frankfurter, wiener and others

Here’s a famous quote attributed to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor:

To God I speak Spanish, to women Italian, to men French, and to my horse — German.

If it were indeed so, the same sentence addressed to the poor animal would be

Spanisch spreche ich mit Gott, Italienisch mit Frauen, Französisch mit Männern und Deutsch mit meinem Pferd.

Slightly different version of this saying was cited by Lomonosov:

Carolus V, Emperor of Rome, was wont to say that the Hispanic tongue was seemly for converse with God, the French with friends, the German with enemies, the Italian with the feminine sex.

Either way, German is not a language to speak with either men or women unless they are enemies.

Although I was learning German in school, and even remember being reasonably good at it, I never got to like it. For me, it always was a language best suitable for enemy. There is logic but no beauty. Südamerikanischer Nasenbär may be more descriptive term than “coati” but it is way too long — and ugly.

Even so, surprisingly large number of German words made it into English orthographically unchanged. Many of these loanwords are quite short, by German standard anyway, or refer to rather complex cultural, philosophical or psychological concepts. For instance, “gestalt” is definitely shorter than “a collection of physical, biological, psychological or symbolic entities that creates a unified concept, configuration or pattern which is greater than the sum of its parts”.

Inevitably, the words such as Anschluss, Führer, Gestapo or Lebensraum will remain intimately linked to (dark pages of) German history. But when we say ester, flak, hamburger or marzipan we don’t even think of German connection. Of course, umlaut is a bit of giveaway — but two small dots are often getting lost, so doppelgänger becomes doppelganger, flügelhorn becomes flugelhorn and so on.


anschauung sense-perception
automat a vending machine for food or drink; a cafeteria consisting of such machines
blitzkrieg a fast, sudden military offensive
dachshund a breed of dog
diktat a harsh penalty or settlement imposed upon a defeated party by the victor; a dogmatic decree
doppelgänger a paranormal double of a living person; a lookalike
eigen- (linear algebra) own
ersatz imitation, especially of an inferior quality
ester an organic compound formed by condensing an oxoacid with an alcohol or phenol (contraction of German word Essigäther, “acetic acid ethyl ester”)
flak antiaircraft gun (German acronym of Fliegerabwehrkanone, “aeroplane defence cannon”)
flügelhorn a brass musical instrument resembling a trumpet
frankfurter a type of sausage (named after Frankfurt; see wiener)
gestalt a whole form
gesundheit bless you
glockenspiel a musical instrument of the percussion family
Götterdämmerung “twilight of the gods”; the apocalypse
hamburger a type of hot sandwich (named after Hamburg)
Kaiser the (Austrian or German) Emperor
kindergarten nursery school
kohlrabi a cultivar of the cabbage
lederhosen knee-breeches made of leather
leitmotiv a recurring theme
lumpenproletariat a social underclass; the riffraff
marzipan a confection of almond paste, sugar and egg white
menarche the onset of menstruation
poltergeist an unseen ghost which makes noises and causes disruption
putsch coup d’état
realpolitik pragmatic international government policy
rucksack backpack
schadenfreude malicious enjoyment derived from observing someone else’s misfortune
schnitzel fried veal cutlet
schwa an indeterminate central vowel sound, represented as /ə/ in IPA, or the character ə
seminar a form of academic instruction or a meeting
spiel a lengthy and extravagant speech or argument usually intended to persuade
strudel a type of pastry
torte a rich cake
über- super-
umwelt environment
weltanschauung worldview
weltschmerz world-weariness
wiener a type of sausage (named after Vienna; see frankfurter)
wunderkind a child prodigy
wolfram tungsten
zeitgeist the spirit of the age
zeitnot time pressure
zwitterion a molecule that carries both a positive and a negative charge

léxico canario para chonis

Whenever you order a cup of coffee (or tea) in Canaries, you have an opportunity to learn a bit of vernacular. The Canarian company, Café Ortega, came up with a brilliant idea: to put Canarian words (canarismos) where they are least expected… on sugar sachets. I don’t take sugar with my hot drinks, but when I saw a sachet with the word zumbadera on it, I just had to take action. And when I say action, I mean a bit of internet research. Luckily for me, some people not only collect sugar sachets, but share their treasures with the world. Adriana, a schoolgirl and a budding sucrologist from Gran Canaria, did just that. I used many of the words from her collection in the table below.

