German Loanwords

Learn over 100 German loanwords used in English and their meanings in this easy-to-follow online lesson.

A loanword is a word borrowed from one language and then integrated into another. Both the English and German languages descend from the West Germanic languages. It is, therefore, not surprising that many German words are similar to English words.

German Loanwords

In addition, various pieces of vocabulary from the psychoanalytic field or German history, for example, have been adopted into English.

Some words are more common than others and many of them are found in American-English only. The reason for this can be traced back to the large number of German settlers to the USA.

Let's get started on your German loanwords lesson. 



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German Loanwords: A - B

To abreact - abreagieren 
(To relieve bad feelings and tension through verbalisation - used in psychoanalysis)

To abseil - abseilen 
(To descend a cliff or mountain face through use of a rope)

Achtung! - Achtung! 
(Attention / warning)

Alpenglow - das Alpenglϋhen 
(When the sun is just below the horizon, a red 'glowing' band is sometimes seen on the horizon opposite)

Angst - die Angst 
(In English: An accute feeling of anxiety often about the human condition and the world in general. In German: Any kind of fear)

Anschluss - der Anschluss 
(Annexation and occupation of Austria into Nazi Germany in March 1938)

Armband - das Armband 
(A band worn on the arm for decoration purposes)

Aspirin - das Aspirin
(Invented by the German chemist, Felix Hoffmann, in 1899 and patented on 27 February 1900. A medicine used in the relief of headaches and muscle and joint pain)

Autobahn - die Autobahn 
(An expressway/motorway)

Beer garden/Biergarten - der Biergarten 
(An outside drinking establishment where beverages - and food - are served during the summer months)

Bildungsroman - der Bildungsroman
(Literal translation 'novel of education'. Generally referred to as a coming-of-age novel which follows the development of a character from youth to adulthood)

Blitz - der Blitz 
(Literal translation: Lightning. Used in American football when players try to break through the offensive line)

Blitzkrieg/Blitz - der Blitzkrieg 
(A quick, violent military offensive with intensive aerial bombing)

To blitz - blitzen 
(In English: To attack quickly without warning. In German: To flash/sparkle)

Bratwurst - die Bratwurst 
(A type of sausage composed of veal, pork or beef usually grilled and sometimes cooked in broth or beer)

Blutwurst - die Blutwurst 
(Black/blood pudding or blood sausage made by cooking blood or dried blood) 




German Loanwords: C - D

Cobalt - das Kobalt
(A metallic chemical element with a variety of uses)

Dachshund - der Dachshund 
(Literally translated: Badger dog. It is a breed of dog which has a long body and short legs)

Delicatessen - das Delikatessengeschäft 
(A retailer of fine foods)

Diesel - der Dieselmotor 
(Named after the German engineer, Dr. Rudolf Diesel, who produced his first Diesel engine in 1893)

Dirndl - das Dirndl 
(A traditional type of dress worn in Southern Germany and Austria - often seen at the Oktoberfest!)

Doberman Pinscher - der Doberman pinscher 
(A medium to large breed of dog with glossy black and tan coat)

Doppelganger - der Doppelgänger 
(Literally: a 'double-goer' - someone's double)

Dreck - der Dreck 
(Dirt - now more commonly means trashy in English)

Dummkopf - der Dummkopf 
(Derogatory term to describe someone who is stupid)




German Loanwords: E - F

Edelweissdas Edelweiß 
(Literally: 'Noble Whiteness' - A popular star-shaped alpine plant native to Europe covered in white wool-like hairs.)

Erlaubt - erlauben 
(Allow / permit)

Ersatz - der Ersatz 
(Replacement or substitute)

Fahrvergnϋgen - das Fahrvergnϋgen 
(Driving pleasure - made famous by German car manufacturer, Volkswagen, in an advertising campaign in 1990)

Fahrenheit - Fahrenheit 
(A temperature scale developed by and named after the German physicist, Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, 1686 - 1736)

Fest - das Fest 
(A festival)

Föhn / Foehn (wind) - der Föhn 
(A warm, dry wind which blows down the northern slopes of the Alps into South Germany and Austria. Foehn winds can raise temperatures dramatically within a few hours and are often blamed for headaches, backaches and general tension. Also means 'hairdryer' in German)

Frankfurter - Frankfurter Wϋrstchen
(A smooth textured beef or pork sausage originating from Frankfurt in Germany where they were often served in buns, similar to hotdogs)

Fϋhrer- der Fϋhrer 
(Literally means guide or leader in German. However, in non-German speaking countries it is used in reference to Fascist leaders, mainly Hitler)




German Loanwords: G - H

Gastarbeiter - der Gastarbeiter 
(Guest worker. Generally refers to migrant workers who moved to Germany in the 1960/70s in search of work as part of an official guest work scheme)

