Confusion between Words Used in English and German
Created | Updated Nov 9, 2011
|Missverständnisse wird es immer geben. Schon zwischen Menschen gleicher Herkunft und mit derselben Muttersprache. Die Wahrscheinlichkeit, dass Missverständnisse zwischen Gesprächspartnern mit verschiedener Ausgangssprache und -kultur entstehen, ist wesentlich höher.||Misunderstandings happen. Even between people who share the same mother tongue and culture. The chances of misunderstandings happening between speakers of different native languages and cultures are disproportionately higher.|
|Die Erfahrung, die ich in zweieinhalb Jahrzehnten an beiden Fronten gesammelt habe, qualifizieren mich, denke ich, die Probleme, die durch die mentalitätsbedingten Unterschiede im Gebrauch gleicher Worte mit abweichenden oder sich widersprechenden Bedeutungen, entstehen können ... was nicht selten der Fall ist.... hier aufzuführen.||After two and a half decades of fighting on both fronts, I hope that I am qualified to provide a reliable guide to the problems and differences that can - and very frequently do - arise when native German speakers speak English, or English-speaking people are conversing in German.|
|Während wir letzendlich eine fließende und natürliche Gesprächsweise anstreben, und dabei so nebenher auch ein Gefühl für das Richtige entwickeln, lassen sich kleine Fehler, die aus unserem Unterbewusstsein im Eifer des Gefechts in die andere Sprache schleichen, nicht vermeiden. Auch kommt es vor, dass man etwas falsch gelernt hat und dieses Missverständnis hegt und verteidigt, trotz aller Belehrungen, dass es 'So nicht heißt'.||While fluency and unstilted conversation are the ultimate aims of both, and a sixth sense as to what is right in each language develops with practice, it is still inevitable that subliminal errors crop up in the heat of the moment - or simply that someone gets hold of the 'wrong end of the stick' and hangs on to it, regardless of what (s)he has been told or has read to the contrary.|
|Manche Missverständnisse erzeugen nur Erheiterung, manche können ärgerliche Folgen haben, manche können sogar beleidigend sein; alle sind sie - nach Aufklärung - verständlich. In den folgenden Beispielen ist die Erklärung angegeben - was dann auch als Gedächtnisstütze dienen kann, wenn man diesen Fehler künftig vermeiden will.||Some of these misunderstandings are amusing, some are a nuisance, some can cause offense, but, when the origin is known, most of them are understandable. Where possible, the explanations are included in the examples below to aid the memory of anyone 'guilty' of these mistakes and wishing to avoid them in the future.|
|Die unten aufgeführten Beispiele werden vielleicht nicht gerade den dritten Weltkrieg verhindern, aber Ihr werdet sehen, dass gerade diese Ausdrücke überraschend oft vorkommen und ein besseres Verständnis den Weg ebnen kann bei Gesprächen unter Gesprächspartnern, oder beim Smalltalk mit deren Partnern.||The following examples may not be needed to prevent the next world war, but you will be surprised how often they will smooth your path when communicating with German, Austrian, Swiss (maybe even Dutch or Scandinavian) business partners or flirting with the husbands/wives of the same.|
|Die angegebenen Beispiele beschreiben lediglich die aktuellen Bedeutungen, die einem im täglichen Umgang mit der Sprache begegnen. In vergangenen Jahrhunderten hatten manche Worte ursprünglich die gleiche Bedeutung, haben aber mit der Zeit abweichende Verwendungen angenommen. Die vielen diversen Gründe für diese Missverständnisse und semantische Ungereimtheiten sind zu viele, um sie hier einzeln anzugeben. Fast jedes Beispiel zeigt einen anderen Werdegang auf. Manche Definitionen sind einfach auseinandergedriftet, manche sind das Ergebnis deutscher Werbeslogans in vermeintlich richtigem Englisch, es gibt auch mindestens ein Beispiel, wo der Angelsachse einen Markennamen verwendet, der Deutsche aber nicht, manche sind über den Umweg Französisch hineingeschmuggelt worden... die Erklärungen sind so faszinierend wie zahlreich. Mit wenigen Vorkenntnissen der deutschen sowie englischen Sprache oder deren Geschichte erklären sich die meisten genannten Beispiele von selbst.||The examples given apply to the present use of the words in day-to-day conversation. In the past, some of the words may have had the same meaning, but have diverged over the years. There are many reasons for these little misunderstandings and semantic quirks - too many to categorize here, as practically each example has evolved along a different route. Some just drifted apart; some are the results of enthusiastic German advertisers thinking it is 'cool' to use an English word: in some cases the trade name has established itself in the English but not in the German, and others have come via the French... The explanations are fascinating, but innumerable. Most will be self-explanatory with a little knowledge of German, English or the history of the two languages.|
|Word||English meaning||German meaning||Notes|
The English word means 'this specific one'. In German you use 'tatsächlich' for this.
