Saturday, July 18, 2009

German words I've completely adopted

Everywhere I've been I pick up a few things from the local language that enter my English vocabulary for good. In Boston it was mostly strange pronunciations that we thought were funny ("stahhhhvin" for starving), although I've been known to still let a "wicked" slip out here and there. There are several German words that I always use now, even in English!

kippen/kip - This is the word for what you do to the German window when you have it tilted open from the hinge at the bottom. I have no idea what the English word would be because I never saw windows like that until I came here, which is probably why we always use "kip" even when speaking English.

Mief - This is what's in a room that's been all closed up with a lot of people in it, and it's all stuffy and horrible. Dict.leo says the English word for this is "fug" but I never heard it before. I don't know if we use that word in the US. In any case, it doesn't sound as awesome as Mief anyway, so I think Mief is in our vocabs to stay.

Pfand - In English I guess this is usually called the return - the money that you pay extra for a can/bottle/etc. We deal with the concept a lot more often here because recycling is a bigger thing, the Pfands are much bigger than in the US, and there are Pfands on the mugs, glasses, plates etc. that you eat off of when you go to a festival. Hence, the German word for it has really sunk in, because we never talked about returns that much in the US.

Spargel - Who could call it asparagus after learning this awesome word?

Kalk - In English this is lime or limescale. I never had a problem with it like I have here, so I never really needed to call it anything in English. Kalk is a somehow more apt name anyway.

The following are words we never bother to translate to English when talking, but which I doubt would stick to our English if we left: Rathaus (town hall), Bahnhof (train station), Nebenkosten, Betriebsarzt.

PS. My German friend made up the word "somewhen" last night when trying to think of the word "sometime". I like it.

PPS. Damon was just flipping channels and came across a show with 7 guys playing music on buckets and stuff in a vineyard, singing about how great the wine queen is. SWEET.


  1. I like your list of words--certainly bahnhof and rathaus have walked straight into my English--as has Senf.

    Personally I am surprised that you omitted two obvious words that have crept into my English:

    1) Handy. nuff said.

    2) Moist.

    oh wait, that second one we're still trying to introduce into German.

  2. I like your list too. Especially mief is a funny word :)

    The only words my husband is using is the "Straß" instead of "Straßenbahn" and Rathaus of course :)

  3. I think "Pfand" has to be the number one German word that never ever gets translated.

    "doch" is one I would like to introduce into English because there is no good equivalent.

    "Kicker" instead of foosball for obvious reasons.

    "Mensa" also never translated.

    "Hinterhof" and "Keller" also get used a lot.

  4. I do the same. I don't think I've eve called the bahnhof or stassenbahn anything else. The English word I would use for pfand would be deposit,I guess.
    I do have a few wonderful German swear words in my vocabulary that I use in America when I really want to swear but it's not appropriate.

  5. I'm not sure, but I think "stank" is typically used in the U.S. when someone wants to say "Mief".

  6. Adam: Senf is a moist one. I actually never use the word Handy when speaking English (unless the person is confused by "cell").

    Nelly: Mief is one of the best words ever!

    Alex: Good call with Keller. I do say Weinkeller almost exclusively for wine cellar now. It just sounds better somehow.

    MIHH: I forgot the entire existence of the word 'deposit' for Pfand!! :O

    Florian: Is stank a noun? I have heard it as an adjective but not a noun, but that could have just been someone's creative use of it.

  7. Definitely agree with the Spargel, Kalk (didn't even know what that was until I moved here), Rathaus, Nebenkosten, and Bahnhof. But doch is my favorite German word that's impossible to translate but SO handy!

  8. @CN: I'm not sure - I heard it a few times in Family Guy episodes. At least it was used as a noun there i.e. "Close the window, you're letting all the stank out". But I wouldn't vouch for usage of correct grammar in Family Guy.

  9. With you on spargel... but what about genau. By far my favourite expression (for "exactly" when agreeing with something.) The English equiv doesn`t really pull off the same emphatic agreeance as a good Genau! does.

