As the German news site Spiegel-Online just announced, a committee of public representatives ranging from a popular comedian to the editor of the most prominent dictionary have determined their favourite words with a foreign root in the German language. The following winners rose to the top among approximately 3500 submissions:
- Tollpatsch (Hungarian) – A less than capable person.
- Currywurst (Tamil, Portuguese and English) – A hot dog with curry and ketchup, essentially. The other German street food after a Döner.
- Engel – An angle… that was easy to translate…
- Milchschake (English) – Anglophones, marvel at the spelling!
- Chaos – A great word in any language.
With some moderate feeling of patriotic pride I must of course complement this list with German words that made it into daily use in the US (where I live). Here are a few that keep crossing my paths in the daily newspaper and elsewhere:
- blitzkrieg – war conducted with great speed and force
- doppelganger – a ghostly counterpart of a living person, double, alter ego
- dreck – trash, rubbish
- gesundheit – used to wish good health especially to one who has just sneezed
- kaputt – utterly finished, defeated, or destroyed, unable to function, hopelessly outmoded
- a mensch – a person of integrity and honor
- to schlepp – to proceed or move especially slowly, tediously, awkwardly, or carelessly
- verfremdung – distancing, alienation
- verklempt – choked with emotion
- zeitgeist – the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era
While all of these have their origin in the German language, it is interesting to note that some of them made their way into their use here through Yiddish, a language that is a combination of German, Hebrew (Ashkenazi) and Slavic languages. If you’d like to know more about this language, check out the National Yiddish Book Center just down the road from Amherst, MA at Hampshire College.
If you know of more words, feel free to send them as a comment below.