Gasthaus - das Gasthaus 
(A German-style inn or tavern)

Gauss - das Gauß 
(A unit of measurement, G, of a magnetic field B)

Geigercounter - der Geigerzähler
(A particle detector which measures ionizing radiation)

Geist - der Geist 
(Depending on context can mean mind, ghost or spirit)

Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft - die Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft 
(Literally: community and society. Sociological categories introduced by the German sociologist, Ferdinand Toennies)

Gemϋtlich / Gemϋtlichkeit - die Gemϋtlichkeit 
(Cosiness. More than this though it hints at a sense of belonging, happiness and social acceptance)

Gesundheit - Gesundheit! 
(Literally translated = health. Used in German to say 'bless you')

Glitz / Glitzy - das Glitzern / glitzern
(Glittering/showiness)

Glockenspiel - das Glockenspiel 
(A percussion instrument similar to a xylophone, however, its bars are made of metal plates or tubes, rather than wood)

Gummibear/Gummybear - der Gummibär
(Literally translated: rubber bear. A sweet similar to a jelly baby which originated in Germany in the 1920s)

Hamburger - der Hamburger 
(A cooked ground beef patty placed inside a sliced bread roll. Originates from Hamburg in Germany)

Hamster - der Hamster 
(A short-tailed rodent belonging to the sub-family Cricetinae)

Hausfrau - die Hausfrau 
(Literally: housewife. Used to describe someone whose main interest is in domestic duties)

Hefeweizen - das Hefeweizen 
(Unfiltered wheat beer)

Hertz - das Hertz 
(The SI unit of frequency)

Hinterland - das Hinterland
(Land behind borders of a coast or river)




German Loanwords: I - K

Jawohl - Jawohl 
(Yes, indeed/Yes, sir)

Jugendstil - der Jugendstil
(A style of art and architecture similar to art nouveau popular at the turn of the 20th century)

Kaffeeklatsch / Coffeeklatsch - der Kaffeeklatsch 
(A ladies' afternoon meeting for a chin wag)

Kaiser - der Kaiser 
(Holy Roman Emperors/emperors of Germany and Austria up until 1918)

Kirschwasser - das Kirschwasser 
(Literally: cherry water. A clear fruit brandy made of cherries)

Kaput - Kaputt
(Broken)

Kindergarten - der Kindergarten
(Pre-school for children age 4 - 6)

Kitsch / Kitschy - kitschig 
(Cheap/tacky)

Kohlrabi - der Kohlrabi 
(A type of cabbage)

Konzertmeister - der Konzertmeister 
(Leader of an orchestra and second to the conductor)

Kraut - das Kraut
(A derogatory term used to describe a German. Means 'cabbage' and 'herb' in German)

Kriegspiel - das Kriegspiel 
(Literally: war game. It was originally a system used for training the Prussian Army. It is also a variant of chess)

Kutte - die Kutte 
(A type of vest made out of leather or denim. Normally worn by football fans in Germany)




German Loanwords: L - M

Lebensraum - der Lebensraum
(A living space)

Lederhosen - die Lederhose 
(Leather trousers - typically worn at Oktoberfest)

Leberwurst / Liverwurst- die Leberwurst 
(Pork liver sausage)

Lebkuchen - der Lebkuchen
(A traditional German biscuit baked for Christmas, similar to soft gingerbread)

Leitfaden - der Leitfaden 
(Guidelines)

Leitmotif - das Leitmotiv 
(A recurring theme e.g. in literature, music)

Lied - das Lied 
(A song)

Luftwaffe - die Luftwaffe
(Generic term for air force. It was also the name of two German air forces)

Meister- der Meister 
(A suffix to describe an expert or master)

Mittelschmerz - der Mittelschmerz
(Literally translated 'middle pain' - associated with period pains)

Muesli - das Mϋsli 
(A cereal made from oats, nuts, fruits and often wheat flakes. It was introduced by a Swiss physician, Maximilian Bircher-Benner, in 1900 for patients in his hospital)




German Loanwords: N - O

Neanderthal - das Neandertal 
(A sub or separate species of modern day human beings. Named after Neander Valley near Duesseldorf in Germany. 'Tal' is the Germany word for valley. It was previously spelled 'thal' until a spelling reform in 1901)

Nickel - das Nickel 
(A metallic element used in alloys amongst others. Originates from 'Kupfernickel meaning false nickel due to deceptive copper color of the ore)

Oktoberfest - das Oktoberfest
(A festival held in Munich, Germany, from late September to the first weekend in October that attracts five million people from all over the world each year)



German Loanwords: P - Q

Panzer - der Panzer
(A German tank. It can also refer to armoured military forces, for example panzer divisions/battles.

