List of terms used for Germans
There are many alternative terms for the people of Germany. In English the demonym is German. During the early Renaissance, "German" implied that the person spoke German as a native language. Until German unification, people living in what is now Germany were named for the region they lived in: examples are Bavarians and Brandenburgers. Some other terms are humorous or derogatory slang, and used mainly by people from other countries, although they can be used in a self-deprecating way by German people themselves. Other terms are serious or tongue-in-cheek attempts to coin words as alternatives to the ambiguous standard terms.
- 1 English
2 Other countries
- 2.1 Austria
- 2.2 China
- 2.3 Czechoslovakia
- 2.4 France
- 2.5 Netherlands
- 2.6 Spain
- 2.7 Italy
- 2.8 Switzerland
- 2.9 Poland
- 2.10 Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia
- 2.11 Germany
- 3 See also
- 4 References
Initially, the word Dutch could refer to any Germanic-speaking area, language, or people, derived from the Proto-Germanic þiudiskaz, meaning belonging to or being part of the people. For example:
- The Chronography and History of the Whole World, Vol. II (1677) mentions the mathematician that "...the Dutch call Leibnitz," adding that Dutch is spoken in the parts of Hungary adjoining to Germany.
The phrase "Pennsylvania Dutch" is a corruption of the German word for German "Deutsch". To this day, descendants of German immigrants who resettled in Pennsylvania continue to refer to themselves as Pennsylvania Dutch or Pennsylvania German. Some may or may not be members of the plain sects found in southcentral-southeastern Pennsylvania, such as Mennonites or the Amish.
The origin of the term was a reference to Attila the Hun in Emperor Wilhelm II's notorious Hunnenrede (Hun speech) delivered on 27 July 1900, when he bade farewell to the German expeditionary corps sailing from Bremerhaven to defeat the Boxer Uprising. The relevant part of the speech was:
"Kommt ihr vor den Feind, so wird derselbe geschlagen! Pardon wird nicht gegeben! Gefangene werden nicht gemacht! Wer euch in die Hände fällt, sei euch verfallen! Wie vor tausend Jahren die Hunnen unter ihrem König Etzel sich einen Namen gemacht, der sie noch jetzt in Überlieferung und Märchen gewaltig erscheinen läßt, so möge der Name Deutsche in China auf 1000 Jahre durch euch in einer Weise bestätigt werden, daß es niemals wieder ein Chinese wagt, einen Deutschen scheel anzusehen!"
Trans: "When you meet the enemy, he will be defeated! No quarter will be given! No prisoners will be taken! Those who fall into your hands are forfeit to you! Just as a thousand years ago, the Huns under their King Etzel made a name for themselves which shows them as mighty in tradition and myth, so shall you establish the name of Germans in China for 1000 years, in such a way that a Chinese will never again dare to look askance at a German."
The theme of Hunnic savagery was then developed in a speech of August Bebel in the Reichstag in which he recounted details of the cruelty of the German expedition which were taken from soldiers' letters home, styled the Hunnenbriefe (letters from the Huns).
The Kaiser's speech was widely reported in the European press and then became the basis for the characterisation of the Germans during World War I as barbarians and savages with no respect for European civilisation and humanitarian values.
British soldiers employed a variety of epithets for the Germans. "Fritz" (a German pet form of Friedrich) was popular in both World War I and World War II, with "Jerry" (short for German, but also modelled on the English name) favoured in the latter.
Heini is a common German colloquial term with a slightly derogatory meaning similar to "moron" or "idiot", but it could be of different origin.
Alongside Fritz, Hans, and Jerry, World War II era American servicemen sometimes called their German counterparts Hermann. Hitler's second-in-command was Hermann Göring, so it was concluded that Hermann was a common name for Germans – indeed it is an ancient German name, popular until 1945. Additionally, the name was used to highlight the Germans' alleged savagery, because Hermann was the name of an ancient barbarian chieftain responsible for defeating the Romans at Teutoburger Wald.
Jerry was a nickname given to Germans during the Second World War by soldiers and civilians of the Allied nations, in particular by the British. The nickname was originally created during World War I, but it did not find common use until World War II.
The name is most likely a simple alteration of the word German. One ongoing use of "jerry" is found in the term jerrycan.
Recently, the term "Eric" has become popular amongst British troops, originating from an episode of the British TV comedy Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, in which the name "Eric" was used instead of "Jerry" in an attempt to confuse some Germans who were fluent in English.
