German Language Blog

The Curiosity of the Word “USB-Stick” Posted by on Apr 14, 2018 in Culture, Language

You know the words “flash drive”, “pen drive”, “thumb drive” – but “USB-Stick”? No, that is not a way to refer to the little, helpful memory – at least not in English. But in… German? How did such an English-sounding word make it in the German language, even though it is not related to the English language? Let’s find out!

UPDATE: According to several comments, USB-Stick is/was a perfectly fine synonym in English for flash drive. However, USB-Stick is still considered a pseudo-anglicism in Germany, so this article still makes sense.

Previous installments of Curious Words

The Curiosity of the Word “Cousin”

The Curiosity of the Word “Hochzeit”

Where does USB-Stick come from?

Flash drives? Flash Sticks? USB drives? USB Sticks? (Image by author)

Obviously, USB-Stick is made of USB and Stick. USB still makes sense, that is the same universal abbreviation around the world. But Stick? That word must be older. It is a Scheinanglizismus (pseudo-anglicism), so a word that the Germans adopted from the English language, but with a different meaning. Let’s compare definitions:

  1. Duden: Kleine, dünne Salzstange Stift als Kosmetikartikel / Kurzform für USB-Stick (small, thin pretzel stick / stick as cosmetics product / short form of USB-Stick
  2. Oxford Dictionary: A long, thin piece of something. (one of 6 definitions!)

So, as you can see, German has a lot fewer, more specific use cases for the word Stick. In fact, it is even considered a short form for USB-Stick! And even though it sounds English, it has little to do with the English meaning, apart from the fact that it refers to objects that are thing and long.

However, since I cannot find a good theory on this, here is mine:

Stick became a more usual word in German. And then once flash drives became a thing, a new German word had to be made for it. In 2006, the German Duden introduced USB-Stick in its dictionary. Since USB stands for Universal Serial Bus, an English abbreviation, and for the fact that most early computer innovation for the mass market came from the United States, it made sense that Stick was used instead of a more German word. Stick already referred to long and small objects, and a flash drive fits that description. And so USB-Stick was born.

Introducing a word like flash drive into German would clash with German pronunciation, whereas USB-Stick is much easier!

Is there another word for USB-Stick?

The word Stift is known as a synonym (e.g. USB-Stift, Deostift), but this has been used less and less. USB-Massenspeicher (USB Mass Storage) could be used to refer to a USB-Stick, but it does not really refer to the same thing.

How do you refer to USB flash drives in your language? Does your language have similar examples of pseudo-anglicisms? 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.


  1. James Richards:

    Hi, normal rubbish opinion resumes, again deviating from core learning of the German language. Personal interpretations do not cut it, somewhat German nationalistic and anti-English. Come on get over it, move on.

    • Shaniqua:

      @James Richards Hi James Richards, how is a post about a USB stick anti-English or German nationalistic?!?! Please take a moment to think about how ridiculous that sounds. I do wonder why you comment such disrespectful and, quite frankly, very rude things on this blog. If you don’t enjoy it, why are you here? There are many, many aspects to language learning and just because you don’t like one particular topic that doesn’t mean it ‘deviates from core learning of the German language’ AT ALL. Open your mind. And instead of saying something is rubbish and anti-English, how about giving some suggestions as to what you’d like to learn about, or ask some constructive questions to the blogger who clearly put a lot of effort into this post? You are here to learn, aren’t you? Thank you.

  2. N:

    I am all for blog entries on faux amis like Handy, Talkmaster, etc, but USB stick is a perfectly acceptable alternative to flash drive in English. From a native American English speaker who has lived in London for years.

    • Sten:

      @N Every encounter I’ve had while I lived in the United States and every English person I’ve talked to always frowned upon USB-Stick, young and old. That was the reason that I wanted to look into this. Thanks for the feedback!

  3. Irene:

    I am from Australia and we use the term USB-stick. Maybe we have taken it from German? (LOL, I don’t think we have).

    • Sten:

      @Irene Haha, you probably haven’t 😉

  4. Deanya:

    You must be younger than 35. We always used the term, “USB stick” in the U.S. when they first came out; you just never heard it.

    • Sten:

      @Deanya I am indeed! I did not know that! Good to know. I will incorporate that 😉 Interestingly, it is denoted everywhere as a pseudo-anglicism. Should be a real one if this were widely adopted, I would think. Thanks!

  5. Héctor valderrama:

    This word is one of my favorites, practical, sinical and with many ways to use it. You can use it with a deodorant: lady speed stick, when you play with you dog to fetch: hey buddy give me the syick!, ,but when TONY LEVIN the bassist plays the stick, for me makes no sense. This word posses a relativity when we talk about size, so practically every single large object can be in the category stick. Spanish adopted naturally but cant be declined in gender or number. What about with this: stick to me …
    Hei då!

  6. James Richards:

    FAO of Sten, If you were to ask any computer literate English speaking child about a USB stick, they would know exactly what is being spoken about with no frowning whatsoever.

  7. James Richards:

    Hi sorry to keep banging on about this but it has me somewhat vexed and I am beginning to wonder if there is another agenda being sublimely expressed here. Stick has many meaning in English and can be used in a many ways, English is a massively flexible language, for example, to give somebody stick (I guarantee no native English speaker knows what this means). It is incorrect to state it is a a pseudo-anglicism as it suggests the the word is formed from English elements and may appear to be English, but that does not exist as an English word .Utter crap , you really need to spend more time in the UK and be less dismissive of the English Language, as before get over it English is the most user friendly language in the world.

    • Sten:

      @James Richards Hey James,

      I don’t see how this is dismissive of the English language. I absolutely agree with you that English is very flexible, I love that about the language.
      German, on the other hand, usually tries to “keep it German” and avoids anglicisms instead of embracing foreign words in many cases. Curious about USB-Stick is that (as I knew it when writing this) it is quite unusual in English, and you will much rather hear something like “flash drive”.
      About the pseudo-anglicism: If it involves semantic slide, it is considered pseudo, rather than a full anglicism. And that happened here, even if only slightly. That IS a debatable point, I give you that.

  8. Salminen:

    In Finland we call the flash drives “USB-tikku” (in finnish) and “USB-pinne” (in swedish). Both are translated “USB-Stick”.