Why did English borrow so few German words?

English is a scavenger tongue that borrowed boondocks from Filipino Tagalog and poppycook from the Dutch. Many of the words are stolen from the French and anglicized, same goes fro Aboriginal place names. Why so few words borrowed from the Germans despite the sizable emigration? Was it because our salivary glands weren’t big enough?

Could it be that English is partly of German (or Anglo Saxon) origin anyway ?. So the German words are already there.

Maybe, I don’t doubt there are similarities between Old English and Old German. But they diverged a long time ago, no? ANyway, Bill Bryson in his book Mother Tongue describes this as a great linguistic puzzle, so I thought I’d throw it out.

I think that there are a lot more German words than we think in the roots of everyday words. There is also a much stronger Latin base than I would’ve thought. Our language is so diverse that it is hard to say something like “so few words borrowed from the Germans” because there are so many words in our crazy language. I think it is a shame that so many ARE borrowed, rather than made up or built-up on other words.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll probably keep saying it, but the borrowing is what makes English such a rich language.

It’s the difference between a question and an interrogation. It’s the difference between sadness and sorrow. It’s the difference between a trip, a journey, and a voyage. It’s the difference between cows and beef, deer and venison, pigs and pork, sheep and mutton. It’s the difference between guiding someone, leading someone, or conducting someone. It’s the difference between writing and scribbling. It’s the difference between forever and eternity on the one hand, and forever and infinity on the other.

Did you know that there is nothing that directly corresponds to the English thesaurus in any other language? English has the largest available vocabulary in the world, even if you leave out specialized jargon.
English is capable of showing the most subtle degrees of meaning based on word choice.

The borrowing is what made English what it is.

I am not sure why anyone thinks German has not contributed many words. I suspect that, as alluded to, above, many Germanic borrowings are simply seen as “native” English. In addition, many Germanic words are certainly cognate with English words so that to borrow a German meaning for an English word is often missed when counting borrowed words. (Mencken, for example, notes that Americans use “shoe” in several instances where British use “boot” and traces the selection of which word to use to German usage.)

There follows a short list of borrowings from German (some of which are composites matching German and English parts in a single word). (I also note that many of these words were common in English earlier, but have been pushed out by later borrowings and coinages).

(wiener and weener, to say nothing of wienie)
bock (beer)
liverwurst (leberwurst)
bloodwurst (blutwurst)
(giving “to loaf”)
nix (from nichts)
check (as a restaurant bill)
fresh (when used to mean impudent)
ouch! (from autsch
and, of course,
u-boat (u-boot)
and various other military borrowings that did not survive WWII such as jabo and baedeker

We didn’t borrow them, we stole them and we refuse to give them back.

I just finished reading a book about England in the year 1000 (titled, amazingly, “The year 1000”). Based on what I learned in there, here is my conjecture.

Old English (Anglo Saxon) is Germanic and similar to what the folks around the Rhine used.

Then England was invaded by the Vikings, and English was enhanced with words and sounds from Scandinavia.

Then England was invaded by the Normans, and English was enhanced with words from France (and by extension… Latin).

(now into the realm of my WAG)

England fights many wars with France over the next few centuries. French is the language of diplomats. More French words enter the English language.

About 1600, England becomes a major naval power. The Netherlands are also a major naval power. Between alliances and confrontations, a lot of communication between England and Holland results in the acceptance of many Dutch words.

England controls the Netherlands for a good length of time. (Remember William of Orange? The Orange refers to the Netherlands). Occupation results in more language crossover.

Germany was never a sea power until this century. England has never been invaded and occupied by Germany/Prussia, and vice versa.

Which means the primary means for German words to enter into English after the Anglo-Saxon settlement was through trade and commerce. Many words enter this way (such as taboo from IIRC Polynesian), but it is less efficient than making folks with different languages live next to each other and talk to each other for generations.

I just had to comment… What an eloquent post!

And on the same subject, I noticed when taking German in high school how many English words translated to the same German word.

I know you just mixed them up unintentionally, but I’ll correct it anyway: William of Orange went to England, not the other way around.

