Borders to cucumbers: Five German words that come from Polish

We've compiled a list of five German words adopted from the Polish language.

Borders to cucumbers: Five German words that come from Polish
Cucumbers were named "Vegetable of the Year" by a German association in 2019. Photo: DPA

Although Germany and Poland are neighbouring countries, their respective languages have different linguistic roots. 

However, there are a still a few German terms whose origins can be traced back to Poland and its West Slavic national language Polish. Five are listed below. 


You’ll often hear this German word repeated: “Dalli, dalli!” It’s a request for someone to hurry up and move faster. The word comes from the Polish dalej, meaning “further” or, if used in a sentence, “Go ahead.”

The phrase “Dalli Dalli” was also borrowed as the name of a popular game show broadcast on German television. Contestants had to answer questions, perform absurd tasks and solve puzzles under time pressure. The show aired in three different iterations from 1971 until 2013. 

Die Grenze

The German word Grenze is best translated as “border” in English, labeling man-made boundaries between countries, states and cities as well as geographic regions. The word hails from the old Polish word granica and still has a similar meaning in Polish today. 

Die Gurke

Gurke is German for cucumber and comes from the old Polish word of the same meaning: ogórek. Gurke can also refer to someone who has a large nose or someone who is particularly incompetent. 

German cucumbers can also be called Kukumer, which has roots in the Latin cucumis/cucumer

But Gurke and Kukumer are certainly not the only ways to label a cucumber in German-speaking countries.

Wikipedia lists an impressive 24 names for the vegetable: Agork, Agurke, Andrenk, Angurken, Augurke, Cucumern, Gommern, Gorch, Gorken, Gümmerle, Gümmerlin, Gummer, Guggumare, Gukumer, Gurken, Kimmerling, Korcken, Kratzewetz, Kümmerling, Kukummer, Kumkummer, Kummern, Umurke and, finally, Unmorken.

Die Penunze 

Translated simply, Penunze is a German word for money. Used colloquially, it’s similar to saying “cash” or “coin” in English. The word was introduced into German vernacular fairly recently from the Polish word for money: pieniądze.

A photo from the 2019 European Fencing Championship in Düsseldorf. Photo: DPA

Der Säbel

This German word translates to sabre in English, which was originally a heavy, curved military sword associated with cavalry. More recently, the sabre was adopted as a light, straight sword used in fencing. The German word was loaned from the Polish word szabla, which in turn was taken from the Hungarian word szablaim.

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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”.