortened compound nouns, by the way. The last part of the word carries the core meaning.
What you say: Wanderlust
What you should say in German: Reisefieber
Okay, so this word does exist in German, but it’s a bit outdated, and I personally always have the urge to sing 19th century folk songs about hiking every time I hear it. Modern Germans would most likely say Reisefieber (“traveling fever”).
What you say: teen angst
What you should say in German: Gefühle der Furcht und Angst bei Adoleszenten, Existenzangst bei Teenagern
As you can see from the monster translation provided above, the word Angst, though commonly used in German, doesn’t imply the same feeling of anxiety or depression as it does in English. Instead, Angst means genuine fear — of spiders, heights, clowns, choosing the wrong ice cream flavor in an extra-large cone and then having to eat all of it because you’re not gonna throw away that ice cream… you name it!
What you say: über- or uber-
What you should say in German: mega-, super-, sehr
Before we get into the meaning of über, I would like to point out that the two little dots over the “u” are not just there for fun — even though they do kind of form a cute smiley face Ü. The two dots are called Umlaut dots, and they change the pronunciation of the vowels “a”, “o” and “u”. To master the pronunciation of “ü”, round your mouth and make a little duck face while trying to say “eeeee.”
If you can’t find the Umlaut on your keyboard, add an “e” after the “u” (“ü” becomes “ue”). The same thing can be done with “ä” (ae) and “ö” (oe).
Okay, back to über. Some people in Germany do use “über-“ in the same way as in English, to mean “extra-” or “super-“. But it doesn’t sound very sophisticated. So be careful with that.
What you say: Fahrvergnügen
What you should say in German: ???
This word essentially means “driving pleasure.” It was introduced by Volkswagen in the 90s, but it is not actually a standard German word. Germans will understand you when you use it — but don’t, because it’s a bit weird.
What you say: Blitz
What you should say in German: Blitzaktion (“blitz action”), Blitzkrieg (“blitz war”), blitzeblank (“very clean”)
This word exists in German, but it does not mean what you think it means. In the German language, der Blitz is a noun and first and foremost means flash or lightning. I’ve never really heard it used to mean “fast,” except when it is being used to describe the military tactic of Blitzkrieg in WWII. With this connotation of war, it’s always slightly odd to hear the word Blitz in the context of “doing something very fast.”
You might also have used Blitz to describe doing something thoroughly, for example when you are blitzing the kitchen (thoroughly cleaning the kitchen), when you go to a bodyblitz (a gym class to properly work on your thighs and bottom) or just as the name of a paper towel brand (“for optimum shine”). The only way we use the word in this connotation when we say blitzeblank or blitzesauber — meaning a very clean surface, possibly even polished. We do not use Blitz as a verb in German.
What you say: Dachshund
What you should say: Dackel
While the old German word for the little furry sausages was indeed Dachshund (literally “badger dog”), it was replaced by the short and diminutive form, Dackel more than a century ago. Nowadays, most people probably don’t know that Dackel were originally bred to hunt badgers, so people won’t understand you if you use the old terminology.
With all of these words that seem German but aren’t, you should simply write off the German language as too hard to learn, right? Auf keinen Fall! (“No way!”) Ok, those words above might not be used the same way in Germany, but English is still a Germanic language, which means that a lot of the core vocabulary in both languages is very similar. With so much in common between English and German, what’s stopping you from learning German?