The late 90s and early 2000s was a fairly important time for Germany. East and West were reunited after half a decade of militarised segregation, EU expansion left Germany in the centre, rather than on the edge of Europe, and in 2002 Germany adopted its new currency: the Euro.
However, perhaps one of the most controversial things to have come out of that time is a certain language, which ever since its inception has confused English speakers and infuriated German language purists. That language is, of course, Denglisch.
Denglisch (literally Deutsch + Englisch) is what happens when trendy Germans start using English in their everyday speech. At first, nobody understands what on earth they are talking about. But secretly, everyone thinks it sounds quite trendy and before long everybody else is talking like that too.
This rose to such a trend that in recent years, Germany’s national rail network the Deutsche Bahn had to publish guidelines to encourage its staff to use German words when speaking to their customers.
But perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the Denglisch phenomenon is that even if you’re a native English speaker, you’ll almost certainly have no idea what these Denglisch words actually mean:
If someone asks you if you want to go to a “Public Viewing”, you’d be justified in feeling slightly perplexed. Unless it’s a German asking, in which case it’s extremely innocent. In German, das Public Viewing is when there’s a sports match or a concert which is being shown on a huge screen in a town centre or outside the stadium.
E.g. Lass uns doch mal zum Public Viewing gehen!
In the UK, “peeling” is something that happens after you’ve been in the sun too long, forgotten to use any suncream, and are now suffering by feeling like a snake shedding her winter skin. In Germany, however, if anyone books themselves in at the spa for ein Peeling that just means they’re going for a facial or body scrub.
E.g. Ich kann leider nicht kommen, weil ich dann meinen Peelingtermin habe.
Next time you go to Germany, if someone asks you if they can borrow your “handy” don’t get too confused. They probably just need to make a phone call. For reasons almost too bizarre to go into to do with a type of walkie-talkie used in the First World War, mobile phones in German are called das Handy.
E.g. Gibst du mir deine Handynummer?
While an English family outing might make you think of packing a picnic basket and heading off for some quality time together in a meadow, a German Outing is an altogether different affair. In German, ein Outing means coming out of the closet. In other words, telling everybody that you’re gay.
E.g. Hast du gehört? Er hat gerade sein Outing gehabt!
If we “check” something in English, it means we take another look and see whether it makes sense, whether we made any mistakes, or just if there’s anything we might have missed. In Denglisch, however, the verb checken means to understand.
E.g. Hast du gecheckt, was er gerade gesagt hat?
I remember when my friend’s dad first got a Beamer. It was brand new, and blue. All of us wanted to go for a ride and sit on the leather seats and turn the music up as high as it would go. But unlike in the UK, where a Beamer means a BMW, in German der Beamer is what you use to show a powerpoint presentation, or watch a film on your home cinema. Ein Beamer is a projector.
E.g. Ich will mir so gerne einen Beamer kaufen, aber leider hab ich kein Geld dafür.
In English we have cities, and then we have city centres, and most of the time there’s not much more to it than that. In German, however, the Denglisch word die City refers to the central district of a city, and not to the entire city itself, which is called die Stadt. This possibly comes from the name for the City of London.
E.g. Sie hat eine Wohnung in der City gefunden.
There is little ambiguity about what “smoking” means in English. In Germany, however, you might be a little bit confused to find out that der Smoking is what people called a ‘tuxedo’. If you see a bunch of well-dressed Germans standing outside a casino, looking with concern at the “No smoking” sign, now you understand why.
E.g. Bestehst du wirklich darauf, dass wir unsere Smokings zu dieser Party tragen?
You’ve probably not ever heard the word “sprayer” in English. Unless you work on an industrial scale farm and use one to make sure all your crops are regularly watered. For Germans, though, ein Sprayer is somebody who goes around with a can of paint in their back pocket, spraying graffiti everywhere.
E.g. Wir müssen auf jeden Fall den Sprayer von dieser Schule entdecken.
If somebody in the UK told you they took a body bag to work, you’d either freak out or assume that they work in the funeral industry. In Germany, though, people take einen Bodybag to work or school with them every day, storing their papers or laptops in them: a messenger bag.
E.g. Meine Tante hat mir zu Weihnachten einen neuen Bodybag geschenkt.
In English, a ‘tramp’ is a homeless person, and if we say that somebody’s ‘tramping’ that most probably means that they’re pretty poorly dressed. Whether or not you’re poorly dressed is fairly by the by in Germany though, because the verb trampen means to stand at the side of the road with your thumb out and try and hitch a ride.
E.g. Nach dem Abitur bin ich mit meiner Freundin durch ganz Europa getrampt.
In English, an “old timer” is somebody of a certain age, who moves quite sluggishly. In other words, an OAP, a pensioner, an old person. In Germany, however, the word has an entirely different meaning. Der Oldtimer means a vintage car.
E.g. Sag mal, wann hast du dir diesen schönen Oldtimer gekauft?
This one was in danger of looking too straightforward for English speakers, so to throw us off the scent the Germans decided to mess around with the spelling a bit and add an extra ‘-ing’ to the end. Ein Fotoshooting is a “photoshoot”, just with an extra ‘f’ and ‘-ing’.
E.g. Ich war heute wirklich so müde nach dem langen Fotoshooting.
Unfortunately, der Dressman does not really mean a man who wears a dress. But it’s not actually that far off. In Denglisch, der Dressman is a male clothes model, who you might see hanging around einen Fotoshooting.
E.g. Als Student hatte ich einen Nebenjob als Dressman.
A “showmaster” is not really a thing in English at all, but in German they are an important part of every great TV game show. Der Showmaster is the presenter, or host. The one who masters the show?
E.g. Sein ganzes Leben lang wollte er Showmaster sein.
Alex Rawlings is a Content Strategist at Memrise. He spends his time designing future Memrise courses, making fun videos about languages, and contributing to the Memrise blog. He tweets @rawlangs_alex and Instagrams @alex.rawlangs
In his free time he enjoys cooking, watching films, and walking his dog. He also writes books, like this one.