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German borrowings [Apr. 20th, 2004|04:51 pm]
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The Duden online is promoting its tome on Fremdwörter (foreign words) in the German language and has links to a series of articles (in German) discussing the influx of foreign terminology over the last few hundred years. One of them also mentions a bit about exports, and there I find myself reading:

Es gibt jedoch auch den umgekehrten Prozess, dass deutsche Wörter in fremde Sprachen übernommen und dort allmählich angeglichen werden, wie z. B. im Englischen bratwurst, ersatz, fräulein, gemütlichkeit, gneis, kaffeeklatsch, kindergarten, kitsch, leberwurst, leitmotiv, ostpolitik, sauerkraut, schwärmerei, schweinehund, weltanschauung, weltschmerz, wunderkind, zeitgeist, zink.

(There is also the reverse process, where German words are borrowed and gradually assimilated by a foreign language, as in the English bratwurst, ersatz, fräulein, gemütlichkeit, gneis, kaffeeklatsch, kindergarten, kitsch, leberwurst, leitmotiv, ostpolitik, sauerkraut, schwärmerei, schweinehund, weltanschauung, weltschmerz, wunderkind, zeitgeist, zink.)

(In case there's any doubt where the author leaves none: the claim is not that those are German words that have given rise to English terms; the claim is that those are English words, umlauted up to the nines and everything. The lack of capitalization for the words listed, all nouns, is further proof that in that context those words are no longer German.)

Now, c'mon, says I, dropping words like weltschmerz and weltanschauung (the author inexplicably leaves out my beloved schadenfreude) is a classical leitmotiv of mine, especially when having a kaffeeklatsch with the fräuleins, but... gemütlichkeit? schwärmerei? I've encountered the words aplenty, but never in an English text. (And what in the world is a gneis?) Well, I haven't been reading enough. The author is absolutely correct (well, almost), and the OED backs him up. Here's what the OED has to say about the list (with the more rare and pedestrian terms included for completeness):

  • bratwurst (n): A type of German sausage.
  • ersatz (n): A substitute or imitation (usually, an inferior article instead of the real thing).
  • fräulein (n): A young lady, ‘miss’. Often applied in England to German governesses.
  • Gemütlichkeit, gemütlichkeit (n): The quality of being gemütlich; geniality; cosiness; cheerfulness.

    • gemütlich</i> (a):Pleasant, cheerful; cosy, snug, homely; genial, goodnatured.

  • gneiss (n): A metamorphic rock, composed, like granite, of quartz, feldspar or orthoclase, and mica, but distinguished from it by its foliated or laminated structure.
  • kaffeeklat(s)ch (n): Gossip over coffee cups; a coffee party; cf. coffee klatsch (s.v. COFFEE n. 5b). Hence kaffeeklatscher n., kaffeeklatsching vbl. n.
  • kindergarten (n): 1. A school for the instruction of young children according to a method devised by Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852), for developing the intelligence of children by interesting object-lessons, exercises with toys, games, singing, etc. Also attrib. and fig. 2. transf. The nickname given to a group of young men with imperialist ideals who were recruited by Alfred, Lord Milner (1854-1925), High Commissioner of South Africa, to aid with reconstruction work after the South African war of 1899-1902. Freq. Milner's kindergarten.
  • kitsch (n): Art or objets d'art characterized by worthless pretentiousness; the qualities associated with such art or artifacts. Also attrib., Comb., and transf.
  • kitsch (v): To render worthless, to affect with sentimentality and vulgarity.
  • leberwurst (n): Liver sausage
  • leitmotiv (n): In the musical drama of Wagner and his imitators, a theme associated throughout the work with a particular person, situation, or sentiment. Also in extended use.
  • Ostpolitik (n): German policy towards Eastern Europe, associated mainly with the Federal Republic of Germany's cultivation of good relations with the Communist block during the 1960s, but applied also, by extension, to the policies of other western countries regarding the East as a whole.
  • sauerkraut (n): 1. A popular article of diet in Germany, consisting of cabbage which has undergone an acid fermentation. 2. U.S. slang. (Often with capital initial.) A German. 3. attrib. and comb., as sauerkraut barrel, cutter; sauerkraut-eater slang = sense 2 above.
  • schwärmerei, Schwärmerei (n): Religious zeal, fanaticism, extravagant enthusiasm for a cause or a person; an erotic attachment, esp. of one woman or adolescent girl for another; a ‘crush’.
  • schwein(e)hund (n): A German term of abuse: filthy dog, ‘swine’, ‘bastard’.
  • Weltanschauung (n): A particular philosophy or view of life; a concept of the world held by an individual or a group; = world-view
  • Weltschmerz (n): A weary or pessimistic feeling about life; an apathetic or vaguely yearning attitude.
  • Wunderkind (n): a. A highly talented child, a child prodigy, esp. in music. b. A talented or successful young man, a ‘whizz-kid’.
  • Zeitgeist (n): The spirit or genius which marks the thought or feeling of a period or age.
  • zink (n): obs. of zinc.


Issues of capitalization aside, the minor error in the author's list is the word gneiss which has taken an extra s coming from the German Gneis. The capitalization, however, is interesting: concepts that are linked to a particular political policy, philosophical view and Other Big Things seem to carry the capital of proper nouns in English. Other terms seem to have retained a capital letter for no better reason I can discern than their nominal German origins. With schwärmerei and gemütlichkeit, the OED gives us a choice of size, which I suppose comes metalinguistically handy to describe, at least on a two-degree scale, things like the intensity of female erotic attachments.

Of course, where there's an Ostpolitik there can be a Westpolitik, and in the spirit of Wunderkind you can end up with a Wunderkammer. But these, and other German borrowings, will perhaps be material for a future blog entry. I believe for now you have enough to make a good impression at the next kaffeeklatsch.
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Comments:
From: (Anonymous)
2004-04-21 12:17 am (UTC)

Levels of Englishness, and zinc

Some of these are so assimilated, I'll bet most wouldn't even think of them as German; gniess, kitsch, kindergarten, sauerkraut and zinc. Others, I propose, still have the caché of foreign words; schwärmerei, fräulein. The rest are on some part of the continuum in between.

In fact I was skeptical about zinc. What, after all, did English speakers call it before the name was borrowed from German? Some answers here: http://www.vanderkrogt.net/elements/elem/zn.html
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-04-22 07:24 pm (UTC)
What a great site! Thank you, Anonymous.

language hat (http://languagehat.com/)
(Reply) (Thread)