In English it’s quite acceptable and normal to use the German word blitzkrieg even in other than historical contexts. For example, in the October 2015 issue of National Geographic I read on page 43

[…] Berger invited more than 30 young scientists […] for a blitzkrieg fossil fest lasting six weeks.

How would one translate this into German, in particular the word blitzkrieg? (How was it translated for the German edition?) Is it acceptable to use this Nazi-period word in German in contexts similar to this?

  • Extended question: What is the german word for kindergarten? Can it be used ironically, i.e.: What kind of kindergarten is this? Oct 22, 2015 at 21:04
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    @userunknown kindergarten=Kindergarten and yes, it can be used ironically and figuratively. but there is no problem with political correctness and Nazi history.
    – Walter
    Oct 22, 2015 at 21:09
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    @userunknown The examples blitzkrieg and kindergarden are very much different. A better additional example would be grammar nazi or similar as Hans mentioned in his answer.
    – Jan
    Oct 22, 2015 at 21:17
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    It might be worth considering English synonyms before translating - in this context, I think the writer is trying to convey "fast/frenetic/focused" - possibly, "sudden/unexpected"
    – user18772
    Oct 23, 2015 at 5:14
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    @userunknown Die Frage ist hier doch, ob diese geschmacklose Anspielung vom Muttersprachler tatsächlich so empfunden wird. Der Fragesteller suggeriert hier bereits, dass das evtl. nicht der Fall ist. Dem sollte dann auch die Übersetzung Rechnung tragen. Ein anderes Beispiel hierfür wäre das US-amerikanische "i love you", das man noch nicht einmal problemlos nach Großbritannien übertragen kann.
    – Burki
    Nov 30, 2015 at 10:09

7 Answers 7


Using the word Blitzkrieg casually in German is no more acceptable than trivialising the Holocaust by using literal translations of horrible words such as grammar nazi. In each case one would need to find a suitable translation, far removed from any nazi-specific imagery. Violent imagery in general, even war imagery, is no problem even if the word Blitz (flash) is included.

PS: It now seems to me that more precision is in order.

In Germany there is a general taboo around most words that are specifically related to the nazi era. It is no problem to use words falling under this taboo in their original sense, but casual figurative use is considered inappropriate. Both Blitzkrieg and Nazi fall under this general taboo.

This taboo is strongest for words with direct connection to the Holocaust (e.g. KZ, i.e. concentration camp), somewhat weaker for words that can be seen to represent the entire period in all its facets (Nazi falls in this category), even weaker for words that relate specifically to war as opposed to (other) crimes against humanity (Blitzkrieg falls in this category), and weakest for words that relate to other phenomena related to the era but not directly to war or crimes (e.g. Hitlerjugend, i.e. Hitler Youth).

Sometimes the status of a word isn't so clear. E.g. Endlösung (final solution) has been a normal German word long before the nazis applied it to the 'Jewish question'. As a result, the word is treated as totally harmless in some contexts, but falls under the strictest form of the taboo in others.

If you were to say Grammatiknazi in German, this would in principle fall under the taboo against trivialising figurative meanings, but a lot of people would also understand that this is an anglicism, so it is not clear to what extent the taboo applies. However, Blitzkrieg is the original, unchanged word. Therefore, even though the original taboo is somewhat weaker for Blitzkrieg, the overall effect is about the same for both words.

It is also important to understand that this taboo is strongly associated with the admission that the Nazi crimes were wrong and in some sense unprecedented, that Germany lost the war, and that none of this should ever be repeated. In the German context, for a long time not abiding by the taboo has meant that you wanted to revisit these issues. Just like saying "Not everything was bad about the Nazis", ignoring the taboo is not objectively wrong per se but only through the fact that it is aberrant behaviour that signals disagreement with the general consensus of society concerning the period.

The lapse of time has been weakening both the consensus and the taboo. Nowadays a lot of Germans spend a large part of their time in the English-speaking parts of the internet. Consequently, English coinages such as grammar nazi and the figurative use of blitzkrieg contribute to the gradual loss of the taboo in much the same way that the realisation how normal and main-stream racism and extreme nationalism are in countries such as the US (Trump), France (Front National) or Hungary contributes to more open extreme nationalism in Germany.

As a result, yes, you can get away with using the word Blitzkrieg in a translation in this way. But you can neither use it nor avoid it without taking a position.

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    Really, “no more acceptable”? No, that’s nonsense. I can think of plenty of situations where using “Blitzkrieg” or “Grammatiknazi” would be entirely acceptable. I can’t think of any where trivialising the holocaust would. Nov 30, 2015 at 13:32
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    It is trivialising the Holocaust. If you can't see this, then you may be partially socialised in (the American part of) the Internet. Or possibly it's a question of age.
    – user2183
    Nov 30, 2015 at 14:17
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    "Wean123 has given good examples that also show that war imagery in general is no problem, even if the word Blitz (flash) is included." - which part of Wean123's examples uses any war imagery? In German, the word "Blitz" on its own has nothing to do with war, and also the word "Überfall" is not normally connected to war (the first association that comes to mind is a mugger or a bankrobber). Dec 1, 2015 at 11:43
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    @gnasher729: Nobody is punched for using the word grammar nazi, but I guess that's not what you actually meant. Note the difference between trivialising the Holocaust by using it for casual imagery and denying it.
    – user2183
    Dec 2, 2015 at 7:00
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    The Holocaust isn't even referred to by either "Blitzkrieg" or "Nazi". It is the whole time between 1933-1945 that is still under some taboo in Germany.
    – user568
    Dec 2, 2015 at 11:27

As various suitable translations have already been provided, I will answer in particular the question:

Is it acceptable to use this Nazi-period word in German in contexts similar to this?

