From glitch to lager: English words you didn't know were German

From glitch to lager: English words you didn't know were German

Everybody knows some of the most obvious German words that we use in everyday English - think kindergarten and zeitgeist. But there are plenty of other not-so-German-looking loanwords that we use in English all the time, that many people don’t even realise have German etymological roots!

Since all languages are constantly in a state of flux - lending and borrowing left, right and centre - it’s not always clear what the precise origin of a word is, but we can be pretty confident that the following eight English words originally came from the German language. And these are just the ones that come with a bit of a story - there are hundreds, if not thousands, more that you probably use every day! 

1. Noodle

In German, the generic term for any kind of pasta is “Nudel” - a word which appeared in German cookbooks as early as 1400 and is itself thought to be a variant of “Knödel”, a boiled dumpling that is ubiquitous in German cuisine. Interestingly enough, the word “noodle” was first used in English in 1779, 40 years before the first appearance of “pasta”!

British-English speakers may associate noodles with Asian cuisine while American-English speakers associate the word with pasta noodles, much like the Germans do. Despite the Asian and Italian connections, the word itself is as German as Schnitzel and Bratwurst. 

2. Lager

Everybody knows that the Germans love their beer, but did you know we also get the word for lager from there too? “Lager” is a shortening of the German word “Lagerbier”, derived from the word for a storehouse: “Lager”. Both the beverage and the word have their origins in Bavaria in the 19th century, when brewers began experimenting with a different technique.

By brewing their beer at a cooler temperature, using a different strain of yeast, and then leaving it to ferment, mellow and clear in cold storage - a process known as “lagering” (lagern) - brewers in Germany were able to create a new, lighter type of alcoholic beverage. As the technique spread across Europe and the rest of the world in the 1850s, the word “Lager” was absorbed into English, and used to describe any beer made using this new process. 

3. Glitch 

This word is one of the more obvious German loanwords on our list. First used in the 1940s as a piece of technical jargon among radio and television engineers, a glitch is a short-lived fault and supposedly comes from the German word “glitschen” (to slip) and the Yiddish word “gletshn” (to slide or skid). 

4. Muesli

Finally, a true Swiss German borrowing! Muesli - everyone’s favourite high-fibre breakfast dish - is a 1926 invention credited to the Swiss doctor and nutritional pioneer, Maximilian Bircher-Benner. The word was created by adding the diminutive suffix “-li” to the Old High German word “muos”, which means a “meal, mush-like food”. That just about says it.

5. Delicatessen

These great little establishments, often stocking the best quality foods sourced from far and wide actually have German origins, as does the word itself! The first “Delikatesse” - a word derived from the Latin “delicatus” and the French “délicatesse” - were first opened in London and New York by German emigrants in the 19th century. Lingner’s Delicatessen, for example, opened in Soho in London in 1877. 

6. Rucksack

When you think about it, this word is quite an obvious one. Rucksack (sometimes also known as a backpack) is a German borrowing that combines “Rücken” (back) and “Sack” (bag). Its usage in English can be traced back to the mid-19th century, when mountaineers still spelt it “rücksack”, but it wasn’t too long before the umlaut was dropped. If you’re wondering why “backbag” didn’t catch on, just try and say it! 

7. Nickel

“Nickel” came to be used to refer to small coins in the US in the 1850s, when the government introduced one-cent coins made of nickel, to replace the old copper pennies, but has its origins in Swedish and German history. 

The name of this whitish metal element was coined in 1754 by the Swedish mineralogist Axel von Cronstedt, a shortening of the Swedish word “kopparnickel”. But - the Swedish word was actually a half translation of the German term “Kupfernickel”, literally meaning “copper demon”.

The name came from miners, in reference to the fact that the tricksy ore looked like copper but yielded none - rather similar to the mineral pyrite, which is nicknamed “fool’s gold”. Nickel, derived from the name Nicholas, was a mythological spirit said to haunt houses, caves and mines.

8. Hinterland

Yet another great direct translation straight from German into English - Hinterland! A wonderfully dreamy word that in English conjures up an image of the back of beyond - an ill-understood area, far away from civilisation - hinterland actually comes from the German words “hinter” (behind) and “Land”, which when put together mean something like “back country”. It’s obvious when you see it!

This article originally appeared on IamExpat in Germany.

Thumb image credit: / TY Lim



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