Beverly Hills Lingual Insitute
Beverly Hills Lingual Insitute
Beverly Hills Lingual Insitute
Beverly Hills Lingual Insitute

Blog   |   Language, Learning and Culture

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How Many German Words Do You Know?

In "German English Words: A Popular Dictionary of German Words Used in English," Robbin Knapp cites studies by at least two authors who reckon that English contains about 6,000 Germanisms.

Most people would recognize many of them as German, like dachshund, diesel, doppelganger, Doppler (effect), Edelweiss, Fahrenheit, Freudian (slip), glockenspiel, Heimlich (maneuver), Hertz, kaiser (roll), kaput, kindergarten, lager, ohm, poltergeist, pretzel, rottweiler, schadenfreude, schnauzer, strudel, waltz, wunderkind, yodel, zeitgeist, and Wiener schnitzel.

One would, Knapp writes, not think of many of them as being German at all - "such as masochism, Pez, and the -ja part of Ouija board."

Hamster, too, has German origins, as do polka, muesli, quartz, rucksack, wreck, zig-zag, and zinc.

Dollar, too, is the Anglicized form of the German taler, the name given to coins first minted in 1519 from locally mined silver in Joachimsthal (now Czech Jáchymov) in Bohemia. Nickel is another example, shortened from the German Kupfernickel - "fool's cooper," for ore which looks like cooper ore but does not contain the valuable metal. The British schilling was formerly a German coin, and was the standard monetary unit of Austria before the euro.

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Ersatz, which in English implies something that is artificial, inferior, or fake, in German suggests an imitation or substitute. The uses are similar, but not quite the same; Germans, for instance, refer to a spare tire as Ersatzreifen, while spare parts are Ersatzteile.

Volkswagen (which in the '90s introduced Fahrvergnügen to the American vernacular) literally means "folk's - people's - car."

When Knapp's book was published in 2005, he counted German as the "third most popular foreign language at all levels of education, behind Spanish and French." Roughly 355,000 students annually, he wrote, learned German in grades K-12, with another 89,000 following up at colleges and universities.

In the 2000 U.S. census, between a sixth and a fifth of the U.S. population (17.3 percent or 47.4 million people) considered themselves German Americans; that is, their ancestors came from a German-speaking part of Europe. The census suggested that German Americans formed the largest ethnic group in the U.S., before even Irish, English, and African Americans.

And let's not forget - "The words for America's favorite foods are German: hamburger, frankfurter, and wiener."

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