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Seven German words that originally come from India

Though separated by thousands of years and kilometres, India and Germany have had a significant historical influence on each other. Here's a look at how that's reflected in German vocabulary.

Seven German words that originally come from India
Chairs and tables fill the 'Die Veranda' of a closed restaurant in Hamburg

The connection between the two countries can be attributed, in part, to German Orientalists of the 18th and 19th century who spread the knowledge of Indian culture among Germans at the time. In the world of literature, in 1791, when a work by one of ancient India’s greatest playwrights was translated into German, it created great interest among German intellectuals including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Gottfried Herder. 

Linguistic experts have found several similarities between German and Sanskrit, the language Indian languages such as Hindi are derived from. Here are some German words which come from India. 

Das Bandana 

A bandana is usually a form of colourful fabric worn around someone’s head or neck. Now a popular accessory in many parts of the world, the word and garment originate from the Indian subcontinent. 

The word Bandana is derived from the word Bandhana in Hindi, which means to tie. Another translation for the Hindi word is ‘bond’. Bandanas originated in India as bright coloured silk and cotton, blue and red handkerchiefs. 

READ ALSO: Seven German words which stem from Arabic

Der Bungalow 

In Germany, a bungalow refers to a single story house with a flat roof. This building style was most popular during the 1960s. 

The word comes from the Hindi word Bangla, which was a type of cottage built for early European settlers in Bengal. The word Bangla originally means ‘from Bengal’. Now, the term stands for a one or two-storied private house belonging to a family. 

A German-style Bungalow in Barth, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Der Dschungel

The word Dschungel comes from the word ‘jungle’, used in Hindi and other South-Asian languages to describe dense forests. The Sanskrit word it is derived from is Jungala which translates to ‘rough and arid terrain’. 

Originally, the word was used to signify rough patches within a forest. But since German and other European explorers initially travelled through tropical forests largely by river, the tangled vegetation lining the stream banks gave them the impression that such jungle conditions existed throughout the entire forest.

Therefore, the word ‘jungle’ started to be used interchangeably with forest. In contemporary times, the word jungle is also used as a metaphor for unruly or lawless situations. 

READ ALSO: 10 German words which come from Italian

Der Guru 

The word Guru, which means teacher or guide in German, is derived from Sanskrit. It is a combination of the two words, Gu- meaning Darkness and Ru- meaning Light. A guru is believed to be a mentor who shows others knowledge (light) and destroys ignorance (darkness). 

In Hinduism, it is believed that a Guru functions within spirituality but doesn’t execute the will of God. Rather, a Guru is a teacher who helps their student find their own spirituality. 

Das Shampoo 

Das Shampoo in German comes from Shampoo in English, which is derived from the Hindi word Champoo, which is an act of kneading or massaging. Originally, a Champoo was a traditional Indian and Persian body massage given after pouring warm water over the body and rubbing it with extracts from herbs. It then became the term for a commercial liquid soap for washing hair, as we know it today. 

Das Karma 

Karma, meaning ‘fate’ in German, comes from the Sanskrit word Karman, meaning ‘‘act’’. The now-popular idea had a very different meaning in ancient India. Originally, the term Karma referred simply to ritual and sacrificial action and had no ethical significance.

The earliest evidence of the term’s expansion into an ethical domain is provided in the Upanishads, a genre of the Vedas (sacred scriptures) concerned with ontology, or the philosophical study of being.

Die Veranda 

This word interchangeably with ‘porch’ or ‘patio’ in German. In South India, especially in the hot humid western coastal region,  veranda style porches are very common especially in states like Kerala and Konkan. There was a strong Portuguese and Dutch influence in that part of the country.

The Portuguese word Varanda got into the local languages of these areas as ‘Verandah’, including in Malayalam and Marathi. This later migrated into other languages including English and German as a loan word.

