List of German expressions in English

From Academic Kids

Below is a list of German expressions used in English. Some are relatively common (such as hamburger or gestalt), but most are comparatively rare. In many cases, the German borrowing in English has assumed a substantially different meaning than its German forebear.

Although the English language was originally based on an Anglo-Saxon variant of the German language similar to Dutch before the Norman Conquest of England by Norman-speaking peoples in 1066 (see Old English), many modern German words have been borrowed into modern English in more recent years. Typically English spellings of German loanwords suppress any umlauts (the accent over Ä, Ö, Ü, ä, ö and ü) of the original artifact.

German words have been incorporated into English usage for various reasons. Common cultural items, especially foods, have spread to English-speaking nations and are often identified by their German names. The history of excellence among German-speaking nations in science, scholarship, and classical music has led to many German words being adopted by academics for use in English contexts. Discussion of German history and culture requires use of German words. Lastly, some German words are used simply to a fictional passage by implying that the thing being expressed is German, as in Frau or Reich, although sometimes the use of German terms has no German implication, as in doppelganger or angst.

English and German are descended from the same common ancestor, called Proto-Germanic. Because of this, a number of English words are identical to their German counterparts either in spelling (Hand, Finger) or in pronunciation (Fish = Fisch). These words are excluded from this list.


German terms commonly used in English

Words in this category will be recognized by most English speakers and are commonly used in English. A few, such as delicatessen and hinterland, are often used without awareness that they are originally German. It should be noted that some words in this list (hamburger, kindergarten) are more common than others (ersatz, wanderlust).

Food and drink

Sports and recreation

Other aspects of everyday life

German terms commonly used in academic contexts in English

German terms frequently appear in several academic disciplines in English, notably in history, psychology, philosophy, music and the physical sciences. Non-specialists in a given field may or may not be familiar with a given German term.

General academic language

  • Ansatz, basic approach
  • Leitfaden, illustration of the interdependence between chapters of a book.
  • Methodenstreit, disagreement on methodology





(Some terms are listed in multiple categories, if they are important to each.)

Das Dritte Reich (The Third Reich)

See Glossary of the Weimar Republic and Glossary of the Third Reich.

Other historical periods

Noble titles

  • Freiherr, roughly equivalent to an English baron, the lowest rank of nobility
  • Fürst, "prince", but see entry for notes and qualifications: in German use refers to leader of a principality, not an heir to a throne
  • Graf, "count"
  • Junker
  • Kaiser, "emperor"
  • Landgraf, count with princely (sovereign) powers, see entry for relation to "Graf"

General military terms

Military ranks



Mathematics and formal logic



Physical sciences


  • Gestalt (psychology; much narrower meaning than in German.)
  • Zeitgeber (lit. tide-giver; something that resets the circadian clock produced by the SCN.)


Academic culture

German terms mostly used for literary effect

There are a few terms which are recognised by many English speakers but are usually only used to deliberately evoke a German context:

  • Achtung
  • Frau and Fräulein
  • Führer (umlaut is usually dropped in English) — always used in (American) English to denote Hitler or to connote a Fascistic leader — never used, as is possible in German, simply and unironically to denote a (non-Fascist) leader, (i.e. Bergführer = Mountain Guide, Stadtführer = City Guide etc.)
  • Hände hoch — "hands up"
  • Herr — evokes German context; but used with military titles ("Herr Oberst"), immediately connotes Nazi era to (American) English listeners.
  • Lederhosen (Singular Lederhose in German denotes one pair of leathery trousers. The original Bavarian word is Lederhosn, which is both singular and plural.)
  • Meister — used as a suffix to mean expert, or master
  • Nein, "no"
  • Reich — to (American) English speakers, "Reich" does not denote its literal meaning, "empire", but strongly connotes Naziism and is often used to suggest Fascism or authoritarianism, e.g., "Herr Reichsminister" used as a title for a disliked politician. German "reich" as an adjective means "rich", as a noun it means "empire" and "realm".
  • Jawohl has no literal translation in English, but is often equated to "yes sir".
  • Schnell! — Fast!
  • Kommandant — officer or person in command, especially of a military camp or U-Boat. (Applies regardless of military rank, in distinction to the English "commander".)
  • Schweinhund (German spelling: Schweinehund)

German terms rarely used in English

This is the unsorted, original list. If a term is common in a particular academic discipline, and there is no more commonly used English equivalent, then please move it to the list above.


For terms used in music, see above.

Meanings of German band names

  • Einstürzende Neubauten = "collapsing new buildings". For the band this evokes the image of buildings built during the postwar era, which were very hastily erected, hence supposedly prone to collapse.
  • Böhse Onkelz = (correct German spelling: böse Onkels) evil uncles. The wrong spelling is done to "harden" its appearance (h in this context amplifies the ö; z sounds sharper than s).
  • Kraftwerk = power plant
  • Rammstein = named after Ramstein Air Base, but could mean "ramming stone" (literal) or "battering ram" (figurative).
  • Die Toten Hosen = literally dead trousers. A slang expression for a boring place to be (only used in certain regions). It can also refer to impotence.
  • Die Ärzte = (medical) doctors, a German rock band.

See also: Krautrock: "Kraut (= cabbage) rock". A German-like English name for a varietey of German rock music.

Classical Music Works

Related topics

External Links

Dictionary of Germanisms (örter_in_anderen_Sprachen


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