Since World War II, Kraut has come to be used in the English language as a derogatory term for a German. This is probably based on sauerkraut, which is popular in various South German cuisines but not traditionally prepared in North Germany. The stereotype of the sauerkraut-eating German pre-dates this, as it appears in Jules Verne's depiction of the evil German industrialist Schultze as an avid sauerkraut eater in The Begum's Millions. Schultze's antagonist is an Alsatian who hates sauerkraut but pretends to love it to win his enemy's confidence. Possibly, "kraut" refers to the practice of distributing sauerkraut on German ships to prevent scurvy (as limey does to the lime juice of the British).
In a more poetical sense Germans can be referred to as "Teutons". The usage of the word in this term has been observed in English since 1833. The word originated via an ancient Germanic tribe, the Teutons (see also Teutonic and the Teutonic Order).
Pronounced , boche is a derisive term used by the French during World War I, often collectively ("the Boche" meaning "the Germans"). A shortened form of the French slang portmanteau alboche, itself derived from Allemand ("German") and caboche ("head" or "cabbage"). Also spelled "Bosch" or "Bosche". According to a 1916 article in the New York Times magazine Current History, the origin is as follows:
- Boche is an abbreviation of caboche, (compare bochon, an abbreviation of cabochon). This is a recognized French word used familiarly for "head," especially a big, thick head, ("slow-pate"). It is derived from the Latin word caput and the suffix oceus. Boche seems to have been used first in the underworld of Paris about 1860, with the meaning of a disagreeable, troublesome fellow. In the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 it was not applied to the Germans, but soon afterward it was applied by the Parisian printers to their German assistants because of the reputed slowness of comprehension of these foreign printers. The epithet then used was tête de boche, which had the meaning of tête carrée d'Allemand (German blockhead or imbécile). The next step was to apply boche to Germans in general.
The Austrian ethnic slur for a German is Piefke. Like its Bavarian counterpart Saupreiß (literally: sow-Prussian) the term Piefke historically characterized the people of Prussia only. Its exact origin is unclear, but it was meant to be derogatory most notably because of the term's Polish roots: Referring to every Prussian as Piefke, which is a typical example of a Germanized Polish family name (Piwka), suggested that all Prussians were merely Germanized Poles. The term increased in usage during the 19th century because of the popularity of the Prussian composer Johann Gottfried Piefke. Since Prussia and its eastern territories ceased to exist, the term now refers to the cliché of a pompous (Protestant northern) German in general and a Berliner in particular. However, the citizens of the free Hanseatic cities and the former northern duchies of Oldenburg, Brunswick and Mecklenburg are also quite offended by the terms Piefke and Saupreiß (offense for every German who is not native Bavarian). In 1990, Austrian playwright Felix Mitterer wrote and co-directed a TV mini-series, Die Piefke-Saga, about Germans on holiday in Tyrol. Sometimes the alteration "Piefkineser" is used. Some Austrians use the playful term "Piefkinesisch" (Pief-Chinese) to refer to German spoken in a distinctly German (not Austrian) accent.
The term Marmeladinger originated in the trenches of World War I. It is derived from the German word "Marmelade", which is a fruit preserve. While Austrian infantry rations included butter and lard as spread, German troops had to make do with cheaper "Marmelade" as ersatz. They disdainfully called it "Heldenbutter" (Hero's butter) or "Hindenburgfett". This earned them ridicule from their Austrian allies who would call them Marmeladebrüder (jam brothers) or Marmeladinger ("-inger" being an Austrian derivational suffix describing a person through a characteristic item or action). Germans would conversely call Austrians Kamerad Schnürschuh (comrade shoe-lace) because the Austrian infantry boots used laces while the German boots did not. This term has survived, but it is rarely used.
This word carries a somewhat negative meaning of a stereotypical German being proud, withdrawn, cold and serious. Today, this phrase, when pronounced as "Ga-Men", can mean "disdainful, indifferent, or uninterested in someone or something".
In Czech and Slovak, a German can be called a Skopčák (skopchāk), originally meaning just someone from the highlands (of the Sudeten mountains). Due to the negative perception of the Sudeten Germans' role in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938-9, it is generally perceived negatively, relating to rough and stupid manners ascribed to Germans (skopová hlava - muttonhead).
Boches (offensive, historical)
Apheresis of the word alboche, which in turn is a blend of allemand (French for German) and caboche (slang for head). Used mainly during the First and Second World Wars, and directed especially at German soldiers.
Casque à pointe (historical)
Casque à pointe is derived from the French name for the traditional Prussian military helmets worn by German soldiers from the 1840s until World War I. In modern British and American sign language, the word for Germany continues to be an index finger pointed to the top of the forehead, simulating the Pickelhaube.
From the name of the Chleuh, a North African ethnicity — a term with racial connotations. It also denotes the absence of words beginning in Schl- in French. It was used mainly in World War II (for example, in the film Inglourious Basterds) but is also used now in a less offensive way like in the film Taxi.