|The German word 'aktuell' means topical, current, happening at the moment. The verb 'aktualisieren' means to update.||A sentence starting in English with 'actually,...' would most likely start with 'eigentlich' in German.|
Ausfahrt (German word)
Way out/exit (only applies to vehicles)
|Do not be confused or embarrassed by the fahrt words. They are substantives derived from the verb fahren - to drive. Einfahrt means way in, Ausfahrt means way out, or exit off a motorway, and Fahrt means a car journey or journey by any other means of transport. Fahrtzeit is the time taken for such journey. And so on.|
to change or metamorphose into something. A caterpillar leaves its cocoon to become a butterfly.
|The verb 'bekommen' means to get.||It is typical in German shops or restaurants to order by saying 'Ich bekomme ein Steak'. Germans of the old school thought nothing of saying to waiters in English restaurants 'I am becoming a steak'. So it is said, anyway.|
To be courageous
|The German adjective 'brav' is used for children - meaning they are well-behaved, in the sense that they are doing what adults expect them to. (Also applies to dogs and other animals)|
A large town. The buildings and offices where stocks and shares are traded.
|Down town, the town centre, the main shopping area.||Even my son's English teacher took some convincing of this difference.|
|The German equivalent 'konkurrieren' means to be in competition with.||If you get the meaning wrong you really have the opposite, and this must be clarified or no further conversation is possible. I did actually have this experience once - someone completely misunderstood a whole letter because of this word.|
Verb or noun; everything to do with obliterating something, usually by placing something over the top, or round, depending upon the shape and size of article to be covered.
|The Germans used this Anglicism in the days of vinyl records to describe the cardboard protection for the records. The English-speaking peoples more often call it a 'record sleeve'.|
Crème - (German Word)
|Not cream as in the top of the milk, but a cream for putting on the skin or a thick, milky substance for eating as a dessert.||The German word for cream is 'Sahne'. In Austria it is 'Obers'. There is also the word 'Rahm', used in Switzerland, or in cheesecakes 'Erdbeer-Rahm-Kuchen'.|
Polite, correct, clean, presentable
|'Dezent' means delicate or restrained|
Einfahrt (German word)
Way in (only applies to vehicles)
The English word refers to something that will happen in the end. 'Eventually, the tadpole will turn into a frog'
|German uses the related word 'eventuell' to mean something that could be, or could happen.|
Cured ham - usually a whole ham is cooked or roasted and served with pineapple
|Somehow the Germans have got hold of this word and given it to an after shave. The German equivalent would be Kassler.||It can be seen that very often, the advertisers or manufacturers have been the cause of the misuse of words. Sometimes a foreign word sounds so nice, it has to be taken over, whatever use it is put to.|
To be the culprit, to have committed a crime or offence
|The German word 'gültig' means valid.||This is purely a mix up of similar sounding words, but translations have been seen where this silly mistake is made.|
half - as used in time
in some parts of the UK, 'half four' is used instead of 'half past four'
|Halb vier always means half past three.||An hour can make a lot of difference!|
Nearby, useful. (griffbereit, nützlich)
|Mobile Phone (cell phone).||Yes, all the rumours you have heard are true. The Germans do use this word for mobile phone. And because it sounds so English, they think it is the English word for that useful but unpopular article. This can cause confusion, but mainly amusement.|
Luxuriously large bathtub with jets of water spraying out below the water level. (Trade name)
|The Germans use the word Whirlpool. They don't use the word Jacuzzi.||Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought a whirlpool was a dangerous natural phenomenon.|
Decorative cosmetics usually applied to the face.
|Foundation - as in the basic colour first applied when you make up. It does also mean the rest of the face paint, but 'make up' is the only word they have for the base colour.||This may cause some slight confusion if a German lady went up to the Max Factor counter of Boots and asked for 'Make up', but she may have read all the languages on her last packet of foundation and be 'in the know'!|
a light fog, condensation
|manure||There's a story of some British perfume company who wanted to sell their 'mist' in Germany... Fortunately they could be stopped shortly before the product went on the market.|
|The German word 'mondän' means expensive, extravagant, is applied to the 'upper 10 000'.||Means the opposite in each language.|
Insulting; also the opposite of 'defensive'.
|Only the opposite of 'defensive'|
An old man who has experienced hard times, war etc.
|A veteran car||Often seen in conjunction with the English word 'Rally' which the Germans use fairly accurately. At least, they only use the substantive (so there is no verb like 'to rally', 'to rally round') and sometimes they add an 'e')|
Plain, normal, not unusual
|the German word 'Ordinär' means uncouth, vulgar.||The word 'common' would illustrate that these two words are related. You say 'common or garden mouse' but don't mean the same when you disdainfully say 'That person is very common'.|
An excursion with a group (school class or society; 'works outing')
|To tell the world you're gay||The verb 'to come out' used to be applied to young girls in society when they were first launched into the social circuit. It also means 'coming out from the closet' or 'coming out with the truth' and the Germans, not being able to make this construction, put the 'ing' on the end of the 'out' and finally pummelled this word into shape, so 'to come out' is the origin of this strange use, and, whereas it used to apply to any hitherto hidden secrets, nowadays the default meaning is that you reveal the 'secret' that you are gay.|
Have a view over (He chose a seat overlooking the green); not to see something, intentionally or by mistake. Not to be confused with 'oversee' - which means to supervise
|Übrsehen - see notes||The German word übersehen (etwas nicht sehen/not to see something) and überschauen (to see all of something) -> Oversee and overlook (Germans tend to 'overlook' a mistake and 'oversee' the landscape)|
A paper securing your rights on an invention you have made.
