Sprechen Sie Deutsch? There are more German words in English than you think

ID-10095059As well as enabling me to practise my rusty German, a recent trip to Berlin got me thinking about the various German words and phrases that have infiltrated everyday English vocabulary.

Although I thought there were more French words used in English than German words, I was surprised by just how many of the words that we commonly use have German origins – even if the spelling has sometimes changed during the transition.

Food and drink

Food and drink are a prominent part of German culture, so it’s not surprising that a lot of the German words we’ve ‘adopted’ are related to eating and drinking. Some of the most popular ones are:

delicatessen = shop selling prepared cooked meats, cheeses and other fine food

frankfurter = hot dog, a cooked sausage traditionally served in a sliced bun (originated in Frankfurt)

Lager: German words in Englishlager = beer made with bottom-fermenting yeast and stored for some time before serving (from the German word for storage)

noodle = string of pasta (entered the English language in late 18th century via the German word Nudel)

sauerkraut = fermented, finely cut cabbage

spritzer = chilled drink from white wine and soda water

Academia and science

Over the centuries, Germany has produced various internationally famous scientists, writers and philosophers. Consequently, several German words from these fields have become universally recognised and used in English, such as:

Alzheimer’s = brain disease named after the German neurologist Alois Alzheimer, who first identified it in 1906

angst = neurotic feeling of anxiety and depression

Fahrenheit = named after its German inventor, Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, who invented the alcohol thermometer in 1709

schadenfreude = malicious satisfaction obtained from the misfortunes of others

zeitgeist = spirit of the times or age


No article about words borrowed from German is complete without acknowledging the linguistic legacy of WWI and WWII. These recent borrowings include loanwords like:

blitzkrieg = intense military campaign intended to bring about a swift (i.e. as fast as lightning) victory

Führer = originally used to refer to Hitler, this is now used to describe any tyrannical leader

Kaiser = emperor (derived from the title Caesar)

Everyday German words 

abseil = from the German verb sich abseilen, meaning to rope oneself down

dachshund = fondly known as the “German sausage dog” because of its elongated shape

diesel = diesel engine was invented by Rudolf Diesel (1858-1913)

doppelganger = double or lookalike of a person, often with a ghostly connotation

ersatz = replacement or substitute, usually inferior to the original

Kitsch: German words in Englishfest = festival, celebration or party, as in film fest or beer fest

Gesundheit (lit. health) = exclamation in place of “Bless you!” after someone sneezes

kindergarten (lit. children’s garden) = playschool, preschool

kitsch = cheap, sentimental or gaudy items of popular culture

poltergeist (lit. noisy ghost) = alleged paranormal phenomenon where objects appear to move of their own accord

rucksack = backpack

wanderlust = yearning to travel

wunderkind (lit. wonder child) = child prodigy

Over to you

This is, in fact, just a small selection of German words in English. Have I missed out your favourite? If so, please let me know in the comments below. Vielen Dank!

(images courtesy of Stuart Miles, Pixomar and franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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3 comments on “Sprechen Sie Deutsch? There are more German words in English than you think
  1. Tania Grechanyk says:

    Lots of thanks, it was very important to me to hear your “native” opinion 🙂

  2. I’m glad you found it interesting! I guess I say “Gesundheit” more often than non-German speakers do, but it is fairly widely understood over here.

  3. Tania Grechanyk says:

    Thank you very much for this informative blog! “Gesundheit” is my favourite 🙂 Do you often use it in everyday life?

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