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

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