In Dutch the most common term for the German people, after the regular/official one, is "mof". It is regarded as a derogatory term, used exclusively for Germans and reflecting Dutch resentment of the German occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War and the respective German actions. The word "Mofrika" is a portmanteau of Africa and "mof" and is used as a humorous reference to Germany.
In the late 16th century the area now known as East Frisia and Emsland and the people that lived there were referred to as Muffe. At the time the Netherlands were by far the richest country in the whole of Europe, and these people were looked down upon greatly by the Dutch. The area of Western Lower Saxony was at that time very poor and a good source for many Dutch people looking for cheap labour. The inhabitants of this region were known to be rather reserved and were often described as grumpy, rude and unsophisticated by the Dutch. Later the term was used to describe the whole of Germany, which, at the time, was not much better off economically than Western Lower Saxony, mainly due to the various wars waged on its territory by foreign powers. The term seemed to have died out around 1900, but returned after the German invasion of the Netherlands in 1940.
In Early Modern Spanish (for example in Don Quixote), tudescos (cognate with Deutsch and the Italian tedeschi) was used sometimes as a general name for Germans and sometimes restricted to Lower Saxony.
This word, "crucco", derived from the Slovenian kruh ("bread"). Italian soldiers invented this word during World War I when they captured some hungry Austrian-Slovenian soldiers who asked for kruh. Later, during World War II, it was applied to German people.
German for rubber-neck. The term has been verified to be in use since the 1970s at least. Its actual meaning is subject to debate. Theories include the stereotype of Germans talking too much or nodding their heads endlessly when listening to superiors.
The ordinary (inoffensive) meaning is people from Swabia (roughly Baden-Wurtemberg) in South Germany, but in Switzerland it is used for any German. A strengthening is Sauschwabe.
Švabo, Švaba (offensive)
Term Švabo (Cyrillic: Швабо) is most often used in jokes but also very popularly used by the Yugoslav Partisans during the Second World War. In SFR Yugoslavia it was commonly used in the movies depicting the battles betweens the Partisans and Nazi forces. The word in its origin is not offensive since it is used to depict a person from the German region of Swabia; however, the word probably entered the Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian language in relation to the Danube Swabians. The variant Švaba (Шваба) is primarily used in Serbian language. Female form is Švabica (Швабица).
The term "Ossi", derived from the German word Osten which means east, is used in Germany for people who were born or live in the area of the former German Democratic Republic.
The term "Wessi," derived from the German word Westen which means west, is used in Germany for people who were born or live in the old states of Germany. Sometimes it's also modified to "Besserwessi", from the German word Besserwisser which means Know-it-all, which reflects the stereotype that people from the Western part of Germany are arrogant.
In 2010 there was a lawsuit in Germany because a job applicant was denied employment and her application was found to have the notation "Ossi" and a minus sign written on her application documents. A German court decided that denial of employment for such a reason would be discrimination, but not ethnic discrimination, since "East German" is not an ethnicity.
- Chronography and History of the whole world, Vol. II (London, 1677: 154)
- Die Reden Kaiser Wilhelms II., Hg. v. Johannes Penzler. Bd. 2: 1896-1900. Leipzig o.J., S. 209-212. Deutsches Historisches Museum
- National Library of Scotland Digital Archive (click "More information")
- Boche, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
- Anton Karl Mally: "Piefke". Nachträge. In: Muttersprache. Zeitschrift zur Pflege und Erforschung der deutschen Sprache [Wiesbaden], Vol. 94, 1983/84, number 3-4, pp. 313-327.
- Anton Karl Mally: „Piefke". Herkunft und Rolle eines österreichischen Spitznamens für den Preußen, den Nord- und den Reichsdeutschen, in: Muttersprache. Zeitschrift zur Pflege und Erforschung der deutschen Sprache, [Wiesbaden] 1984, number 4, pp. 257-286.
- Prisma Etymologisch woordenboek, ISBN 90-274-9199-2. "Mof heeft historisch gezien niet de huidige betekenis (die van een verwijzing naar de Duitsers en hun acties tijdens de Tweede wereldoorlog) maar ..."
- "moffenWhy Germans are called " (Dutch)
- Don Quixote, Second Part, chapter LIV, Miguel de Cervantes: Sancho Panza meets some pilgrims (alemán o tudesco) from Augsburg.
- tudesco in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española.
- Don Quixote, Second part, chapter V: ¿Cuántos son los alemanes, tudescos, franceses, españoles, italianos y esguízaros? "How many are the Almains, Dutch, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Italians and Swiss?"
- Bruno Ziauddin: Grüezi Gummihälse. Warum uns die Deutschen manchmal auf die Nerven gehen. Rowohlt, Reinbek 2008, ISBN 978-3-499-62403-2