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Compound Words #4: Programmierzeug

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welcome to my forth post on German compound words. I'm back from my Kurzurlaub (short holiday, m) to Dresden. Yay.

For this week I want to talk about the German words that end with -zeug. I originally planned to talk about compound verbs, but I lack a good example for the moment. So this must wait for a bit.

So this weeks word is:

(das) Programmierzeug

It's the second featured word that I encountered in my everday life. So some context: I work as a programmer - so programming is what I do the whole day at work. I have a bunch of things that help me at that: A bunch of folders where I note some details about programming languages and the systems that I'm working on, a stack of paper where I sometimes do math stuff and a Taschenrechner (pocket-calculator... or just calculator in English, m).

The word was made up by my boss one day. We decided to start a quick meeting with some other colleagues after we discussed something in the hallway. I had to go to my desk to get said folder with my notes. I heard my boss say to some of my colleagues:

"Wir müssen nur eben kurz auf Lilly warten. Die holt noch ihr Programmierzeug." (We have to wait a bit for Lilly. She is getting her programming-stuff.)

Soo... Programmierzeug is a compound word consisting of programmieren (to program) and (das) Zeug (stuff). It basicly means 'the collection of things that are used to program or that help you with programming'. He used it because it wasn't important what kind of things I get, only what purpose they serve.

This pattern is quite usual in German. We have a lot of words that are a combination of a verb and -zeug:

  • nähen (to sew) + (das) Zeug = (das) Nähzeug (sewing kit)
  • stricken (to knit) + (das) Zeug = (das) Strickzeug (the things you use to knit)
  • flicken (to patch a tyre) + (das) Zeug = (das) Flickzeug (the things you need to patch a tyre)
  • reiten (to ride a horse) + (das) Zeug = (das) Reitzeug (the things you need to ride a horse (or another animal that you can ride))
  • (der) Zaum (the bridle) + (das) Zeug = (das) Zaumzeug (...this also means bridle, basicly any equipment you use to control a horse)
  • waschen (to wash) + (das) Zeug = (das) Waschzeug (the things you use to wash yourself, this is typically used if you pack your bags for a trip, e.g. toothbrush, shampoo, comb, ...)
  • drehen (to assemble a cigaret (or to spin, but that's not meant here)) + (das) Zeug = (das) Drehzeug (the things you use to assemble a cigaret: filter, tabacco and paper... maybe more, I don't smoke...)
  • (das) Bett (the bed) + (das) Zeug = (das) Bettzeug (sheets and duvet/pillow covers)
  • schlafen (to sleep) + (das) Zeug = (das) Schlafzeug / Schlafenszeug (all the things that 'help' you sleeping, e.g. pyjama, pillows, stuffed animals,...)
  • (die) Schule (the school) + (das) Zeug = (das) Schulzeug (the things that a pupil needs for the school, e.g. paper, pens, books, ...)
  • (der) Verband (the bandage) + (das) Zeug = (das) Verbandszeug (a collection of medical things you need to patch small wounds, e.g. bandages, plaster)
  • spielen (to play) + (das) Zeug = (das) Spielzeug (the toy or a collection of toys)

But Zeug is a bit more complicated than that, because the meaning changed a bit over time. Did you notice that Spielzeug can mean either a collection of toys or just one toy in particular? That's because Zeug used to mean something like equipment in the past. A set of specialised equipment or machinery that are used for a specific task and that normal people wouldn't necessarily understand. Today it means just a collection of items, it lost this touch of specialisation over time.

This explains that some words that end with -zeug don't mean a set of items, but just one item in particular that is used for the given task:

  • fahren (to drive) + (das) Zeug = (das) Fahrzeug (a vehicle, something that drives)
  • fliegen (to fly) + (das) Zeug = (das) Flugzeug (most likely a plane, but it can also mean anything that flies, e.g. a hot-air balloon (der Heißluftballon) or a zeppelin (der Zeppelin) - but most likely a plane, because we don't have another word for planes)
  • werken (to craft) + (das) Zeug = (das) Werkzeug (a tool or a collection of tools)
  • (das) Feuer (the fire) + (das) Zeug = (das) Feuerzeug (a lighter, this cannot mean 'anything that you can use to make fire', it's always a lighter)
  • schlagen (to beat) + (das) Zeug = (das) Schlagzeug (drums)

To make it more complicated: sometimes Zeug can be derogatory, especially when you simply use Zeug to describe a set of items:

  • "Räum dein Zeug auf!" (Tidy up your stuff!)
  • "Du redest immer nur dummes Zeug." (You always say stupid things.)
  • "Was ist das für ein ekliges Zeug?" (What kind of disgusting stuff is that?)
  • (der) Dreck (the dirt/filth) + (das) Zeug = (das) Dreckszeug (any items that annoy you)
  • (das) Vieh (animals, derogatory) + (das) Zeug = (das) Viehzeug (animals that annoy you, especially insects or pest)
  • grün (green) + (das) Zeug = (das) Grünzeug (vegetables that you don't like to eat, or useless plants that annoy you or just plants in general... non-derogatory)

There are some old words that show the old equipment-meaning of Zeug:

  • der Zeugwart/die Zeugwärtin (the 'equiment-supervisor', a person that manages the equipment of an organisation, afaik football-clubs usually have a Zeugwart)
  • das Zeughaus (the arsenal-building, afaik the term is still used in Switzerland, but in Germany we use das Arsenal instead)

As a small task for you: You could either create your own -zeug-term or you could try to guess the meaning of Wickelzeug or Badezeug. :)

Regarding last weeks post: It appears that the link to the Genial Daneben show is geoblocked, so it only works if your IP is a German one. I'm sorry about that. There are ways to bypass this, but I don't know if that is legal or not.^^

There are some uploads on youtube, but they're old and audio-only. Bummer.

I feel like I should provide some other German shows instead. So... do you know the Rocket Beans? They are a small online tv channel with a strong focus on gaming. For example I like their pen and paper-shows like 9/11- Animal Squad or Marriton Manor. (Warning: It has no subtitles and rather informal language. You may need to be pretty fluent to get into it.)

April 7, 2018



Thanks so much for the great list. I especially like these -zeug compounds because they mostly just take the root (Fahr-, Werk-, Schlag-, etc) and add the -zeug: das Fahrzeug. You don't have to agonize too much over what to put between the two roots.

Duo likes the -zeug compounds too because we have a whole lesson about them, but you take it to a whole new level. Gut gemacht!

My candidate for a new -zeug compound: Eulezeug, stuff related to the Duo owl :)


Thank you. :)

Well, Eulenzeug needs the Fugenlaut. I think Eule is one of the words where the Fugenlaut is always added.


Ah, thanks! So I did a little digging and now I know it's like "der Eulenspiegel" (lit. owlglass; prankster, after Till Eulenspiegel) or "die Eulenspiegelei" (fried egg, sunny-side-up; lit. owlglass egg).

Owls do seem to get around in German. This isn't a compound word, but it's a fun expression: Eulen nach Athen tragen: carry coals to Newcastle; lit. carry owls to Athens.


Another usages of owls that come to my mind are:

Someone who always goes to bed late and sleeps through the noon is described as an owl or as an owl-type. As opposed to a lark (die Lerche) or lark-type (Lerchentyp).

Some of my teachers liked to use "to look (at something) like an owl", meaning "looking surprised, with the eyes wide open".

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