11 English words that are actually German

November 10, 2023

Schnitzel, dachshund, blitz – ever wondered what these words have in common? 

They’re all German words we use in English. German loanwords, to be exact – words that English speakers have ‘borrowed’, and use in more or less their original Germanic form. 

Think of these ‘loanwords’ as tiny pieces of German culture and language that have made their way into the English language. Little cultural artifacts, if you will, that you’ll find in the way English speakers describe their food and philosophy; or mention historical landmarks, like technological inventions or scientific discoveries. 

And if you’re wondering why we use German words in English, instead of making up new English words for them? 

Well, for one, they sound more interesting and sophisticated – not to mention more authentic. 

For the English language is actually made up of a mish-mash of foreign languages, ranging from Latin and Greek influences to loanwords from German, French, Spanish and Hebrew.

Here are 11 German loanwords used in English, and everything you need to know about them.

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1. Kindergarten

Have you ever wondered what the word ‘kindergarten’ actually means? 

Children’s garden. 

Yup, it actually translates to an actual garden for children. 

How lovely is that?! 

Now for an important fact: the German and American meanings of kindergarten don’t completely align. Kindergarten in American English refers to preschool, while, in German, the term refers to daycare for children aged three to six.

2. Angst

The original meaning of the German phrase die Angst translates to fear – the sort of irrational reaction that might make you shriek if you see a spider, or dread the next parent-teacher conference.

But in English speaking countries, angst describes a feeling of deep anxiety, worry, often caused by our reaction to things we find overwhelming, or that are out of our control.

For example, English speakers might say they ‘get angsty’ before getting the results for an exam, a medical test or a job interview.

3. Blitz

Blitz in English – apart from its association with food blenders – unfortunately has some of the same ‘world war’ connotations that originate from the German.

But here’s a little more information on how the association came about.

While the original definition in German is simply ‘bolt’,  the term as we know it today was coined by the German term “Blitzkrieg”, which meant a war that came to an end quickly – as quick as a lightning bolt. 

4. Dachshund

Dachshunds – you know, those beautiful and sometimes silly-looking sausage dogs word that make do cause a lot of excessive ‘oooh’-ing and ‘aww’-ing, – is a great example of a word whose meaning has changed over time.

As a German speaker, the word ‘dachshund’ means very little to me (it’s what I like to call a ‘false friend’).  

Literally speaking, though, dachshund means ‘badger dog’. This is because this particular type of dog was originally reared to find the dens of foxes and badgers. 

Nowadays, dachshund in English refers to your average, mischievous pet sausage dog, whereas sausage dogs in German – whether they’re bred specifically for hunting, or for our need for a bit of TLC (tender loving care) – are called ‘Dackel’.

5. Doppelgänger

The German language can be very descriptive, as Geman words are often a combination of two or more words. 

This adds a whole new level of specificity and accuracy to their meanings – as in the case for this loanword: German “Doppelgänger” literally means ‘double goer’.

This translates to someone who is the spitting image of someone else, even though they’re not related. 

Cool and freaky at the same time, right?

6. Fest

We use fest in English to describe a gathering based around a particular activity or thing – think of events like music festivals or concerts.

In German, however, das Fest has a slightly stronger celebratory twang to it, but it more or less carries the same meaning.

7. Kaput

Short and simple: kaputt in German means broken.

You’ll see frustrated Germans using it all the time to describe something that used to work, or that doesn’t work anymore.

Mostly, it’ll be in relation to inanimate objects (the type that don’t talk back!), like TV or your phone screen, but you can also use kaputt figuratively to describe things like a broken relationship. 

8. Rucksack

Another a great example of a very descriptive German loanword that’s made up of two.

‘Ruck’ derives from rücken (back), and sack has the same meaning as sack in English – so together, rucksack basically just means a sack we carry on the back.

See: sometimes, understanding a language can be as easy as sacks on backs! 

9. Schnapps

As with many German words we’ve seen so far, schnapps has a slightly different spelling and a more specific meaning in English.

In German, “Schnaps” could technically refer to any shot of liquor, whereas in English we also use it to mean a grain, potato or fruit spirit made in northern and eastern parts of Europe.  

10. Wanderlust

Have you ever felt a burning desire to travel and explore the world? Or embark on adventure, where the journey is more important than the destination?

“Wanderlust” is the word you’re after to express that kind of longing.

The word comes from wandern (to hike) and lust haben (to feel like / to fancy).

11. Zeitgeist

It’s one of my favourite words of all time – and, again, shows just how well German can convey a complex idea in a single word.

“Zeitgeist” is made up of Zeit (time) and geist (spirit) and describes the ideas and beliefs of an era.

Learned something new today?

We sure hope you did!

And remember: German loanwords aren’t just a great way to add a few more expressions to your vocabulary bank; they also give you a cheeky headstart when you start learning German.

Can you think of any more German loanwords? Comment and let us know!

Now that you already know more than a couple of handfuls of German words, why not give it a proper try?

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