The best (or worst?) of Denglish

Denglish, according to Wikpedia, is a term “used in all German-speaking countries to refer to the increasingly strong influx of English or pseudo-English vocabulary into German.” In its simplest form, Denglish involves replacing some German words with their English equivalents, so someone might say “Ich habe die Files gedownloadet” instead of “Ich habe die Dateien heruntergeladen”. Here, there are perfectly good German words, the speaker just chooses not to use them for some reason.

In other cases, either an English word has replaced the original German to such an extent that most people don’t even know the real German word any more or there never was a German word in the fist place (e.g. der Browser for an Internet broswer) – usually this occurs with new technology that exists in an English-speaking country before it ever comes to Germany. Sometimes (as with the technologies), Denglish involves real English words, used in their correct context. Other times the words Germans use may sound English, but nobody really knows where they came from… or English words have been taken and used in an entirely different context. Mostly, this practice is harmless (although it can get confusing when a German starts speaking to an English native speaker using Denglish words!), but sometimes this practice of insisting on using English words at all costs can be very, very amusing. Here are some Denglish words and phrases that you may hear if you happen to find yourself in Germany…

We’ll start with the most common. In German, a Handy (pronounced Hendy) is a mobile phone. While a small, portable phone is admittedly pretty handy, I’ve no idea how the phrase came about! I have, however, been asked in English “Do you have a handy?”. Needless to say, if I didn’t actually speak German I would have had no idea what they wanted! And just to make things even more confusing, the Swiss don’t use the word Handy! (Their word for mobile phone is Natel).

This was one of the first Denglish words I heard when I came to Germany, and I had no idea what they were talking about. From the context, it was clear that they didn’t mean a car which would be spelled Beemer anyway), but what did they mean? After being shown the object in question, it all became clear. A Beamer is a projector! I suppose it does beam images onto a screen, so it makes sense in a way…

Despite the scary sounding name, it won't ACTUALLY peel all your skin off...
Despite the scary sounding name, it won’t ACTUALLY peel all your skin off…
Nope, not what you do with an orange. Shower scrub or body scrub. I really, really hope this doesn’t do what it says on the tin…

die City
To English speakers, a city is a large town… London, Paris, Rome, Sydney… all cities. (Well, in certain circles London is The City, but that’s irrelevant here). Not so in Germany… here “die City” is merely part of a large town. The bit that we would call the city centre, or down town. So don’t be confused if you see signs pointing you towards “City” when you think you’ve already entered the city you were aiming for. It’s just the Germans messing with English again! (For fairness’ sake, I should add that lots of places do still use the German words Zentrum (centre) or Stadtmitte (town/city centre) on their official signs.)

"Public viewing" at the 2014 world cup final... I promise there were no bodies in sight!
“Public viewing” at the 2014 world cup final… I promise there were no bodies in sight!

Public Viewing
While Germans used to get together to watch sporting events “auf Großleinwand” (on a big screen), in recent years the term Public Viewing has become more popular. This year, Karlsruhe even had Public Viewing at the football stadium for Germany matches! The only problem is that, in British English at least, public viewing traditionally refers to the practice of leaving a deceased person in an open coffin during the wake, so that the public could come and have alook/pay their last respects (this is also known as lying in state and was done when the Queen Mother died, for example).

This one technically goes back to a brand name, but I had to include it because it’s just too amusing! I’m sure well all know that an English body bag is something used for storing and transporting corpses. In Germany, meanwhile, since the mid-90s the term Bodybag has been used to refer to a type of bag that’s worn on the back with a strap going diagonally across the front. (A messenger bag is a type of “Bodybag”, but I’ve also seen some that look like a backpack but with only one strap). Somebody at whichever company started this trend obviously didn’t do their research properly…

There are, of course, other Denglish expressions, but these are the only ones I’m going to go into for now. If you have a favourite Denglish expression (or even something similar in another language) please feel free to let me know in the comments!


27 thoughts on “The best (or worst?) of Denglish

  1. I’ve learned that Germans use the word “shooting” where Americans use “photo shoot.” So hearing, “Heidi Klum was at a shooting in our neighborhood last weekend” means one thing to a German and quite another to an American! The American would think Heidi witnessed an all-too-common shooting spree.

    Then there is “Oldtimer.” In the U.S. an “old timer” is an old man. We call the cars “classic cars” or “old timer cars.”

    What was it that Henry Higgins said about English? “There are even places where English completely disappears; in America they haven’t used it for years!” πŸ™‚

    Going the other way, “Beerstein/Beer stein” is not a word used in Germany. Several times I’ve said, “My friend is looking for a Bierstein,” which is met with, “A what?” Most Americans think that’s a German word.

  2. I loathe how they make English words that end in -ing into nouns. Peeling is one good example of this. Another is Looping. “That roller coaster has a Looping.” WHAT?! It’s a loop. Just a loop.

  3. Haha, some of them are really weird. I don’t know why Germans call it “Handy”, it does not make that much sense. I remember talking about my Handy to David and he was so confused because he had no idea what I was talking about.

  4. Ugh, I’ve been fighting “beamer” in class for 3 years now. And they are so perplexed that we don’t use ‘handy,’ unless we’re referring to someone who is good with tools/fixing of things.

    And I’ll second Ami’s comment above about the beer steins. A week at Oktoberfest with my friends that wanted to steal a Maß glass, or a “stein,” as they kept saying, had me beating my head against the wall. Stein= stone, not glass, kids! I’ve only seen/heard Stein when referring to the ones that are actually stone, painted/carved, and with the metal top. And then it’s Steinkrug (or just Stein), at least around here.

  5. Ha ha! Body bag is hilarious! I’ve come across ‘handy’ recently – otherwise, I would have been totally confused by that one! I also have some facial peeling stuff here – also hoping it doesn’t do what it says on the tin πŸ˜‰ I thought maybe a beamer was a person who smiled a lot πŸ˜‰

  6. Handy and city are the main two I have picked up since I lived here. I think it definitely confuses my friends and family in England, particularly the “city” one. Whenever I say about going into the city, they are always like “wait, I thought you lived in Frankfurt?” and they don’t really get it when I explain either!

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