The German language sure loves its Zeug. It doesn’t matter if it’s used as a single word or in combination with other words – Zeug is the way to go. Its translation is not that exciting, though; it literally means “stuff.”
The word Zeug comes from the Old High German word (gi)ziuch, which is related to the word ziehen (“to pull”) and means something like “the instrument to pull/do stuff with.”
Throughout its history, Zeug has had many different meanings and uses. An old one is directly connected to its meaning as the thing to pull things – it was the harness of a horse. Other meanings vary from fabric to rigging to tools.
Nowadays, Zeug has two common uses, one of them being in a derogatory way. “Was liegt denn hier für Zeug rum?” (“What’s this stuff laying around here?”) is something a mother might ask her child that hadn’t cleaned the room in a while. The other common meaning is in combination with other words. Basically everything can be Zeug, so let me give some examples:
Flugzeug, literally “fly thing”, means “aeroplane.”
Spielzeug, literally “play stuff”, means “toys.”
Fahrzeug, literally “drive thing,” means “vehicle.”
Werkzeug, literally “work stuff,” means “tools.“
If that might confuse you, look at the old meaning. Zeug is an instrument to do stuff with. Hence, a Fahrzeug is a thing to drive with. A Spielzeug is stuff to play with. It might sound complicated, but is actually rather simple.
Children at a kita in Brandenburg playing with various Spielzeuge. Photo: DPA
Kann ich noch mal vorbei kommen? Ich glaube, ich habe mein Zeug bei dir vergessen.
Can I come over real quick? I think I might have forgotten some stuff at your place.
Ich werde mich ins Zeug legen.
I’ll do my very best.
Kannst du dein Zeug bitte wegräumen?
Could you please put your stuff away?