Loaded German Words: Kraut Posted by Constanze on Oct 25, 2019 in Language
Guten Tag! Recently there was an uproar here in the UK when the official party for the pro-Brexit campaign put out a poster showing a photo of Angela Merkel, accompanied by the words ‘We did not win two world wars to be pushed around by a Kraut’. This was in reference to a phone call made between UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in which Merkel proposed conditions for a Brexit deal that Johnson did not agree with. People here were outraged by the poster’s anti-German sentiment, and shortly afterwards it was removed and an apology was issued.
Let’s talk about the use of the word Kraut on this poster. Each nationality has nicknames given to them by people of other nationalities. Some of these are friendly or tongue-in-cheek, and others are derogatory. In this case, to call a German person a Kraut is considered incredibly rude. The simple reason is that this is the name American and British soldiers gave to German soldiers during World War I and World War II. Following this era, the word Kraut continued to be used as an offensive term for a German person.
However, don’t become too sensitive about hearing or seeing the word ‘Kraut’ just yet! This word didn’t suddenly appear during World War I; it was, of course, a word already, which unfortunately took on this negative stigma during the war. The word Kraut on its own, in fact, is the German word for herb.
das Kraut – herb
Fancy a cup of herbal tea? Then look for der Kräutertee in German supermarkets (in this case, the plural of das Kraut is die Kräuter)!
You may already know of das Sauerkraut, the German word for ‘pickled cabbage’. This is a very popular food in Germany, amongst others, and its strong and widespread association with Germany is most likely where the derogatory term ‘Kraut’ first came from. As well as Sauerkraut, you can have das Weißkraut (white cabbage – also called der Weißkohl), das Blaukraut (red cabbage – also called der Rotkohl), and if your garden looks unkempt you might say it has a lot of das Unkraut (weeds)!
A little more complicated is the word Krautrock, a term that originated in the 1970s and referred to experimental rock music coming from West Germany. The term ‘Krautrock’ originated in Britain, and many German musicians rejected this label because they considered it pejorative. Many preferred to label themselves with the synonymous ‘Kosmische Musik’ (‘cosmic music’) instead, which is why you will see these two terms used interchangeably. ‘Krautrock’ is a term that is still debated. Some say it is offensive; some don’t.
As you can see, the word Kraut is a great example of how ordinary language can take on negative stigma based on the context in which it is used. If this topic interests you, you might also enjoy this post, which talks about some other, loaded German words.
Bis bald (see you soon)!
Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.