One of the wonderful things about language, in my opinion, is how flexible it is. Languages borrow words from other languages all the time, making the way we speak and write a beautiful hodge-podge (mixture) of different slang, verbs, and nouns. While English definitely borrows (takes, uses) some words from German, there are quite a few English words used in German, too. A lot of them keep the same meaning, like when my friends ask me if I’ll joinen (join) them for something, but sometimes the meaning changes somewhat.
Naturally, the Germans have a word for this phenomenon, too: eingedeutscht.
Here are eight of our favorite English words used in German that have changed their meaning and do not mean the same in English anymore.
Do you know any Germans who talk about their Handy? If you’re not sure what this word means, it’s quite an easy one. A Handy is, quite simply, a cell phone.
In English, we just call our mobile phones our “phones”, as it’s not really necessary anymore to say “smartphone” or “cell / mobile” first. Handy, the English word, does in fact have an English origin. It comes from Motorola’s Handie-Talkie from the 1940s, which American GIs carried in Germany during World War II.
When I first came to Germany and someone asked me if I would like to be a part of a Shooting, I have to say I was a little concerned (worried) about what they meant. The German version of this word is completely harmless compared to the English counterpart that refers to when someone shoots a gun someplace.
If someone asks you if you’d like to take part in a Shooting, they’re simply asking if you’d like to be in a photo shoot. I would recommend saying yes, as Shootings, in German, can be a lot of fun!
What I think of when I hear the word Oldtimer is probably very different, but a little similar, to what a German thinks of when they hear the same word.
When I hear old timer used in English, I think of the slang word for an elderly (old) person. When a German hears Oldtimer, they’re thinking of a classic car. Maybe one day you’ll see an old timer driving an Oldtimer.
Remember what I was saying earlier about language being fluid and flexible? Well, in my personal language (the way I speak and the words I use on a daily basis), I’ve become more flexible since living in Germany. So even if I’m speaking English, as (since, because) I’ve picked up little bits and bobs of German words, I sometimes throw them into my English sentences. I know Crystal would agree with me, but there are times when I even think of the German word faster than the English word! Crazy, huh??
One of these words for me is Beamer.
I have a Beamer in my house, and we talk about it all the time. We refer to it as a beamer, and that is now what I’ve learned this object to be. It’s very nice to curl up on the couch on a Sunday night and watch movies on it. Do you know what word I’m talking about? In English, a Beamer is a projector. Pretty nice, right?
If you tell someone in English that you have a beamer, they will automatically think you are the proud owner of a BMW!! We call cars made by BMW, beamers.
Reading the word Mobbing, does an image pop up in your head of an angry mob (crowd, group of aggressive people) with pitchforks and torches? Me, too. While the general idea is similar, a victim of Mobbing in German is a little less Disney villain-esque.
If your child comes home from school complaining about Mobbing, look into what they’re talking about, because Mobbing is bullying in English.
A student of mine once told me that he was going to a fancy work event and had to try on his Smoking. No, he wasn’t practicing smoking cigarettes to see if it looked cool, but rather was trying on his tuxedo to see if it still fit. Yes, we do have a smoking jacket in English that is either actually used for smoking or for very special occasions, but what you probably mean, 90% of the time, is a suit or a tux jacket.
This is another word that I find myself using quite often when I’m speaking English nowadays, despite knowing that it’s not exactly correct. Sometimes on a Saturday morning I’ll ask my boyfriend where his Box is. I’m not looking for that leftover box of takeaway, and I’m not looking for a moving box. Any ideas?
When I ask him where his Box is, I’m looking for his portable Bluetooth speaker so that I can play some music. Kinda funny, right?
If you spend a long enough time in Germany, you’re going to start noticing a lot of English being spoken. Germans love taking English words and using them themselves, so English definitely isn’t the only language that steals from others.
Now that you’ve read some of our favorite English words used in German, click on some of our past blogs if you wanna (want to) see which words English borrows from Spanish, German, Yiddish, or French!
Did we miss any English words used in German that you know? Let us know what they are in the comments below!
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Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, a blogger, a yoga instructor, and finds it to be such an advantage to “live” in two languages fluently -perhaps TOO fluently, sometimes!!