Deconstructing Denglisch

Most Germans begin learning English in school at just six years old. This means that by the time they reach their teenage years, many Germans are fluent. Add to this the popularity of American films and music throughout this country, and it is completely natural that Germans have begun to use so many English words in their day-to-day speech.

This German/English mashup is known as Denglisch, which is Deutsch (German) and Englisch (English) squished together. The biggest culprit of using Denglisch in Germany has to be advertisers. Although, do not be fooled into thinking it is only the American companies that do this. For example, this is a line from a famous commercial that my German boyfriend likes to sing:“Vollgepackt mit tollen Sachen, die das Leben schöner machen, hinein ins weekend feeling”

This jingle is about how delicious a specific brand of yogurt is, and that it gives you a “weekend feeling.” Why did they use English to convey this? Were they just too lazy to find a German word that fit? I have no idea.

Or, how about this new paper towel holder that I recently got called the “Wisch & Weg Easypull.” Okay, so the “Wisch & Weg” part is German, which basically means “wash away,” but then why is the second half in English? Also, why is easy and pull squished together in one word?

German advertisers really seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas, in my opinion. This is how I imagine it going at the offices of these companies:

Five old white men sit around a table. They recently released the new “Schöner Haare TurboDryer,” which is the latest hair dryer on the market. Now, they have to come up with a cool new catchphrase for the print advertisements.

“I know there are over nine million words in the German language, but they’ve all been used before,” says Jürgen Müller

“We need something fresh that really appeals to the kids,” replies Hans Schäfer.

“Open up Google translate, Hans! I have a great idea!” exclaims Jürgen excitedly.

Another interesting phenomenon that I have noticed is how Germans have taken certain English words and really made them their own. Here are two examples of this:

One day, while watching the German version of CSI (Tatort), I heard one man casually mention that he is a street worker. I was taken aback.

“That guy is a prostitute?!” I asked, confused.

“What? No!” my German boyfriend explained, “A street worker is not a prostitute. They work with people that need help. Isn’t that an English term?”

Umm, no.

Basically, a “street worker” is a type of social worker. But personally, I still think it sounds like a nice way of saying prostitute. I figured it was possible that I am just out of touch with the English language, so I did look up “street worker” online. There were only a handful of results, however, some of which defined it as a social worker, some that defined it as a prostitute, and some that defined it as a municipal worker that maintains highways. I think these results show that this term is definitely more German than English.

This next one really kills me whenever I hear it used. In German, it is totally normal to call a boombox or portable stereo a “ghetto blaster.” Now, I understand that this is a term that some Americans do use. It is not, however, used in radio or on TV. I would also argue that boombox is the more accepted (and politically correct) term.

In Germany, on the other hand, ghetto blaster is the totally normal term for it. In radio, on TV, in movies, in advertisements – it doesn’t matter, they just casually say “ghetto blaster.” I wish I was kidding.

Another not-so-politically-correct example of English in the German language is the term “black music,” which Germans use to describe Rap, Hip-Hop, R&B, and other music genres with mainly black artists. I have actually gotten used to seeing posters around town about “Black Music Parties.” This example could start a whole debate about race issues, however, so I am just going to stop here.

In general, I think English is a sort of trend here in Germany. Ask the average German teenager on the street what that English phrase on their Hollister T-shirt means, and they will rarely be able to tell you. Still, it is cool to wear.

So, is this all leading to the death of the German language? Probably not, although this is a hot debate in Germany right now. One thing that is certain, however, is that colloquial German is an ever-evolving language.

Courtney is an American expat living abroad in Germany. After studying abroad in Germany during college, she immediately knew that she wanted to go back. So after graduating, that’s just what she did.

She now works as a freelance writer and is pursuing her Masters degree in Germany. To read more about her experiences and adventures, check out her blog at Courtney the Ami.