20 German Words that English Stole

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English is believed to contribute the most to the world vocabulary due to its multiple technological and social innovations. However, it is worth noting that German, being the language of intense philosophical thought and cultural abundance, has also supplied English with a great number of fascinating words and concepts.

Here I will talk about 20 German words that are commonly used in the English language. Los geht’s!


Yeah, the good old kindergarten.

I don’t even want to stop here as this word probably popped into your head right as you read the title of the article. Kindergartens are wonderful places with many kids and only one garden. This is where you probably learned to read, the skill you are using right now! Let’s move on.


In German die Angst simply means fear. However, in English it is not that straightforward. You might feel angst before your exams or after them. Angst is something you can develop if you have not been accepted to college or if your favorite pet got sick.

Angst is a feeling of anxiety and concern. Sometimes English-style angst is just a part of life.


You’ve got this! You are ubersome! – These are the words you might hear from your friend before an important interview. Being uber without Umlaut something is usually a good thing. If you are going to college, you probably want to get uberhigh grades and at the same time be uberpopular.

In German “uber” means simply over. However, English speakers decided this word was not given enough credit in its native language and broadened its usage exponentially. From a synonym of super, to a global transportation company.


Braten means to fry, while Wurst is sausage. People all over the world enjoy a good Bratwurst with some Schnitzel. I do not want to extrapolate on this topic, as it is bound to make you hungry, and we still have 16 words to go!


This term has to do with philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Because none of the English translations could precisely capture the volatile nature of this concept, preserving the German variant turned out to be the only reasonable alternative.

Poor Nietzsche himself became a victim of distorted interpretation of his philosophy. He was talking about the crisis of humanity in a godless society and the necessity to become an ubermensch, or a person that can set their moral values and does not need religious guidance. However, Hitler and Nazis perverted this idea to serve their ideology. 


When something is kaput, it is either broken or useless. It is a funny word indeed, having migrated into many languages. So, don’t drop your phone while reading this article, or it will become kaput.


If you have ever watched the news and felt an aching feeling inside, it was probably sympathy. However, if at the same time you started thinking about the future of humanity with all the world’s pain and injustice, you probably touched upon something deeper, namely, Weltschmerz.

Welt in German means the world, Schmerz means pain. People who are capable of feeling the world pain tend to be very profound thinkers.


You probably had that highbrow friend who once called your favorite painting kitsch. He is probably not your friend anymore. He thinks your favorite painting is lowbrow.

What exactly is so offensive about this word? Nothing really, but if you want to come off as sophisticated, just call all art with a clearly identifiable message kitsch, and pretend that you can grasp some sort of meaning in that boring and obscure painting which your friend so passionately admires.

9. Zeitgeist

The Zeitgeist is that of uncertainty, rapid changes and political unrest. Zeit in German means time and Geist – a ghost or a spirit. So, you guessed it, Zeitgeist is a fancy way of saying the spirit of the time.

If you want to become an author, it is of pivotal importance for you to portray the zeitgeist of the novel accurately and vividly. Zeitgeist is the general mood and attitude of people towards their lives and the world events that permeate the fabric of society.

10. Bildungsroman

Where are you, my lovely literature majors? I bet you can rattle on and on about this type of novel. Bildungsroman or coming of age to use a less sophisticated name, is a novel that revolves around the issues of growing up, understanding yourself and your place on the society canvas.

Bildung stands for education or formation and Roman for novel.  As a teenager I especially admired “The Catcher in the Rye” which is a prime example of Bildungsroman.

11. Schadenfreude

You know, people are not perfect. Sometimes when they see you struggling with two jobs while trying to get your degree, they might feel a bit Schadenfreude. This is a feeling of intense relief and guilty happiness when seeing somebody in dire straits and realizing that you are not like them.

I get this feeling watching people go to work in the rain while I get to stay home, drink coffee and enjoy the nice warmth of the heater. Some might argue this feeling is pathetic. I would say, it is just a part of being human.

12. Doppelganger

Some people believe that we all have a doppelganger. Some celebrities use doppelgangers to substitute them in their busy schedule. Seeing your own doppelganger can be both creepy and exciting. So, who is he (or she)?

Doppelgangers or double goers are people who look exactly like you, or like your friend, or like some famous person. So, do not be so sure that you saw me at that bar yesterday. It could have just been my doppelganger.

13. Poltergeist

You are watching a horror movie and suddenly hear something scratching from the outside of your room? You wake up in the middle of the night from the sudden smashing of your favorite cup? Probably it’s time to call the Ghostbusters.

The word Poltergeist comes from two German words: poltern which means to crash and Geist which is a ghost. So, it is literally a ghost that will crash everything around your house. Beware!

14. Realpolitik

The world of politics is often grimed with scandalous connections and revelations. It just happens so that politicians engage in Realpolitik instead of working to find solutions. What is realpolitik?

Well, when pragmatism supersedes the ethics of office, that’s realpolitik. Despite the US’ hatred of communism in the 1970’s and the ethical questions surrounding Mao Zedong, Richard Nixon helped open up trade negotiations between the US and China. This is an example of realpolitik.

15. Wunderkind

You probably had that kid at school. The one who seems to know everything before the teacher even opens their mouth. That kid was probably a Wunderkind or a wonder child. Teachers love them.

16. Rucksack

You probably have a favorite rucksack for camping. It is really big, bigger than your school backpack. Sometimes you feel that if you fall on your back, you won’t be able to stand back up.

However, in German rucksack is your normal backpack. English incorporated this word with a slight slant in meaning. In English rucksacks are bulky and heavy, used mostly for outside or even military activities.

17. Blitzkrieg

As you know probably know from history, blitzkrieg is a form of warfare, whereby a short, but intense attack is launched with a goal to gain quick victory. However, did you know that the word “Blitz” means “lightening” and the word “Krieg” – war in German?

This adds an idiomatic hue to this already beautiful word. If you want a rapid conquest, you need to strike your enemy like lightening.

18. Gemutlichkeit

There is nothing better than a cozy warm evening at the fireplace after a strenuous day of work. Especially if your family or friends are around, filling your heart with a sense of connectedness. This is what Gemutlichkeit feels like.

Gemutlichkeit is a prerequisite of happy, fulfilled life. In order to attain this feeling you need to call your friends/family/partner, get a blanket and light the fire.

19. Flak

Flak in German is short for Flugzeugabwehrkanone. Yay for the German language and its celebrated longevity! Actually the translation is anti-aircraft gun/unit. It has retained the same meaning in English; however, it can also indicate strong blame or criticism. Thus, English took this cute short word for a deadly machine and smartly extended its meaning.

20. Wanderlust

Have you ever felt constrained by your whereabouts? Feeling that there is something out there that can excite you, something that can pull away the veil of mundane activities and engulf you in a new experience? Maybe, that is the intense Wanderlust that you experience.

Humanity has always been driven ahead by people’s curiosity and desire to explore new things. Wanderlust can inspire you, but it can also depress you if you are unable to wander around the globe as much as your heart desires.

In any case, travelling is the best way to learn. If one day your Wanderlust will prod you into visiting Germany, you can already brag about your knowledge of 20 German words that found their way into English. 

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