|The noun in German has the same meaning, but patent as an adjective describes a good friend, a reliable person. The equivalent word for the shiny leather is 'Lack'|
The petrol-based substance we wouldn't have survived the 20th century without. The related adjective.
|Also applies to PVC and related substances, but also means (as an adjective: plastisch) simply 3-dimensional and 'Eine Plastik' is a sculpture.|
Chemicals added to food to improve their keeping properties
|Condoms - usually spelled 'Präservative'||Be careful when buying food for people allergic to additives!|
A device for receiving radio broadcasts; also a two-way communication device
|Only the first of these two definitions applies. The German word for a two-way radio is Funkgerät|
Down-to-earth, having good sense, not flighty
Numerous meanings in English - To place something down somewhere, to set the table, to set a fire, to set a scene. The noun means a complete collection of something - tableware, equipment for a game, and is also the word for a badger's home.
|Place mats||Honestly, this is true. If the word stands alone, this is what it means.|
To make a mistake, lose your footing when your feet slide on a too smooth (slippery) surface. (rutschen, ausrutschen) Also subst. A mistake (Ausrutscher). A petticoat (Unterrock). The straight kind, not fifties' style!
|Underpants (usually for ladies or children).||The confusion may even be increased by Germans not being able to hear a difference between the words 'Sleep' and 'Slip'. This gets worse when you start talking about bedlinen!|
A pair of soft shoes worn inside the house.
|(In shoe trade publications and in shoe shop catalogues) A pair of shoes that you slip into (i.e. Do not lace up or buckle)||French and Italian suffer even more from rape of semantics in this trade, in English, too, many words are used 'wrongly'|
Warehouses, shops or what is in them. What is in the larder, pantry or cellar.
|Curtains.(The heavy type, Usually only a foot or so wide, hung for decoration at the sides.)||The window and curtain culture is very different in most countries, and is enough to fill a whole entry. In the case of Germany, because of the use of shutters, curtains are not actually necessary for privacy or warmth, but just a bit of net hung in front looks a bit bare, so these are framed with narrow pieces of curtain material. Don't ask me why they use this word.|
|The German word 'Terz' is the Third Interval in music. It is also a colloquialism for a dispute or for noise.||A certain Researcher was once on a guided tour somewhere in Scotland and had to pass through a lychgate which squeaked on two notes every time someone went through. A German member of the group surprised the lady who followed him through the gate with the words 'That's a little terse.' He meant that the two notes were at a minor third interval. In music, as most musicians will already know, there is practically nothing that you can just 'translate.' (B flat is B, B is H, and so on) But that is another subject... The other intervals, by the way, are: Sekunde, Quarte, Quinte, Sexte, etc.|
some practical advice; a rubbish dump
|The word 'Tipp' exists in German but is only understood in the first sense (practical advice)|
Something to do with insurance or probate?
|The German word 'unterschreiben' means to sign. Simply, to write your name on a document.|
You're welcome is not necessarily a nice thing to say in English. On the other hand, it can be used as a reply to 'thank you' but is not compulsory.
|In German, you should always say 'Bitte' or 'Bitte sehr' after being thanked.||And Germans so often use the wrong preposition, telling people (even in writing at airports) that they are Welcome IN Berlin, or wherever. It's no good telling them it's 'Welcome TO Berlin' - they'll make the same mistake next time round. (Present company excepted)|
Which person, what place. In that order
|The German words 'Wo' and 'Wer' which sound almost identical to the English, are used the other way around. See the German Class, and remember: Who=wer/wen; Where=Wo/wohin/woher?|
To put something somewhere quickly and efficiently e.g. in the microwave
|To zap in German 'Zappen' is channel-hopping, a favourite pastime the world over in these remote controlled days.|
Numbers with a dot are ordinal numbers in German. So 'the first time' would translate as 'Das erste Mal' and could be written 'Das 1. Mal'. This is most common in dates. You write 'am 4. Juli' but you say 'am vierten Juli'.
Particularly in the States, the language is frequently peppered with little words that sound very German, but come from the Yiddish. Yiddish is very close to German, and it is quite possible to hold a conversation with one person speaking German and one speaking Yiddish. However, a certain degree of caution is still called for. A 'Schmuck' in the States is a person it's not really great fun to be with, but the German word 'Schmuck' is the direct translation for 'jewellery'.