Poltergeist - der Poltergeist 
(Mischievious, noisy ghost. Comes from the German word 'polter' which means 'to make noise' and 'geist' which means 'spirit')

Pretzel - die Breze/Brezel 
(A baked food made from dough in a knot-type shape. They come in small, large, hard and soft varieties)

Pumpernickel - der Pumpernickel 
(A sour dough rye bread)

Putsch - der Putsch
(A violent attempt to displace a government with another body)




German Loanwords: R - S

Realpolitikdie Realpolitik 
('Politics of reality'. A non-ideological approach to government based on practical and material factors.)

Rollmops - der Rollmops 
(Pickled herring)

Rottweiler - der Rottweiler 
(A medium to large breed of dog which originated from Rottweil in Germany)

Rucksack - der Rucksack 
(A bag with shoulders straps which is carried on one's back)

Sauerbraten - der Sauerbraten
(Literally: sour roast. A marinated roast pot usually made of beef)

Sauerkraut- das Sauerkraut
(Literally: sour cabbage. Shredded cabbage pickled in brine)

Schadenfreude - die Schadenfreude
(Gloating at the misfortunes of others)

Scheisse - Scheiße 
(A swear word meaning ‘shit’, but slightly less vulgar in German than the English equivalent!)

Schlepp - schleppen
(to drag/lug)

Schnapps- der Schnaps
(A distilled alcoholic beverage)

Schnauzer - der Schnauzer 
(A German breed of dog. Comes from 'Schnauze', the German word for 'snout' due to its bearded snout.)

Schnitzel - das Schnitzel 
(A traditional Austrian dish. A thin escalope of meat, usually veal or pork, which is coated in breadcrumbs and then fried)

Spiel - das Spiel 
(Literally: game. In English, it is used to describe a speech/sales pitch which is intended to persuade)

Spitz - der Spitz 
(A breed of dog with thick, long and usually white fur with pointed ears)

Sprachgefϋhl - das Sprachgefϋhl
(A feeling for the correct use of language)

Spritzer - spritzen
(White wine and soda water mixture. Comes from the German word 'spritzen' which mean 'to squirt')

Strudel - der Strudel 
(A layered pastry with usually a sweet filling. The pastry has a swirl-like shape and 'Strudel' in German also means 'swirl')

To swindle/swindler - schwindeln / der Schwindler
(To cheat or defraud. Someone who cheats/defrauds)




German Loanwords: T - U

Über - über
(A word to describe someone who, or something which, is superior; in German it also simply means 'over')

Übermensch - der Übermensch 
(Ideal person / a superman)

Umlaut - der Umlaut
(A mark over a vowel - Ü - to indicate a shift in sound)

Urtext - der Urtext 
(Original version of a text)




German Loanwords: V

Verboten - verboten 
(Banned / Prohibited)

Volkslied - das Volkslied 
(A folk song)

Volksmarch - der Volksmarch 
(Fitness walking)

Volksmusik - die Volksmusik
(Traditional German folk music)

Volkswagen - Volkswagen 
(Literally: people's car. A German automobile company)

Volkswanderung - die Volkswanderung 
(See Volksmarch)

Vorsprung durch Technik - Vorsprung durch Technik
(Literally 'A headstart through technology'. The marketing slogan used by the German car maker, Audi. It was first used in an advertising campaign in the 1970s)




German Loanwords: W - X

Waldsterben - das Waldsterben 
(Literally: dying of the forest. Used to describe the destruction of the rain forest due to environmental pollution)

Waltz- der Waltzer
(A ballroom and folk dance. 'Waltz' comes from the German word 'waltzen' which means to turn around and around)

Wanderlust - die Wanderlust 
(A desire to travel)

Weltanschauung - die Weltanschauung 
(View of the world)

Weltschmerz - der Weltschmerz 
(World pain/a feeling of despair at the world)

Wirtschaftswunder - das Wirtschaftswunder 
(An ecomonic miracle)

Wunderbar - wunderbar 
(Wonderful)

Wunderkind - das Wunderkind 
(A child prodigy)

Wurst - die Wurst 
(Sausage)




German Loanwords: Y - Z

to yodel- jodeln 
(A song-like cry which changes register)

Zeitgeist - der Zeitgeist
(Sign of the times)

Zeppelin - der Zeppelin 
(An airship named after its German inventor, Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin)

Zinc - das Zink 
(A metallic element. It originates from the German word 'zin' which means 'tin')

Zwieback - der Zwieback
(Literally means: twice baked. A crispy sweetened bread)



Fancy some more fun with the German language?

Then visit my ultra long German words section to find out which are Guinness World-Record breakers and which are really used in everyday German.

Can you believe the official longest word contains no less than 80 letters?



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