The German language has provided English with a huge inventory of words, many of them pertaining to music, science, and politics, thanks to the influence of German-speaking people on those areas of human endeavor. Here are some of the more useful German terms borrowed into English. 1. Achtung (“attention”): an imperative announcement used to obtain someone’s attention 2. Angst (“anxiety”): a feeling of apprehension
3. Blitz (“lightning”): used only literally in German, but in English refers to a sudden movement, such as a rush in a contact sport 4. Carabiner (“rifle”): an equivalent of the English word carbine, this truncation of karabinerhaken (“riflehook”) refers to a metal loop originally employed with ropes in mountaineering, rock climbing, and other sports and activities but now widely employed for more general uses 5. Delicatessen (“delicate eating”): a restaurant or food shop selling meats, cheeses, and delicacies 6. Doppelgänger (“double-goer”): in German, refers to a look-alike, but in English, the primary connotation is of a supernatural phenomenon — either a spirit or a duplicate person 7. Ersatz (“substitute”): refers to an artificial and/or inferior imitation or replacement 8. Flak (acronym): an abbreviation for “air-defense cannon” used figuratively to refer to criticism 9. Gestalt (“figure”): something more than the sum of its parts, or viewed or analyzed with other contributing phenomena 10. Götterdämmerung (“twilight of the gods”): a catastrophic event 11. Hinterland (“land behind”): originally a technical geographic term; later, in both German and English, came to connote undeveloped rural or wilderness areas, and in British English has a limited sense of “artistic or scholarly knowledge,” as in “Smith’s hinterland isn’t very impressive” 12. Kitsch: something of low taste and/or quality, or such a condition 13. Leitmotiv (“leading motive”): a recurring theme, originally applied to music and later literature and theater but now in general usage 14. Nazi (truncation of “National Socialist”): originally denoted a person, thing, or idea associated with the German political party of that name and later the national government it dominated; now, by association with Adolf Hitler and the tyranny of the party and the government, a pejorative term for a fanatical or tyrannical person 15. Poltergeist (“noisy ghost”): a mischievous and/or malicious apparition or spectral force thought responsible for otherwise inexplicable movement of objects 16. Putsch (“push”): overthrow, coup d’etat
17. Realpolitik (real politics): the reality of political affairs, as opposed to perceptions or propaganda about political principles or values 18. Reich (“realm”): in German, usually a neutral term for “empire” or part of a name for a nationalized service, such as the postal service, but in English, because of the Nazi appellation “the Third Reich,” connotes tyranny 19. Schadenfreude (“harm joy”): enjoyment of others’ misfortune 20. Sturm und drang (“storm and stress”): turmoil, drama 21. Verboten (“forbidden”): prohibited
22. Weltanschauung (“worldview”): an all-encompassing conception or perception of existence 23. Weltschmerz (“world pain”): despair or world-weariness 24. Wunderkind (“wonder child”): a child prodigy
25. Zeitgeist (“time ghost”): the spirit of the time, or a prevailing attitude, mentality, or worldview
adieu "until God"
Used like "farewell": when you don't expect to see the person again until God (when you die and go to Heaven)
agent provocateur "provocative agent"
A person who attempts to provoke suspected individuals or groups into committing unlawful acts
aide-de-camp "camp assistant"
A military officer who serves as a personal assistant to a higher-ranking officer
aide-mémoire "memory aid"
1. Position paper
2. Something that acts as an aid to memory, such as crib notes or mnemonic devices
à la carte "on the menu*"
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