International words used in German

In German, most loanwords are of Latin, Greek, French or English origin, but there are lots of words from other languages as well. Here are some of them:

  • die Aktie: share/stock

example: Oma hat all ihre Aktien verkauft - Grandma has sold all her shares

origin: from the Dutch actie, originally from legal Latin actio (action/process/lawsuit)

  • die Apfelsine: orange

example: Apfelsinen mag ich lieber als Zitronen = I prefer oranges to lemons

origin: from the Dutch appelsien (sinaasappel is more common in contemporary Dutch) via Low German appelsina

Apfelsine is an alternative (Northern German) word for the more common Orange.

  • die Datsche/Datscha: a simple vacation/weekend cottage

example: Wir verbringen die meisten Wochenenden in unserer Datscha = We spend most weekends at our weekend cottage

origin: from the Russian дача

This word is/was mainly used in East Germany.

  • der Dolmetscher/die Dolmetscherin: interpreter

example: Sie arbeitet als Dolmetscherin für das Europäische Parlament = She works as an interpreter for the European Parliament

origin: from the Proto-Turkic tilmaç (interpreter) via Sorbian tolmač (interpreter)

  • das Kaff: one-horse town/small, insignificant village (pejorative)

example: Warum wohnst du immer noch in diesem Kaff? = Why are you still living in this one-horse town?

origin: from the Romani gaw (village) via Rotwelsch or from the Hebrew כפר (village) via Yiddish‎

  • nicht ganz koscher: fishy/not quite kosher

example: Der Typ ist mir nicht ganz koscher = There's something fishy about that guy

origin: from the Hebrew כשר via Yiddish כּשר‎

(also used in its original sense)

  • der Mais: corn/maize

example: Mais ist eine wichtige Feldfrucht = Corn is an important crop

origin: from the Tahino mahiz via Spanish maíz

  • die Pampa: the middle of nowhere

example: Wir wohnen (mitten) in der Pampa = We live in the middle of nowhere

origin: from the Quechua pampa (plain) via Spanish las pampas (South American lowlands in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay)

  • in petto haben: have a card up one's sleeve/in store

example: Er hat immer etwas in petto = He always has a card up his sleeve

origin: from 18th-century Italian avere in petto

  • der Saldo: account balance

example: Der Geldautomat zeigt den Saldo an = The ATM is showing the account balance

origin: from the Italian saldo (balance)

  • der Seetang/der Tang: seaweed

example: Seetang bezeichnet Algen im Meer = Seaweed refers to algae in the sea

origin: from the Danish/Norwegian/Swedish tang/tång

You'll also find that many loanwords borrowed by the English language are used in German as well.

Can you think of any other not so obvious examples?

January 10, 2019


die Gurke: cucumber - from Slavic languages (Polish ogórek), originally probably from Old Persian

January 10, 2019

Thank you for the list Christian! This is awesome! :D

Die Pampa is my favorite. What is your's?

January 11, 2019

I like jiddisch words because of the ambivalent meanings and the history. But it´s hard to find suitable translations.

  • meschugge (crazy), maloche (hard work), schmock (abusive for an arrogant person) , tacheles (talking straight)
January 11, 2019

Oooh it's schmock, I always thought it was like German Schmuck which means jewelry and that makes no sense.

January 11, 2019

It's even funnier to discover Yiddish in American slang, especially in TV shows placed in New York.

"to be a Mensch" (=menschlich sein)
"alte kaker" (= alter Kacker

Though I'm not sure if it didn't enter via plain German, I have the impression if a loanword is funny it has to be Yiddish otherwise German.

January 12, 2019

my favorite loanword is Kartoffel = potato which derives from Italian "Tartufolo" meaning "truffle" (both from Latin"terrae tuber")

January 12, 2019

Empfehlung: KLUGE, Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache, Verlag Walter de Gruyter.

January 11, 2019

In Austrian German there is a word Powidl, which means a kind of a plum jam. The word comes from Czech povidla (also Polish powidła). In Germany the word Pflaumenmus is used instead.

January 12, 2019

Some of thoes words are not used everywhere in Germany, like Apfelsine or Datscha.

Kaff can also be used as Kuhkaff (Cow Village). It means a remote countryside small village.

Er lebt in irgendeinem Kuhkaff. - He lives in some cow village.

