What Is Denglish, And Where Is It Spoken?

Every language borrows from others to some extent. But it’s not always appreciated.
A town square in Germany, representing Denglish

English has a bad habit of getting mixed up with other languages. Sometimes it can be a useful way for bilingual people to communicate and express themselves, like in the case of Spanglish (Spanish and English). Other times, it’s treated as a scourge on the other language, like Franglais (French and English). Then there’s Denglish, or Denglisch, which combines Deutsch and Englisch (German and English), and it decidedly falls into the “scourge” camp.

What Is Denglish?

The word Denglisch is recorded as far back as 1965, so it’s by no means a new phenomenon. As the relationship between Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States changed and shifted after World War II, English’s cultural dominance spread in the country, and slowly led to the new hybrid language. For the most part, however, Denglish is seen as a bad thing, which is more obvious when you learn the other slang terms used for the same phenomenon, including McDeutsch and Dummdeutsch (dumb German).

The reason for this disparagement is not just because English has some effect on German. Any time two languages come into contact, there’s bound to be some kind of exchange, particularly in the form of loan words. English speakers, for example, often use the German word Schadenfreude, meaning to take pleasure in someone else’s pain. An English speaker also might order a “stein” of beer, though in German that word just means “stone” and wouldn’t be used in a bar. If German had only a few English words mixed in, there probably would be no problem.

But there is a problem, according to who you ask at least. Denglish specifically refers to when people are using too many English words or “anglicisms.” Even worse, according to some, is the use of Scheinanglizismen, or “pseudo-anglicisms.” This is when a word used in German looks English, but isn’t actually an English word. One example is Shooting, or Fotoshooting, which means “photoshoot” but would never be used by an English speaker.

These words can pop up anywhere, from casual conversations to advertising campaigns. And as could be expected, there has been some backlash. Deutsche Bahn, the state-owned German railway company, went so far as to create a glossary of discouraged Denglish terms back in 2013. But so far, it seems like English is winning the Denglish battle.

Examples Of Denglish

Traveling around Germany, you’re bound to run into many examples of Denglish. If you’re new to German, this can be a bit confusing. Here are some examples of the most common terms and phrases you might run into.

Handy — this word, meaning “cellphone,” is likely a shortening of “handheld phone.” To an English speaker, it’ll at best sound like a synonym for “practical” (praktisch) and at worse sound like sexual innuendo.

Public Viewing — during the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, people often used the phrase “Public Viewing” to refer to, well, viewing a soccer (sorry, football) match in public. In the United States, however, inviting someone to a Public Viewing might make them think you’re going to see a dead body at a wake or funeral.

Bodybag — in Germany, this is not a bag that you use to move dead bodies. To translate it into English, it would be either “bum bag” in the United Kingdom or “fanny pack” in the United States.

Looping — a lot of -ing versions of verbs in English enter other languages as nouns. As mentioned, Shooting means “photoshoot,” and looping here means “loop-the-loop.” You know, like the ones airplanes do at an airshow, or when a roller coaster goes upside down.

Beamer — if you ask someone for a beamer in the United States, they might think you’re asking for a BMW. In Germany, it’s just a projector (like, for PowerPoints).

Double Whopper mit leckerem Bacon und Cheddar Cheese — you can probably already guess what this mishmash of German and English words means, and it’s why Denglish has earned the nickname McDeutsch.

Drive-in — in the United States, this is the name for a kind of outdoor movie theater that you literally drive into. In Germany, it means “drive-through restaurant.”

der Smoking — another -ing word that’s actually a noun in German, der Smoking is a word meaning “tuxedo,” referring to the old “smoking jackets” that were popular in the 1850s (though those don’t look at all like modern tuxedos).

Evergreen — while English speakers do use “evergreen” as an adjective sometimes to describe something that never goes old (much like how an evergreen tree never sheds its needles), in German it’s used as a noun. You might walk up to the DJ and ask him to play some “evergreens” when you want to listen to the classics.

Oldtimer — in Germany this word refers to a vintage vehicle, while in English it refers to an old person. This term has even been used to create a new word in Germany: Youngtimer, which refers to a car that’s old but not quite vintage yet.

Das macht Sinn — this is an example of a phrase, not just a term, that’s been affected by English. While it literally translates to “That makes sense,” the word macht (“make”) originally would never have been used in a sentence like this. Instead, you would say Das hat Sinn or Das ergibt Sinn. English speakers have mixed up the translation so much, though, that Das macht Sinn, well, makes sense.

Additional research by Robert Compton and Alice Austin.

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