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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Seven English words Germans get delightfully wrong

As much as English-speakers might feel insecure about their Deutsch skills when faced with Germans' comparatively widespread grasp of English, Germans themselves often mess up English - in some pretty hilarious ways.

Seven English words Germans get delightfully wrong
Photo: DPA.

The mutual exchange of the German and English languages have led to such great developments as Anglos saying Doppelgänger or Wanderlust – and of course the wonder of Denglisch.

READ ALSO: Could Denglisch one day kill of English?

But there are some English words that Germans have adopted into their vernacular – and then proceeded to mutate their meanings beyond recognition.

The Local brings you some of these often absurd mix-ups.

1. Bodybag

Photos: CJ Baker / Flickr Creative Commons. Wikimedia Commons.

What to English-speakers means the sack in which one sticks a corpse is actually to Germans something entirely different.

Google Bodybag in Germany and police might not find your search history suspicious at all, thinking you were just looking for a hip new messenger bag, rather than finding somewhere to stash your latest victim.

2. Public Viewing

Photos: Templar52 / Wikimedia Commons. AxelHH / Wikimedia Commons.

Another quite grim misuse of English is the term Public Viewing.

When grandmother dies in the English-speaking world, you might be invited to her public viewing to say your last goodbyes before she’s buried.

But in Germany, getting an invitation to a Public Viewing means donning more colourful attire than black. The term actually refers to a public broadcast of a sports match or other big event.

3. Shitstorm

Photos: Screengrab from Bild. Christopher Warren / Flickr Creative Commons.

True, at times “shitstorm” may be the only apt way to describe a horribly messed up or controversial situation in English. But while the word fits well in banter among friends, it’s certainly not a word to use in polite conversation or in any formal setting.

That’s not the case in Germany. Shitstorm is a favourite phrase among mainstream, daytime news broadcasters, as well as tabloids like Bild and even the nation’s most respected publications like Der Spiegel.

The word was even dubbed the “best English gift to the German language” in 2012 as the Anglicism of the Year by a group of language experts.

4. Streetworkers

Photos: Tomas Castelazo / Wikimedia Commons. DPA.

In English, if someone is “working the streets”, they are certainly doing social outreach of some sort, but probably not what Germans have in mind. You might also understandably think the term refers to people who perform road repairs.

But a Streetworker in Germany is a social worker who conducts outreach programmes with people who otherwise may not receive health services, such as homeless people, drug addicts or youth members of gangs.

While in English the phrase “street worker” could also sometimes refer to social workers, English-speakers may more commonly assume the term refers to prostitutes, especially since it sounds a lot like “streetwalker”.

5. Castingshow

Oliver Geissen presents talent show Deutschland sucht den Superstar. Photo: DPA.

This Anglicism actually does make literal sense, though it may still be a head-scratcher for native English speakers.

In German, a Castingshow is any sort of talent show where people audition and compete as singers, dancers, models or otherwise – like American Idol or Next Top Model.

English-speakers would tend to call these kinds of programmes reality shows, but what’s the point in correcting Germans now?

6. Smoking

Photos: DPA.

Germans are known for their excessively long words, but sometimes – surprisingly – they will take English words and simplify them into something that doesn’t quite make sense to Anglos.

That’s apparently how the German word Smoking came to be, meaning a tuxedo or formal dinner jacket, not the act of puffing on a cigarette.

DON’T MISS: Ten of the longest words in German

The English term “smoking jacket” actually refers to jackets worn while smoking tobacco, though these garments were traditionally made from velvet or silk.

7. Beamer

Photos: DPA.

If a German friend starts bragging about their nice new Beamer, don’t get too excited for them – it’s not a brand new BMW.

The word actually means projector in German and is derived from the English word beam, as in beam of light.

So when said friend invites you over to check out the Beamer, bringing popcorn is perhaps more advisable than getting ready for a joyride along the Autobahn.

For all The Local’s guides to learning German CLICK HERE

 

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GERMAN LANGUAGE

10 ways to express surprise in German

From woodland fairies to whistling pigs, the German language has a colourful variety of phrases to express surprise.

10 ways to express surprise in German

1. Alter Schwede!

You may recognise this phrase from the cheese aisle at the supermarket, but it’s also a popular expression in Germany for communicating surprise. 

The phrase, which means “old Swede” comes from the 17th century when King Frederick William enlisted the help of experienced Swedish soldiers to fight in the Thirty Years’ War.

Because of their outstanding performance in battle, the Swedish soldiers became popular and respected among the Prussians, and they were respectfully addressed as “Old Swede”. Over the last three hundred years, the phrase developed into one to convey awed astonishment. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day – Alter Schwede

2. Holla, die Waldfee!

This curious expression literally means “Holla, the wood fairy”. It can be used both as an exclamation of astonishment and to insinuate that something is ridiculous.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Mareike Graepel

There are various explanations as to how the forest fairy made it into the German lexicon. Some say that it comes from the Grimm’s fairy tale “Frau Holle,” while others say it comes from an old song called “Shoo, shoo, the forest fairy!”

READ ALSO: 10 words and phrases that will make you sound like a true German

3. Das ist ja ein dicker Hund!

Literally meaning “that is indeed a fat dog!” this expression of surprise presumably originates from a time in the past when German dogs were generally on the thinner side.

4. Ich glaube, ich spinne!

The origin of this expression is questionable, because the word “Spinne” means “spider” and also “I spin”. Either way, it’s used all over Germany to mean “I think I’m going crazy” as an expression of surprise.

5. Ich glaube, mein Schwein pfeift!

The idea of a pig whistling is pretty ridiculous, and that’s where the phrase  – meaning “I think my pig whistles” – comes from. Germans use this expression when they can’t believe or grasp something, or to express that they are extremely surprised.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

6. Meine Güte!

This straightforward phrase simply means “my goodness” and is a commonly used expression of astonishment.

7. Oha!

More of a sound than a word, this short exclamation will let the world know that you are shocked by something.

READ ALSO: Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

8. heilige Blechle!

Often when surprised or outraged, we might let slip an exclamation that refers to something sacred. This phrase fits into that bracket, as it means “holy tin box”. 

The peculiar expression comes from the Swabian dialect and refers to the cash box from which the poor were paid by the Church in the Middle Ages.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

9. ach du grüne Neune!

This slightly antiquated expression literally means “oh you green nine!”, or “oh, my goodness!” and is one you’re more likely to hear among the older generation of Germans.

The origin of the phrase is disputed. One explanation claims that it comes from the famous 19th century Berlin dance hall “Conventgarten” which, although it was located in Blumenstraße No. 9, had its main entrance in “Grüner Weg”. Therefore, the locals renamed it as “Grüne Neune” (Green Nine).

Another explanation is that the phrase comes from fairs where playing cards were used to read the future. In German card games, the “nine of spades” is called “green nine” – and pulling this card in a fortune telling is a bad omen.

10. Krass!

The word Krass in German is an adjective that means blatant or extreme, but when said on its own, it’s an expression of surprise. Popular among young Germans, it’s usually used in a positive way, to mean something like “awesome” or “badass”.  

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