January 11, 2019

'Tilmaç' surprised me as a Turkish speaker. I've never heard of it though. It probably comes from 'dil' (language, tongue).

January 11, 2019

Auf Deutsch: "Dolmetsch". Vielleicht kommt das von einem alten türkischen Wort, das heute nicht mehr verwendet sird.

January 11, 2019

I wonder if more and more new Turkish words will be introduced into spoken German in the near future.

January 11, 2019

Thats still the case, mainly in the Younger generation. An example would be Lan (Buddy), Baba/Babo (Group-/Gangleader or simple the boss) or Ot (weed)

January 11, 2019

In Hungarian: tolmács :)

January 12, 2019

Fenster, Möbel, Teppich all come from French. Fenêtre, meuble et tapis are the equivalents.

January 11, 2019

"Fenster" comes from the Latin "fenestra".

January 12, 2019

Sure does, just like in French. But do you think it entered German via French or Latin?

January 13, 2019

Via Latin. It entered the German language (Old High German) in the 8th century, way before any French loanwords started to appear in German.

January 13, 2019

another jewish/jiddish one: Pleite gehen (becoming broke, loosing all your money)

January 11, 2019

During one visit to Germany, I heard an elevator referred to as a Paternoster, which has to be Latin.

January 12, 2019

Right. If you get into a paternoster lift, you'd better pray you get out safe and sound :)

There are only a handful of those left though. I've never seen one in real life though.

January 12, 2019

There's one in the Stuttgart city hall if I remember correctly. I "rode" it in 2014.

January 12, 2019

I thought it was in reference to prayer beads that go round and round in your hand the way the cabins in a "Paternoster" go round and round on their chain.

January 16, 2019

Straße / "street" are both such basic words that it's hard to believe that they are loan words from Latin -- via strata was a paved road.

I suppose the Romans brought paved roads to the Germans and English :)

January 16, 2019

Grenze and Quark are from Slavic (compare Polish granica, twaróg).

January 16, 2019

Thanks for sharing

January 11, 2019

While it's noteworthy that a lot of International words in German came wholly absorbed after WWII ("das Internet") there has been a lot of give and take among the Germanic languages since, well, the Romans started calling anyone north of the Danube and east of the Rhine "German."

The proto-Germanic language group, which includes all of Scandinavia, Netherlands and of course English, is an off-shoot of Indo-European. As is Celtic (whose home is not England, but central and southern Europe). Both of these groups came from the east, probably the Caucasus area (which also spawned Hittite, Greek, Russian, Farsi and Hindustani/Urdu), and on their travels west were separated north and south by the Carpathian mountains.

The northern branch turned into Slavic and early Norse, eventually becoming "Germanic" while the southern part, which really took over much of Europe south of the Baltic, turned into Celtic. Eventually these meshed to the point of Celtic disappearance. The proto-Germans also gobbled up a lot of Latin words because of trade + war of course, so that English is an off-shoot of Latin and Gaulic Latin, but also Germanic groups like the Angles, the Saxons, Frisians, etc.

Granted, this overly simplified, but I think sheds a bit more light on what is really "international" about German.

Also, I know your post is intended for German, but the History of English podcast by Kevin Stroud is fantastic and spends a lot of important time on proto-German history.

Also, here's an interesting map:

January 11, 2019

so would you accept "Anorak" (stolen/adopted from the Inuit) as an international word ;-)

Btw, good explanation of the language travels. I suppose it would bother the white supremacists to know that the aryans originated in India :-)

January 12, 2019

I thought it originates in Persia. Doesn't "Iran" mean "Land of the Aryans" ?

Actually linuistics and racism are connected here. The Indo-European connection was discovered at the peak of imperialism when Europe controlled most of the world via it's colonies. Aryan became a synonym for indo-european, so many colonialists took it as a proof of a master race which is entitled to rule the world.

They didn't take into account that "ethnicity" isn't well reflected by liguistics.

BTW: There is a similar reason why "whites" are labled Caucassians in the US.

see also for entertainment

Ben Franklin On "Stupid, Swarthy Germans"

January 12, 2019

one would hope. Hilarious how a bigot's pretzel logic bends and twists around the historical record without actually touching it.

January 12, 2019

thanks for the information

January 11, 2019

Just wanted to quickly point out a typo. You missed the "l" in der Dolmetscher

January 12, 2019


January 12, 2019
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