German word of the day: Kohle

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German word of the day: Kohle
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

You'll hear this word often among German friends - but they're not talking about the energy crisis.


Why do I need to know Kohle?

Because it's part of our everyday lives, whether we're going shopping or out with friends. 

What does it mean?

Die Kohle, which sounds like this, means coal, which you may need if you are lucky enough to have a cosy stove in your home. You could also use this word to talk about energy (yes, that topic is not going anywhere due to the crisis we find ourselves in). But today we also recommend that you start using Kohle to refer to money among your friends and family. 

The correct word for money in German is das Geld, and you wouldn't be wrong in saying it. Yet as is the case with so many things that dominate our lives, there are many other words for money. Kohle is one of the more informal and common ways to talk about money in Germany, along the lines of "dough", "dosh" or "cash" in English. 


It makes sense that coal is seen as a valuable commodity, just like money. Over the course of the 19th century, coal became an important part of the economy, and could be used for heating as well as to power steam engines and locomotives.

According to some linguists, the origins of the use of the word date back to the 18th century when the idiom: Der Schornstein muss rauchen - "the chimney has to smoke" surfaced. This means that without money, food or energy, a person can't live. According to linguist Heinz Küpper, the use of the word in the singular to mean "money" appeared in everyday colloquial vocabulary around the same time. 

Use it like this:

Sorry, Ich kann heute Abend nicht zu der Party kommen. Ich hab’ leider keine Kohle.

Sorry, I can't come to the party tonight. I don't have a lot of cash.

Hey Kumpel, kannst du mir etwas Kohle leihen?

Hey dude, can you could lend me some dough?


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