German Loan Words in English

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English has borrowed many words from German. Some of those words have become a natural part of everyday English vocabulary (angst, kindergarten, sauerkraut), while others are primarily intellectual, literary, scientific (Waldsterben, Weltanschauung, Zeitgeist), or used in special areas, such as gestalt in psychology, or aufeis and loess in geology.

Words With No English Equivalent

Some of these German words are used in English because there is no true English equivalent: gemütlich, schadenfreude. Words in the list below marked with * were used in various rounds of Scripps National Spelling Bees in the U.S.

Here's an A-to-Z sample of German loan words in English:

German Words in English
alpenglow s Alpenglühen a reddish glow seen on the mountain tops around sunrise or sunset
Alzheimer's disease e Alzheimer Krankheit brain disease named for the German neurologist Alois Alzheimer (1864-1915), who first identified it in 1906
angst/Angst e Angst "fear" - in English, a neurotic feeling of anxiety and depression
Anschluss r Anschluss "annexation" - specifically, the 1938 annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany (the Anschluss)
apple strudel r Apfelstrudel a type of pastry made with thin layers of dough, rolled up with a fruit filling; from the German for "swirl" or "whirlpool"
aspirin s Aspirin Aspirin (acetylsalicyclic acid) was invented by the German chemist Felix Hoffmann working for Bayer AG in 1899.
aufeis s Aufeis Literally, "on-ice" or "ice on top" (Arctic geology). German citation: "Venzke, J.-F. (1988): Beobachtungen zum Aufeis-Phänomen im subarktisch-ozeanischen Island. - Geoökodynamik 9 (1/2), S. 207-220; Bensheim."
autobahn e Autobahn "freeway" - The GermanAutobahn has almost mythical status.
automat r Automat a (New York City) restaurant that dispenses food from coin-operated compartments
pl. Bildungeromane
r Bildungsroman
"formation novel" - a novel that focuses on the maturation of, and the intellectual, psychological, or spiritual development of the main character
blitz r Blitz "lightning" - a sudden, overwhelming attack; a charge in football; the Nazi attack on England in WWII (see below)
blitzkrieg r Blitzkrieg "lightning war" - a rapid-strike war; Hitler's attack on England in WWII
bratwurst e Bratwurst grilled or fried sausage made of spiced pork or veal
cobalt s Kobalt cobalt, Co; see Chemical Elements
coffee klatsch (klatch)
r Kaffeeklatsch a friendly get-together over coffee and cake
r Konzertmeister the leader of the first violin section of an orchestra, who often also serves as assistant conductor
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
e Creutzfeldt-Jakob-
"mad cow disease" or BSE is a variant of CJD, a brain disease named for the German neurologists Hans Gerhardt Creutzfeldt (1883-1964) and Alfons Maria Jakob (1884-1931)
dachshund r Dachshund dachshund, a dog (der Hund) originally trained to hunt badger (der Dachs); the "wiener dog" nickname comes from its hot-dog shape (see "wiener")
degauss s Gauß to demagnetize, neutralize a magnetic field; the "gauss" is a unit of measurement of magnetic induction (symbol G orGs, replaced by the Tesla), named for German mathematician and astronomerCarl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855).
s Delikatessen prepared cooked meats, relishes, cheeses, etc.; a shop selling such foods
diesel r Dieselmotor The diesel engine is named for its German inventor, Rudolf Diesel(1858-1913).
dirndl s Dirndl
s Dirndlkleid
Dirndl is a southern German dialect word for "girl." A dirndl (DIRN-del) is a traditional woman's dress still worn in Bavaria and Austria.
Doberman pinscher
F.L. Dobermann
r Pinscher
dog breed named for the German Friedrich Louis Dobermann (1834-1894); the Pinscher breed has several variations, including the Dobermann, although technically the Dobermann is not a true pinscher
r Doppelgänger "double goer" - a ghostly double, look-alike, or clone of a person
Doppler effect
Doppler radar
C.J. Doppler
apparent change in the frequency of light or sound waves, caused by rapid movement; named for the Austrian physicist who discovered the effect
r Dreck "dirt, filth" - in English, trash, rubbish (from Yiddish/German)
edelweiss* s Edelweiß a small flowering Alpine plant (Leontopodium alpinum), literally "noble white"
ersatz* r Ersatz a replacement or substitute, usually implying inferiority to the original, such as "ersatz coffee"
Fahrenheit D.G. Fahrenheit The Fahrenheit temperature scale is named for its German inventor, Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736), who invented the alcohol thermometer in 1709.
Fahrvergnügen s Fahrvergnügen "driving pleasure" - word made famous by a VW ad campaign
fest s Fest "celebration" - as in "film fest" or "beer fest"
flak/flack die Flak
das Flakfeuer
"anti-aircraft gun" (FLiegerAbwehrKanone) - used in English more like das Flakfeuer(flak fire) for heavy criticism ("He's taking a lot of flak.")
frankfurter Frankfurter Wurst hot dog, orig. a type of German sausage (Wurst) from Frankfurt; see "wiener"
Führer r Führer "leader, guide" - a term that still has Hitler/Nazi connections in English, more than 70 years after it first came into use

*Words used in various rounds of the Scripps National Spelling Bee held annually in Washington, D.C.

Also see: The Denglisch Dictionary - English words used in German

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Flippo, Hyde. "German Loan Words in English." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Flippo, Hyde. (2023, April 5). German Loan Words in English. Retrieved from Flippo, Hyde. "German Loan Words in English." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).