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Fifteen German Loanwords


What is a loanword?

A loanword is the term given to a word which is directly borrowed from another language and used in the recipient language without being translated first. One of the reasons why English is such a difficult language to learn (and why its spellings are so inconsistent!) is because the language is full of loanwords.

The term ‘loanword’ itself is a loan translation from the German ‘Lehnwort’. Some loanwords are obvious, such as words used to describe food traditionally from other countries (such as ‘bratwurst’ or ‘hamburger’ or ‘frankfurter’), whereas others were borrowed so long ago that you might be surprised to discover they are loanwords at all (such as: ‘abseil’ or ‘rucksack’).

Here are fifteen German loanwords:

  • Abseil
    Abseil’ has been used in English since the 1930s, with ‘ab’ meaning ‘down’ and ‘seil’ meaning rope.

  • Doppelganger
    From the German ‘doppelgänger’, this word’s direct translation is ‘double-goer’. It has been used in English since 1830.

  • Fest
    In English, ‘fest’ is usually used as a suffix. It means ‘festival’ in German and has been used in English since 1889.

  • Gesundheit
    Gesundheit’ serves the same purpose as the English ‘bless you!’ and is said when someone sneezes. It means ‘health’ and has been used in English since 1914.

  • Kitsch
    The word ‘kitsch’ is used to describe something that is gaudy. It has been used in English since 1926 and comes from the German dialect word ‘kitschen’ which means ‘to smear’.

  • Muesli
    The word ‘muesli’ has been used in English since 1926. It’s a Swiss-German word, from the Old High German ‘muos’ meaning ‘meal, mush-like food’.

  • Noodle
    Noodle’ comes from the German ‘nudel’ and refers to a narrow strip of dried dough. It has been used in English since 1779.

  • Poltergeist
    Poltergeist’ has been used in English since 1838. It comes from ‘poltern’ meaning ‘make noise’ or ‘rattle’ and ‘geist’ meaning ‘ghost’.

  • Pretzel
    Used in English since 1851, ‘pretzel’ comes from the German ‘prezel’ or ‘brezel’. The word derives from the Medieval Latin ‘brachitella’ which is also the source of the Italian word ‘bracciatella’ (a type of cake).

  • Rucksack
    Used in English since 1866, the word ‘rucksack’ derives from Alpine dialect. ‘rück’ means ‘the back’ and ‘sack’ has the same meaning in English.

  • Schadenfreude
    The word ‘schadenfreude’ describes the feeling of pleasure which is derived from someone else’s misfortune. The literal translation of the word is ‘damage-joy’. It has been used in English since 1922.

  • Spiel
    The word ‘spiel’ refers to a glib speech or pitch. It comes from the German for ‘play’ or ‘game’ and has been used in English since the 1890s.

  • Wunderkind
    This word for a child prodigy literally translates to ‘wonder-child’. It has been used in English since 1883.

  • Wanderlust
    ‘Wanderlust’, literally ‘
    a desire for wandering’, has been used in English since 1902.

  • Zeitgeist
    The word ‘zeitgeist’ means ‘spirit of the times’ and has been used in English since 1848. Its literal translation is ‘time-spirit’.

Can you think of any more German loanwords?


26 Aug 2018
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