How has German influenced American English?
German-speaking communities in North America date back to at least the 17th century. In fact, the city of Philadelphia, originally named Germantown, was founded by German-speaking Mennonites and Quakers in 1683. While most German-speaking immigrants were fast to adopt English as a second language, there are several examples of German words and expressions that have slipped into American language and culture. The number of German speakers entering the US reached a peak in the 19th century, with over 5 million fleeing religious and political persecution, land seizures and unemployment.
Video: German Vocabulary in American English (tour of Vienna, Austria)
German-speaking communities in numbers
Many immigrants of the 18th century brought their German dialects to North America. The communities listed below are relatively conservative and isolated to date, and were able to preserve their German dialect due, in part, to a strong sense of tradition and a high birth rate.
300,000 – 350,000 speakers
This dialect is sometimes referred to as Pennsylvania German, as the misleading word “Dutch” of the time, was actually a British use of the word ‘Dutch’ to refer to both German and Dutch speakers. Pennsylvania Dutch is spoken by the Amish and conservative Mennonites today.
Amish Swiss German – Estimated 10,000 speakers
Amish Alsatian German – Estimated 4,000 speakers
The following German words are found in American English:
The feeling of enjoyment at another person’s misfortune.
The desire to travel.
The general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.
Shortened from the German “Antifaschistische Aktion”; meaning a person or group actively opposing fascism.
A ghostly counterpart of another person; or someone who has an identical appearance.
This expression is used to wish good health after someone sneezes.
A school or daycare for children at the age of around five.
A mischievous ghost or spirit.
A child prodigy; a highly competitive and talented child.
politics based on practical and material factors rather than on ethical ones.
Fear and anxiety.
An expert in a field or subject.
A gathering or event based on a special focus or subject.
The German highway.
War conducted with great speed and force (can also be used metaphorically, like a blitzkrieg marketing campaign).
Extreme sadness caused by the state of the world.
A dog breed.
A dog breed; the nickname is wiener dog (also from German).
Introduced by Germans and named after the German city of Hamburg.
Introduced by Germans and named after the German city of Frankfurt.
The frankfurter, or hot dog, is informally referred to as a wiener.
An ideal man of the future.
A pastry made from a thin sheet of dough rolled up with filling, such as apple, and baked.
German-origin words via Yiddish speaking communities
Also in the 19th century, anti-Semitic violence in Germany and Austria-Hungary drove thousands of German Jews to emigrate. Immigrants of Ashkenazi descent were raised speaking Yiddish – the primary language of most of the several million Ashkenazi Jews who migrated to the United States. Yiddish is a fusion of about 80% German, about 20% Hebrew and a scattered amount of Slavic languages, Romance languages and English. Yiddish has had a steady influence on American English, especially on informal speech.
Yiddish-speaking communities in numbers
According to the 2000 United States Census, 178,945 people in the United States reported speaking Yiddish at home. Of these speakers, 113,515 lived in the state of New York. For this reason, Yiddish has particularly influenced New York English.
Vocabulary that entered American English via Yiddish
a doughnut-shaped roll made by boiling and then baking.
Trash or rubbish.
Broken or exhausted.
Tacky and old-fashioned.
To complain habitually.
Smoked salmon, often eaten on a bagel.
A person of high integrity.
To eat a light snack.
To drag or haul something around.
Excessively sentimental art or music.
Overcome with emotion; choked up.
Having a pleasingly full-rounded figure.
All of the terms mentioned in this post are listed in the Merriam Webster dictionary and are considered official English or American English vocabulary.
Which of these words are you most likely to start using? Do you have any favorites?