Mind you, these sugar-sachet definitions of canarismos can be tricky, and not just for chonis (foreign tourists) but for the Spanish speakers too. For example, matraquilla is defined as “pesado con idea fija, obsesión, guineo”. Guineo? In Collins Spanish-English Dictionary, guineo means “banana”. But according to Léxico Canario y Palabras Canarias guide, guineo means “repetitive talk” or “nonsense”. Or take mago: “campurrio, maúro, hombre del campo” — both campurrio and maúro are Canarian words themselves.

Spanish Wikipedia classifies canarismos as follows:

  • Derived from Spanish or its dialects
  • Derived from old Castilian, or archaisms
  • Derived from other languages

The latter include those “borrowed” from Guanche language, for instance baifo, gofio, or tabaiba; Portuguese, such as margullar or millo; and English, e.g. bisne (business), fonil (funnel) or quinegua (King Edward potato).

aboyado harto de comer, lleno hasta reventar
ahuevado con forma esférica o de huevo
alongarse asomarse, proyectar el busto hacia adelante
arrente a ras, próximo a, seguido de
baifo cabrito
baña barriga, chicha, gordura
belingo fiesta, jolgorio
bembas labios (generalmente gruesos)
bisne negocio de carácter trapisondista
bochinche cafetín, taberna, cantina
cachimba pipa para fumar tabaco
cachorro sombrero que usa el canario
cambado curvado, torcido, doblado
cartucho bolsa de papel para envolver
chispar lloviznar, llover ligeramente
choni turista extranjero, guiri
destupir desatascar, dejar libre el paso de una corriente del agua
encabronarse irritarse, ponerse furioso
enyesque tapa, pequeña porción de alimento para acompañar la bebida
escoñar estropear, dejar algo inservible
escobillón el cepillo de barrer
fañoso que habla con pronunciación nasal, constipado, resfriado
farruco bravucón, matón
fechillo cerrojo, pasador para cerrar puertas y ventanas
fonil embudo
fósforo cerilla
jalar tirar de algo con la mano
jeito maña, habilidad
jeringarse fastidiarse, conformarse
jocico boca, principalmente de animal aunque también se usa para personas
liña cuerdas para tender la ropa
mago campurrio, maúro, hombre del campo
magua pena, desconsuelo, añoranza
majada golpe (normalmente en las manos)
margullar bucear, sumergirse
matraquilla pesado con idea fija, obsesión, guineo
molido cansado
ñoños dedos de los pies
partigazo tortazo contra el suelo, peñazo
pastuño excremento de animal o persona
pelete frío
queque bizcocho (postre)
quinegua tipo de papa (proviene del inglés King Edward)
raña sucio, encachazado
rayar anotar puntos de la partida “arrayar”
rodarse desplazarse hacia un lado
rosca palomita de maíz
ruín 1. Se dice del niño muy travieso, inquieto y revoltoso. 2. Se dice de los alimentos con mal sabor.
sancochado hervido, guisado
solajero sol muy fuerte
sopladera globo
tangonazo beber de un golpe, lingotazo
templadera borrachera
tenderete fiesta, reunión de gente divirtiéndose
tenique piedra grande
tolete lerdo, torpe
tonga pila o porción de cosas apiladas en orden
ventorrillo quiosco de feria de comidas y bebidas
verguilla alambre de hierro
zarandajo informal, persona en la que no se puede confiar
zumbadera aturdimiento, atontamiento