German Language Blog

German Loanwords in English Pt. 2 Posted by on Mar 24, 2018 in Culture, Language

Yesterday, we looked at some German loanwords in English. These are words that keep their spelling, pronunciation, and even meaning! Is that always the case? we look int that right now. Let’s begin!

Part 1


1. Poltergeist

Image by Lukas Portner at

No, this is not just a famous movie from the 1980s, it is an actual word in the English language!

According to the German Duden

Klopfgeist – Spukgestalt des Volksglaubens, das sich durch Klopfzeichen bemerkbar macht

(Knocking ghost – a specter of folklore, that makes itself known by means of knocking signs)

According to the Oxford Dictionary

A ghost or other supernatural being supposedly responsible for physical disturbances such as making loud noises and throwing objects about


Now, this one is interesting. While the German Poltergeist is equivalent to a Klopfgeist, a ghost that makes itself known through knocking, in English, that same Poltergeist is a lot more aggressive. The American Poltergeist makes loud noises and throws objects around! The German one just knocks…

What would an English translation look like?

There is no other real translation than Poltergeist!

2. Rucksack

Image by Dan Gold at

According to the German Duden

sackartiger Behälter mit zwei daran befestigten breiteren Riemen, der auf dem Rücken getragen wird

(sack-like container with two wider straps attached to it, which is worn on the back)

According to the Oxford Dictionary

A bag with shoulder straps which allow it to be carried on someone’s back, typically made of a strong, waterproof material and widely used by hikers


This one is quite similar! The German definition seems to be somewhat wider, as the English definition narrows it down to “typically made of waterproof material” and used by “hikers”. Not so much in German!

What would an English translation look like?



3. Übermensch

Image by Serge Kutuzov at

According to the German Duden

  1. (Philosophie) dem gewöhnlichen Menschen weit überlegener [und daher zum Herrschen bestimmter], die Grenzen der menschlichen Natur übersteigender, gottähnlicher Mensch
  2. besonderer, zu außerordentlichen Leistungen befähigter Mensch

(1. (Philosophy) far superior to the ordinary human being [and therefore meant to rule], surpassing the boundaries of human nature, godlike human being

2. particular human being that is able to perform extraordinarily)

According to the Oxford Dictionary

The ideal superior man of the future who could rise above conventional Christian morality to create and impose his own values, originally described by Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883–5).


The first definition in both languages refer to the philosophical definition of an Übermensch. The German specifically gives a colloquial, second definition, as it is a word quite commonly used in German. Another interesting thing is that the English definition puts more emphasis on the moral side of things, whereas in German, the Übermensch is simply superior in any ability.

What would an English translation look like?

God; superhuman

4. Verboten

Image by NeONBRAND at

According to the German Duden

gegen das Gesetz/die Gesetze [verstoßend], gesetzwidrig, illegal, kriminell, nicht erlaubt, untersagt

(against the law/the law [infringing], unlawful, illegal, criminal, not allowed, prohibited)

But also:

sündig, tabu

sinful, taboo

According to the Oxford Dictionary

Forbidden, especially by an authority.


Both definitions are identical. While the German definition does not explicitly state that it is “especially by an authority”, that meaning is clear with the first translations of “against the law”, which by definition is imposed by the state authority.

On the other hand, the German is a bit wider, as it also includes things that are against social convention – sins or taboos are also verboten, but not in English, according to the Oxford definition.

What would an English translation look like?

Forbidden, not allowed, illegal

5. Umlaut

Image by Michael Coghlan at under license CC BY SA 2.0)

According to the German Duden


Veränderung eines Vokals, besonders der Wechsel eines a, o, u, au zu ä, ö, ü, äu

(Change of a vowel, particularly the change of an a, o, u, au to ä, ö, ü, äu)

also as verb

According to the Oxford Dictionary

A mark (¨) used over a vowel, especially in German, to indicate a different vowel quality

Also as verb


Interestingly, “to umlaut” is an actual verb in English, also adapted from the German verb umlauten. The meaning stays identical!

What would an English translation look like?

diaeresis; tréma


I hope you enjoyed this post. Are there more words that come to mind? Is there a word in your language that comes from German and is written (almost) identically? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.