Germans use quite a lot of English expressions nowadays. It’s a result of both American and English troops being stationed for decades in Germany after it lost World War II. With them came the influence of English pop and rock music and a totally different lifestyle. And it’s now wonder that many young people were fascinated by this new, free kind of life after the oppression during the Nazi regime. So German bands started singing in English and English Expressions became part of everyday culture.
But English wasn’t always as dominant as it it today. Did you know that up until the 20th century German was the most important language used in sciences? Most scientific articles were first published in German, even those by English speaking scientists.
And a couple of Great German words even made it into the English language. So in this article we are going to talk about the German words used in English even until today. Because it’s not only Kindergarten and Schadenfreude which the English and Americans loaned from the Germans. The clever Germans came up with quite a few words so unique and useful that English speaking people simply adopted them. But see for yourself.
List of Great German Words Used in English
Doppelgänger / Doppelganger
Just like “Weltschmerz”, Doppelgänger is a term coined by the German writer Jean Paul. It means a look-a-like of someone, with no family relation. A Doppelgänger usually looks like a person still alive although he or she could also look similar to some famous figure from the past.
Of course this idea of a copy of yourself already fascinated humans in older cultures, such as in Old Egypt. And throughout history there have always been claims about Kings using doppelgängers of themselves for public appearances which also held a danger of an attack or assassination. Not a job to be keen on.
Fernweh is a longing for being far away, in a new unknown environment. It describes our desire to see new places and experience something new. Board a plane, hop on the next train, or jump on your bike and drive into the sunset. Life is a journey after all.
The idea of putting little kids together somewhere to grow them like some veg in your garden is actually very amusing. Maybe that’s the reason why English speakers adopted it.
I don’t know why the Germans were the only ones to come up with a name for this special kind of ghost. Poltern means to rumble in German, so a Poltergeist was believed to be a ghost making strange noises in a house and even moving items like statues, vases, or furniture.
Maybe not a word used very often in English, but usually well known by beer aficionados, the German Reinheitsgebot. It’s a regulation which ingredients could be used in a drink in order to be called beer in Germany. According to a Bavarian law from 1516, the only ingredients that were allowed in producing beer were water, barley and hops. Yeast wasn’t mentioned at first even though it was being used already. The law is still valid today, even though several law suits from other European breweries weakened its position a bit. But every German beer has to bear a label that it is brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot if it wants to be successful with German consumers.
Schadenfreude probably isn’t the most sympathetic of our great German words. But nevertheless I assume you too have felt it a couple of times in your lifetime. It means the feeling of satisfaction over something bad happening to someone you just can’t stand. Glee over a bully getting a beating or your annoying colleague spilling coffee over his white shirt would be classical examples of Schadenfreude.
The Wanderlust is a desire to travel. Wandern is the German translation of hiking, so you get a feeling this word this word came into fashion when traveling meant going some other place on foot. Not by boarding a plane to fly to the other side of the planet.
The travel itself is part of the adventure. When you travel by foot (or possibly a bike), you are in contact with the world around you. You interact with it and become a part of it. Your experience will be much deeper than going somewhere by plane, staying in some anonymous five star hotel and sunbathing at a beach for a week.
Weltschmerz is often translated as “world weariness” or “world pain”. It’s an expression defined in the 18th century by the German author Jean Paul. It means a feeling of sadness and painful melancholy in view of the shortcomings of the world.
The word Weltschmerz wasn’t only adopted by English speakers, but also made its way into Swedish, Polish, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Another word already defined as early as the 18th century. It means the widespread mindset of a generation or era; the attitude of most people in a particular society at a particular time.
So, this was our compilation of Great German words used in English. And if you’re looking for more interesting German words, why not head over to our article on funny german words?