What is the origin of the strange idiom "einen Türken bauen"?

I have already checked wiktionary, and they present a few alternatives. All these alternatices are insufficient IMO, as they all smell like someone invented them to make the idiom sound plausible.

These stories all are hard to refute, but I don't believe them.

Short overview:

Story 1:
When the "Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal" was inaugurated, the hymn of every State that had sent a representative was played. Because the hymn of the Turks was not available and instead the musicians played "Guter Mond, du gehst so stille durch die Abendwolken hin."

Story 2:
In the age of Rokoko Johann Wolfgang Ritter [..] built a so called "Mechanischer Türke" who won chess against some of the most renowned masters. Later it was revealed, that in fact the puppet did not think, but a human inside played.

Story 3:
Swiss Military speech: Türgg - maneuver

Story 4:
In the 15th to 17th century, there was great fear of a turkish invasion. This seems to have been used to create high taxes from nothing (to be used for a counter-invasion), which were used for something completely different then.

  • 2
    A few options are presented by wiktionary. de.wiktionary.org/wiki/einen_T%C3%BCrken_bauen Commented May 14, 2014 at 19:28
  • 4
    Please show some research effort... Jeff Atwood once wrote: "It's a privilege to be allowed to ask questions." in his blog. If you ask questions that are looking like a "please google this for me" (please optional) you make people leave, and as I don't like that I downvoted you. This is meant as incentive to edit your question, not as punishment ;)
    – Vogel612
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 19:44
  • See also: de.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C3%BCrken_%28Verb%29 Commented May 14, 2014 at 22:05
  • I believe anyone on here will have to research the origin as well, as they are not clear. Here is the Wiki link if you are interested: de.wiktionary.org/wiki/einen_Türken_bauen
    – Chanz
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 18:55
  • 3
    This question appears to be off-topic because its answer can be easily googled.
    – 0x6d64
    Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 5:48

1 Answer 1


Obviously my question will not lead to a discussion of the problem. So I'm going to add my story to those of wikipedia. I learnt the expression in the German Army in the sixties where it was currently used for special effects during manoeuvres. In my old French dictionary Sachs-Villatte the French noun truc with the general meaning fraud is also indicated as a special theatre expression for machinery used to produce special effects on the stage, eg special transformations. In my view the French military took over this theatre term for their similar devices in manoevres and this term came to the German military as well. But it was transformed from truc over *Trück to Türk, and finally to Türke, a simple metathesis of the sound r. So when a German officer said "man hat einen Türken gebaut" he meant the special effect was produced by tricks with specially built machinery and devices. He did not speak of a person from Turkey or a turc who played chess.

  • So you have your theory, which in my eyes is neither more nor less plausible than the ones already listed in Wikipedia. By this I mean it IS plausible. Add it to the Wikipedia list! Commented May 14, 2014 at 21:29
  • BTW, the most common colloquial meaning of un truc (a trick) nowadays is ein Ding, so that jdm einen Türken bauen would be jdm ein Ding bauen. Commented May 14, 2014 at 21:32
  • before you go and edit Wikipedia though, I will tell you that truc really means trick, and it would have been hard for the meaning as theatrical machinery to overshadow the generic meaning outside of theaters. Commented May 14, 2014 at 21:41
  • Today the meaning of truc is a bit more harmless, but at first the meaning went from trick, dodge to fraud. And the expression "einen Türken bauen" did not come up in our generation, it is older. But it is up to you whether you want to believe the story of the chess turc, at least for wikipedia it was worth relating.
    – rogermue
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 21:55
  • I don't understand why you despise the theory that the expression originates from the Mechanical Turk Commented May 14, 2014 at 21:59

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