How Do You Say 'Porsche'?

Is it "Porsh" or 'Por-shuh?'

No need to be embarrassed, here's how to pronounce those tricky, adopted German words. Getty Images / Cyndi Monaghan

How do you pronounce the following words? Nevadafracashors d'oeuvresrodeoauntVersace. The way you say these “English” words can reveal several things about you, including your level of education and in which part of the English-speaking world you happen to live. I happen to have lived in Nevada for many, and we Nevadans cringe when we hear someone say Ne-VAH-duh. That back-East pronunciation grates on us here in Ne-VAA-duh, even if it is closer to the original Spanish word for snow-covered.

As for those other “English” words above, all of which are also borrowed from other languages, you may know they can be pronounced in a variety of ways, just counting American versus British English. 

By some standards, many English-speakers, even highly educated ones, mispronounce certain borrowed German words in English. Examples include scientific terms (NeanderthalLoess), brand names (AdidasDeutsche BankPorscheBraun) and names in the news (Angela MerkelJörg Haider). 

But Americans often do quite well with the many other German words commonly used in English. Even if they don't know exactly what it means, Americans pronounce Gesundheit (health) with a high degree of accuracy. (See the article “You Already Know German” for the English meaning of most of the German terms used here.) Other German words in wide use and pronounced fairly well by English-speakers include:

  • Kindergarten
  • Poltergeist
  • Strudel
  • Dachshund
  • kaputt
  • Schadenfreude
  • verboten
  • Ersatz
  • Rottweiler
  • Gestalt
  • Lufthansa
  • Weltanschauung
  • Angst
  • Fahrenheit
  • Volkswagen
  • Frankfurter
  • Zeppelin
  • Leitmotiv
  • Rucksack
  • Fahrvergnügen

German names of personalities such as Steffi Graf (now married to Andre Agassi), Henry Kissinger, and even the Austrian  roll right off American tongues.

They can say Marlene Dietrich (usually) or Sigmund Freud just fine, but for some reason U.S. TV newscasters never could get former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder's last name right. (Maybe it's the influence of the "Peanuts" character of the same name?) Most announcers have now learned to pronounce Angela Merkel's name with the correct hard-g pronunciation: [AHNG-uh-luh MERK-el] 

In all fairness, German speakers also mispronounce English words used in German. I'll never forget the day I was in a German department store and the sales clerk was telling me about the Nike sports shoes. But he pronounced the brand name with a silent e (NYKE). It took me a minute before I realized he meant NYE-KEE, but like most Germans he assumed the e was silent in the brand name, just as it is in most English words ending in e. But the word is Greek, so neither one is correct in that sense. Most Germans can't hear the difference between the English adjective “live” (eine Live-Sendung, a live broadcast) and the noun “life,” pronouncing (and sometimes spelling) both words as life. 

What Is the Correct Pronunciation of Porsche?

While the “proper” way to pronounce some German terms in English may be debatable, this isn't one of them.

Porsche is a family name, and the family members pronounce their surname PORSH-uh, not PORSH! Same for the car. You don't say NYKE for Nike, so don't be lazy and leave off the e in Porsche! 

Can you remember when the French automaker Renault still sold cars in North America? (If you're old enough, you may recall Renault's Le Car.) In the early days, Americans pronounced the French name ray-NALT. Just about the time that most of us had learned to say ray-NOH correctly, Renault pulled out of the U.S. market. Given enough time, Americans usually can learn to pronounce most foreign words correctly—if you don't include maitre d' or hors d'oeuvres. So I think there's still hope for Porsche, too.

Another “silent-e” example is also a brand name: Deutsche Bank. Listening to the financial news from CNN, MSNBC or other TV news channels often brings out the fact that news announcers really should study foreign languages.

Some of those talking heads get it right, but it almost hurts when they say “DOYTSH Bank” with a silent e. It could be a carryover from the now entrenched mispronunciation of Germany's former currency, the Deutsche Mark (DM). Even educated English-speakers may say “DOYTSH mark,” dropping the e. With the arrival of the euro and the demise of the DM, German company or media names with “Deutsche” in them have become the new mispronunciation target: Deutsche TelekomDeutsche BankDeutsche Bahn, or Deutsche Welle. At least most people get the German “eu” (OY) sound right, but sometimes that gets mangled as well.

Neanderthal or Neandertal

Now, what about the term Neanderthal? Most informed people prefer the more German-like pronunciation nay-ander-TALL. That's because Neanderthal is a German word and German does not have the th sound of English “the.” The Neandertal (the alternate English or German spelling) is a valley (Tal) named for a German by the name of Neumann (new man). The Greek form of his name is Neander. The fossilized bones of Neandertal man (homo neanderthalensis is the official Latin name) were found in the Neander Valley. Whether you spell it with a t or th, the better pronunciation is nay-ander-TALL without the th sound. There are some paleoanthropologists and other experts in the field who still say nay-ander-THALL, but they're wrong.

German Brand Names

On the other hand, for many German brand names (Adidas, Braun, Bayer, etc.), the English or American pronunciation has become the accepted way to refer to the company or its products. In German, Braun is pronounced like the English word brown (same for Eva Braun, by the way), not BRAWN, but you'll probably just cause confusion if you insist on the German way of saying Braun, Adidas (AH-dee-dass, emphasis on the first syllable) or Bayer (BYE-er). So it is probably best to keep this knowledge to yourself. (This does NOT apply to brand names with “Deutsche” in them!)

The same goes for Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991).

Geisel was born in Massachusetts to German immigrants, and he pronounced his German name SOYCE. But now everyone in the English-speaking world pronounces the author's name to rhyme with goose. Sometimes you just have to be practical when you're outnumbered.

Frequently Mispronounced Terms
with correct phonetic pronunciation
Eva Braun
(not 'brawn')
Dr. Seuss
(Theodor Seuss Geisel)
German author, poet
GER-ta ('er' as in fern)
and all oe-words
in Munich
Loess/Löss (geology)
fine-grained loam soil
lerss ('er' as in fern)