The OP says English took “poppycook” from Dutch. Would you mind telling this Dutchman what the hell that word means? :wink:

English is indeed a language that is able to convey subtle differences in feelings brilliantly. Remember that scene in “Sophies Choice”, where the two guys go off on a Thesaurus Spree, quoting synonyms for “fast”? Amazing.

On the other hand, it is interesting to know that there are many Dutch words for which there isn’t a direct translation. Not in English, and often not in any language. It takes me an entire 5 minutes to explain what gezellig translates to in English. In short: it means “cosy”, but not quite.

I think tomndebb did an excellent job quoting German words that made it into English. Nothing to add there.

A poppycook is a middleman who takes unprocessed opium and purifies it through a chemical reaction involving dehydrolysed acetic acid. I thought you were from Amsterdam and understood these things.

I am from Amsterdam, but I left the opium business behind me in 1986 when I became a banker. :wink:

Looks like a little jargon I’m unaware of. But it doesn’t sound like a Dutch word I know of.

IIRC, Bryson said something to the effect that there were only two common English words (kindergarten and hinterland, I believe) that are borrowed from German. I have no idea what he based this on, but it’s easily the most ridiculous statement in that book.

As Tom demonstrated, we have borrowed many words from German. Some time back I visually scanned pretty much all the etymologies in Webster’s 10th Collegiate Dictionary. I wasn’t looking for German-derived words in particular, but keeping Bryson’s statement in mind, I noted that there were lots of them. At a rough estimate, I’d say that there’s almost as many German-derived words as there are Italian- or Spanish-derived.

I could add many words to Tom’s list, but will just give two that came from wars:

snorkel (WWII)
strafe (WWI)

The latter has an interesting etymology. It comes from a sentence common to German propanganda during that war: “Gott strafe England” (God punish England). So the next time you see an airplane make a strafing run in a movie, remember that it’s really punishing the people on the ground.

It should be spelled poppycock and means “nonsense” in English. Comes from the Dutch dialectal word pappekak, “soft dung”.

Pappekak? Hee! :wink:

Kak means “poop”, and pap means “porridge”.
Porridge poop, ladies and gents. :wink:

Never heard it before, but it’s a genuine Dutch construction alright. It’s probably me, then.

Another thought: a lot of words that the English think of as Dutch might just as well be German. The two languages share a lot of words. The abovementioned snorkel is one of them, incidently.

indeed, robby. many english words and german words are similar:


english and german share many “easy” words see-sehen, hear-horen. it isn’t until you get into more “complex” words audio (hear) visual (see) that you find the latin commonality .

oh no! when i say kaka, i’m really speaking dutch??? well, dung (dung is german as well).

Given the influence of Dutch on naval terms throughout the world, that’s most likely from the Dutch word sluis.

And then I looked it up. It’s from the French ecluse.

From Dictionary.com:

Goes to show it never hurts to check. :wink:

This is so simple, and I’m carrying a minor in the language so I do know a bit obout it.

The reason English doesn’t use many “German” words is because they’re already part of the language. Linguists almost unanimously agree that English and German are closer than any other 2 languages. English whites are referred to as Anglo-Saxon because that’s the part of the continent most came from to permantly settle.

An easy example is to take any “f” or “ff” in German and simply pronounce it as a “p”.

For instance: Affe is ape, scharf is sharp, harfe is harp, schiff is ship.

“B” is equal to english f or v. Ex: haben is have, grab is grave and eneben is uneven.

In addition the pronouns are even close: ich is I, du is you, wir is we and sie is she.

I could go on but I’ll end it here and give someone else a chance.

I understand that an Amsterdam company actually invented it. The Germans used them during WWII, so that’s where they impinged on Engish-speaking consciousness. The German form of the word is Schnorchel.

opps. thanks for the correction, coldfire.

In Metamagical Themas, Douglas Hofstadter examined the oddities of mapping one set of symbols onto another. Some remarkable weirdness occurs when the two sets are quite similar in many respects although different. As an example, he cited English/German dialectal humor – it’s possible for this stuff to be funny because the two languages are so similar, but not quite