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GERMAN LANGUAGE

Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

Denglisch - a hybrid of Deutsch and English - can refer to the half-and-half way Germans and foreigners speak to each other. But Germans use plenty of English words amongst themselves - although they don’t always mean the same thing.

Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

English speakers are no stranger to using certain German words when speaking English—schadenfreude and kindergarten being perhaps the most obvious. The process is possibly even more advanced in reverse.

Many Germans are proud of being able to speak English well, and the Berlin Wall’s fall in 1989 only accelerated the process, as a redefined international community – with English as the main global language – beckoned.

Now English words are found in all parts of German life. Many Germans don’t even necessarily understand why. English-language cultural influence is certainly a part of German life, but the dubbing of television shows, to use just one example, remains far more widespread in Germany than in many smaller European countries, which use original audio with subtitles.

Here’s a selection of anglicisms that Germans use with each other. 

READ ALSO: Could Denglisch one day kill of English?

‘Coffee-To-Go’ or ‘Takeaway’

‘Ein Kaffee zum mitnehmen’ is correct and your coffee shop owner will definitely understand what you want if you ask for it. But plenty of Germans will ask for a ‘Coffee-To-Go,’ even when speaking German to a German barista. This seems to only apply to coffee ordered on the move, however. If you’re sitting down at a table, expect to order the German Kaffee.

Getting a coffee-to-go in Berlin.

Getting a Coffee-To-Go in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Human Resources, ‘Soft Skills’ and ‘Manager’

‘Personalabteilung’ is still used to describe a human resources department. But plenty of German companies—whether international or mostly German will use Human Resources even in German-language communication. Although ‘Leiter’ and ‘Leiterin,’ meaning ‘leader’ are used, even German job titles will use “Manager.” The word ‘Manager’ has even been adapted to accommodate German noun genders. A female manager, may be referred to as a ‘Managerin’.

READ ALSO: How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

The world of work in Germany is also notable for importing another contemporary English term. ‘Soft Skills’ is used in German when recruiters are looking to see if a candidate might fit culturally into a particular workplace. The words actually describing these skills, like ‘Führungskompetenz’ or ‘leadership ability,’ often sound unmistakably German though. But there are exceptions. ‘Multitasking’ is used in German as well.

‘Clicken,’ ‘Uploaden,’ ‘Downloaden’ and ‘Home Office’

As technology that came of age relatively recently, German has imported many English terms related to technology and the Internet. While web browsers might use ‘Herunterladen’ instead of ‘download’ or ‘hochladen’ instead of ‘upload,’ Germans are just as likely to use the slightly Germanized version of the English word, hence ‘downloaden’.

READ ALSO: Seven English words Germans get delightfully wrong

Even before ‘Home Office’ appeared on German tax returns, to calculate what credit workers could get from remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘Home Office’ was still widely used in German to describe, well, working from home. It can be confusing for English speakers, though, especially those from the UK, because the Home Office is a department in the British government. 

English words that have slightly different meanings in German – ‘Shitstorm’ and ‘Public Viewing’

There are English words Germans use that don’t always mean quite the same thing to a native English speaker. An English speaker from the UK or Ireland, for example, might associate a ‘public viewing’ with an open casket funeral. Germans, however, tends to use “public viewing” almost exclusively to mean a large screening, usually of an event, that many people can gather to watch for free. Placing a large television at the Brandenburg Gate for German Football Team matches is perhaps the most immediately recognisable example of a ‘public viewing’.

Then there’s what, at least to native English speakers, might sound outright bizarre. But former Chancellor Angela Merkel herself used “Shitstorm” more than once while in office. In German though, it can refer specifically to a social media backlash involving heated online comments.

Another typical English-sounding word used in German differently is ‘Handy’ – meaning cellphone (well, it does fit in your hand). It can sound a bit strange to English speakers, though. 

Other words, however, more or less mean what you think they do – such as when one German newspaper referred to Brexit as a ‘Clusterfuck’.

READ ALSO: Shitstorm ‘best English gift to German language’

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