  10. Interesting list. I have always known calc and fug and use them- I haven't heard mief before.
    We always use kellar and U and Bahn. Never use pfand because we just say return(the bottles). When I was explaining the concept to the kids, I used deposit versus recyclable.
    I like kippen, sounds so much like "tip in" that I think I'll start using it.

  11. Stau has made it into our list, as so wonderfully put by my husband on our way home from Ansbach today, through the lovely roadworks "Argh... freakin' Stau!"

    We do the Rathaus, Bahnhof and all that too and we say Bitte a lot. I also like giving directions in German as it's the only thing I really remember from my German classes in school about 10 years ago.

  12. Mandi: I still need to master the doch.

    Florian: I looked it up and you are right, it's a noun, but referring more to only the stench in the room (technically anyway...the usage may have expanded to include, well, Mief).

    Estelle: I totally agree with you about the awesomeness that is the word genau. It is truly perfect. So it's a mystery to me why it hasn't crept into my English yet!

    G: Glad to spread the kip love ;)

    Satakieli: Stau! Good one!! We tend to use this in English too, but so far only in Germany...I've not been in Stau in another country to test whether Stau or traffic jam comes out of my mouth..

  13. Great list!
    Gotta love the genau... and doch is soooo handy!

    I'll add one more: krank.
    How well does that describe someone who is sick? "She is krank." Maybe it is because the word has tinges of cranky and just makes me giggle.

  14. Of the words I already knew on that list, I, too, use them regualarly as part of my English vocabulary (Pfand, Rathaus, Bahnhof & Spargel).

    We also use Stau, genau and Hagel.

    Also, in 6th grade, we did a project that was called our "somewhen." As I recall, it was something where we drew a path and put life goals along the path that we wanted to achieve "somewhen." Something like that...

  15. Snooker: I agree, krank is a great word. I worked at a hospital in Boston so one of the first words I learned was Krankenhaus. Why yes, some days my workplace was like a house full of cranky people!! ;)

    Sarah: I looked up somewhen and it turns out to actually be an archaic English word!

  16. Ohh interesting. Now that I kno wit's a real word (even if it's is "archaic"), I might have to start using it more often.

  17. Oooo! I forgot!
    Isn't that an incredible word for thunderstorm? OK, maybe not that great, but I was just speaking English and it poppped out of my head.

  18. I have a hard time bringing myself to say "Detour" when I can use "Umleitung" instead. I didn't know that about myself until today and yesterday, since we have been driving around in a rental car these past few days. "Detour" is just not the tips of our tongues — (my) Sarah seems to be with me on that. But I wonder why that is, given how infrequently we travel by car in Germany or German-speaking countries.

  19. I know this is two years after the fact, but maybe you get an email when a comment is posted...?

    Anyway, "kippen" does mean "to tip", as "umkippen" means "to tip over", and it is a fantastic word!

    I still say "Guten Appetit" before meals with my children, and they reply, "Danke, gleichfalls!" No English equivalent, unfortunately. :)

  20. This gave me flashbacks to when I lived in Berlin. I'll add U-bahn and S-bahn. I never think of "commuter rail" or even "subway". When I'm in a city with a subway, I hav to stop and translate U-bahn.

    I love those the windows (and some doors!) in Germany that can tilt or open ... I don't kno why we don't hav them in the States. I also loved the shudders that one could rolled down at night to keep the heat in. (I'v seen those in Argentina (heavy German immigrant population) but not in the States.

    I too think of a train station as a Bahnhof ... Actually, I think of the Hauptbahnhof. Hof is a little-used English word ... maybe I should try to think of it as the "trainhof"! lol

    Mief does sound better than "fug" which is listed as "British" in the OED.

    Genau and doch are also part of my wordstock. Interestingly enuff, in Middle English, yes was the equivalent of doch ... It was yea and nay for positiv questions and yes and no for negativ questions.

    @Christina, The word for gleichfalls in English is likewise.

    Somewhen (at some time) isn't archaic. I guess yu aren't a SciFi reader or yu'd kno the word. It's also benoted in temporal physics.

    There are lots of words like that ... forwhy (for what reason, the reason why), somewhy (for what reason), whilend (temporary), asf.


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