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The "Achter" in "Achterbahn" could mean "behind", "figure of eight", "eight place" or "wisdom teeth". According to the Wiktionary article "Achterbahn",

Der Name stammt von der ursprünglich oft vertretenen Streckenform, die aussah wie eine Acht

but it lacks any references. Is there a more reputable source for this claim, or are there other theories?

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Was soll denn eine Achterbahn mit Weisheitszähnen zu tun haben? Oder behind - wie das? Oder 8. Platz? Wieso nicht 'Hab Acht!' oder 'Verbannung' oder 'Mürbeteig'? – user unknown Aug 16 '11 at 20:32
@user: just enter "achter" at - it offers, among others, "wisdom teeth" and "behind". For native speakers, those translations sound odd with respect to "Achterbahn", but regarding someone learning german as a foreign language, i don't think it's a mistake to include every translation offered by a dictionary. – tohuwawohu Aug 17 '11 at 5:28
If I have a sound explanation, which Tim N cites, and a dictionary, offering an support for '8', but none support at all for a different explanation? I think the question contains the answer. – user unknown Aug 17 '11 at 11:27
Wisdom teeth are on the eighth position of every quadrant, therefore they're called "Achter". You divide the mouth into four quadrants, and then always count teeth from the front to the back - see Wikipedia for more. – Jan Aug 24 '11 at 9:58
Achtern for "behind" is used in boating, not so much in regular German. Basically, of the four defitions given, only "Figure of Eight" applies. – Kevin Keane Mar 16 '15 at 11:01

Wikipedia agrees by mentioning an early eight-shaped roller coaster:

Die erste regelrechte Achterbahn (in Form der Ziffer 8) wurde 1898 auf Coney Island eröffnet.

There were roller coasters before that one, but the form was popular at the time.

Duden also agrees by implicitly mentioning it:

(auf Jahrmärkten, Volksfesten o. Ä.) mit großer Geschwindigkeit auf- und abwärtsfahrende Bahn mit Kurven, die zum Teil die Form einer Acht (a) haben

It also has an entry for "Achter":

Figur in Form einer Acht (a)

The Grimm has several entries for "Achter", but I couldn't make a connection to the "Achter" in roller coaster.

Since there's no other explanation, several dictionaries / websites agree and there actually were a lot of 8-shaped tracks in the beginning, I think you can be fairly confident to believe this to be the reason for the word.

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I can't offer any credible source, but I'm a native speaker. Referring to the common track layout in the name does make sense. I've never really gave a thought about it, but while searching for an answer I found out that a lot of other languages actually seem to refer to the German word as their origin.

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Out of curiosity, which languages? I find all sorts of names -- roller coaster, mountain-and-valley ride, Russian mountains, American slide -- but "Achter" only in German and Dutch. – Tim Aug 16 '11 at 20:01
The dutch expression jumped into my mind. Most languages seem to refer mountains, hills and dips in the expression. – Bjoern Aug 16 '11 at 20:06

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