52 English Words That Are Actually German

What do “hamburger,” “angst” and “hamster” all have in common?
52 English Words That Are Actually German

English is a Germanic language. That means it comes from the same root as German, Norwegian, Danish and a number of other languages. You would think that means that English and German would have a ton in common, but language is never so simple. English is a hodgepodge of vocabulary taken from Latin, French, Spanish and a huge number of other languages. There are even a surprising number of English words that are actually German, which we borrowed a bit more recently.

It makes sense that English would want to borrow so much from German. After all, it’s a language famous for always having exactly the right word to describe things. You might be surprised just how many common terms in English come from German, though. Sure, you know “gesundheit” and maybe even “kindergarten” are German, but what about “poodle” and “foosball”? Let’s dive into these German-English crossovers.

English Words That Are Actually German

Animals

German animal names are a fascinating topic all on their own, but the few terms English has imported create a captivating little menagerie.

  • dachshundDachs (“badger”) + Hund (“dog”). Ironically, most Germans call this type of dog a Dackel today.
  • hamster — at one point in history, English speakers called hamsters “German rats”
  • poodle — from Pudel, literally meaning “puddle”
  • rottweiler — a dog breed named after Rottweil, a town in Germany
  • schnauzer — from the German schnauzen, meaning “to growl”

Food & Drink

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that a lot of the English words that are actually German refer to food and beer. Even if you know that, though, there might be a few on this list you weren’t expecting.

  • pretzel — from Brezel 
  • noodle — from Nudel
  • sauerkrautsauer (“sour”) + Kraut (“cabbage”)
  • bratwurst — a type of sausage
  • gummy bear — adapted from the Gummibärchen (“little gummy bears”) first made by German company Haribo
  • seltzer — comes from the German village Selters
  • wiener (as in hot dog) — from Wiener Würstchen (“Viennese sausage”)
  • pumpernickel — a type of rye bread, though where the word comes from exactly is a matter of some debate
  • biergartenBier (“beer”) + Garten (“garden”)
  • delicatessen — from Delikatessen
  • frankfurter — a shortening of Frankfurter Wurst (“Frankfurter sausage”)
  • pilsner — a kind of beer named after the German town Pilsen, which is located in the Czech Republic
  • lager — a shortened  version of Lagerbier, which means “warehouse beer” because it was meant to be brewed and stored for future consumption
  • bundt cake — anglicization of Bundkuchen
  • hamburger — named after Hamburg, a city in Germany

Culture

Germany has had a wide-ranging impact on culture and politics, and you can see that influence just by looking at the German words that have been adopted by English speakers.

  • zeitgeistZeit (“time”) + Geist (“spirit”), roughly meaning “the spirit of the time”
  • wanderlust — the desire to travel and move around, though English speakers now use this word much more often than German speakers do
  • kitsch — in English, this word refers to a kind of style that is gaudy or garish, but in German it originally just meant “trash”
  • kindergartenKinder (“children”) + Garten (“garden”)
  • antifa — meaning anti-fascist, from the German Antifaschistische Aktion
  • realpolitik — a philosophy of politics that focuses on practical rather than ideological concerns
  • bauhaus — while many artistic movements have come out of Germany, this early 20th century architectural style might be the most successful
  • gestalt — literally meaning “shape,” this is an art term often distilled to “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”
  • bildungsromanBildung (“education”) + Roman (“novel”), which is comparable to a “coming-of-age novel”
  • leitmotifleit (“lead”) + Motiv (“motive”), so roughly meaning “leading motive,” but in literature it refers to recurring themes in a work
  • foosball — a shortening and anglicization of Tischfußball (“table football”)
  • fife — an anglicization of Pfeife

Prefixes And Suffixes

It’s perhaps a testament to how close English and German are that English has adopted a few prefixes and suffixes from the language. These are parts of words that can be used flexibly with other English words, transforming “text” into “urtext” or “geek” into “ubergeek.”

  • uber — this German word meaning “over” is pretty ubiquitous in English now, and people might use it in place of a different adverb like “very” or “super.” It’s also popular around the world because it’s the name of the ride-hailing app Uber. (The German usually has an umlaut over the “ü.”)
  • ur — this is a common prefix that means something like “original” or “prototypical” 
  • bahn — derived from Autobahn, the name of the highway system in Germany, people now attach “bahn” to other words to imply that they’re a high-speed interconnected system (like the Infobahn, which is basically another name for the internet)

Other German Terms

  • neanderthal — from Neandertal, this extinct species was named after the Neander Valley near Düsseldorf in which its remains were found
  • spiel — taken from the German verb spielen, meaning “to play”
  • verboten — the German word for “forbidden”
  • wunderkindwunder (“wonder”) + Kind (“child”)
  • poltergeistpoltern (“noisy”) + Geist (“ghost”)
  • doppelgängerdoppel (“double”) + Gänger (“goer”), now used in English to describe someone who looks like someone else
  • ersatz — this word in English usually means something is fake or inferior, but in German it just means “replacement”
  • zeppelin — named after its German inventor Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin
  • flak — a shortening of the German word Fliegerabwehrkanone, which literally translates to “pilot warding-off cannon” and was an anti-aircraft gun in World War II. Flak originally referred to artillery, but can now refer to criticism (wounding you emotionally instead of physically)
  • rucksackRück (“back”) + Sack (same as in English)
  • umlaut — most English speakers use umlaut exclusively to refer to the two dots in words like über
  • kaput — from kaputt, meaning “destroyed” or “lost”
  • quartz — a type of rock, from the German Quarz
  • hinterlandhinter (“behind”) + Land (“country”), used to refer to an area that isn’t well known. Somewhat similar to the English “backcountry”
  • angst — the German word for “anxiety,” which has taken on slightly different connotations in English (particularly because of its association with teenagers)
  • gesundheit — translates to “health,” but English speakers use it to say “bless you” after someone sneezes
  • schadenfreudeSchaden (“harm”) + Freude (“joy”), used to describe the feeling of taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune
Learn more German!
Author Headshot
Thomas Moore Devlin
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.

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