And while doing so, I will immediately kind of hijack the question ;) The issue is that my impression exactly matches your statement

In English it’s quite acceptable and normal to use the German word blitzkrieg even in other than historical contexts.

In English, blitzkrieg is a set term that is somewhat known and associated with an abstract idea of a quick, yet energetic undertaking. In German, there is no such connotation, and I would argue the word might be less known than in English.

Personally, (being a German native speaker) I heard the word for the first time in an English class, exactly in one of those non-historical contexts (and along with a derived verb, to blitz). In German, it might appear in some history books, and is probably known to people who are very interested in strategic details of military operations. Other than that, there is little use for being so specific about particular details of military operations. Rather, one would say Nazis attacked (angreifen, Angriff) or raided (überfallen, Überfall) another country.

Other than English, where blitzkrieg may sound like a unique word, Blitz is a very common German word that simply means lightning or flash (and Krieg means war). As such, the uniqueness of the word that could go along with a specific abstract connotation in meaning is missing in German. Without knowing the historical context, German native speakers would be just as likely to make the right connection (a war fought fast as a lightning) as the wrong one (a war fought with advanced weaponry that sends deadly lightnings or something ...). Furthermore, there are plenty of German words derived from Blitz used colloquially that native speakers might think of first before considering that the military/historical term Blitzkrieg is used metaphorically - e.g. Geistesblitz (sudden idea), Blitzgewitter (many camera flashes going off in short succession), blitzen/geblitzt werden (getting caught speeding by an automated camera-based traffic control system), blitzschnell (extremely fast (literally "fast as a lightning")), or blitzartig (very sudden (literally "like a lightning")).

One more thing to note is that the connection to the Nazi-period is a rather weak one. Neither could all Nazi attacks be called blitzkrieg, nor were all attacks of the blitzkrieg strategy restricted to World War II. Case in point, the German Wikipedia article on Blitzkrieg mentions World War I in its introduction as an example, and does not even mention Nazis or World War II in that introductory section. As such, I wouldn't see the word Blitzkrieg on the typical list of exclusively nazi-related taboo words, but the fact that other users in here do is a sign that you should be very careful with it.

To conclude, it is less a question of whether it is appropriate to use blitzkrieg, but of whether you will be understood, especially in a metaphorical way, and my suspicion is that no, you will not be flawlessly understood.

  • "Blitzaktion" would probably be understood much better. "Blitzkrieg" in German does relate to the one single historic meaning of the German Wehrmacht rushing into other European countries. And absolutely nothing else.
    – tofro
    Jun 12, 2016 at 16:37
  • @tofro: I fully agree with Blitzaktion, didn't think of that one. Nonetheless, I maintain (as I have already explained thoroughly in this answer) that Blitzkrieg is neither well-known in German nor strongly related to WW2 or Nazi Germany in the first place. Jun 12, 2016 at 18:31

I will answer

(How was it translated for the German edition?)

I guess this is the article you mean. The person who translated it simply ignored the word blitzkrieg:

Neben 20 renommierten Wissenschaftlern, die ihm schon beim Australopithecus von Malapa geholfen hatten, lud er mehr als 30 junge Forscher und Forscherinnen aus 15 Ländern zu einem sechswöchigen Fossilienfestival nach Johannesburg ein.

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    – Jan
    Nov 30, 2015 at 15:06
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    You could emphasize the speed of the organization of the campaign (similar to a blitzkrieg) by adding kurzfristig/unverzüglich/ in kürzester Zeit: "[...] lud er kurzfristig/unverzüglich/ in kürzester Zeit mehr als 30 junge Forscher und Forscherinnen [...]". Something similar did the authors in this podcast about the topic
    – Iris
    Nov 30, 2015 at 15:14
  • @Iris: Ich denke es geht um die Dauer der Exkursion, nicht die Dauer der Vorbereitungszeit. Hitlers Blitzkrieg gegen Polen war auch lange vorbereitet, dauerte aber nur kurz. Dec 1, 2015 at 22:18
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    @user unknown, ich bin mir in dem Kontext nicht sicher was gemeint war, denn eine sechswöchige Feldkampagne ist meiner Ansicht nach definitiv nicht mehr kurz.
    – Iris
    Dec 1, 2015 at 22:22
  • @Iris: Wie lange dauern solche Feldkampagnen denn für gewöhnlich? Dec 2, 2015 at 13:13

Berger hat mehr als 30 junge Wissenschaftler zu einer blitzartigen/überraschenden/schnellen sechswöchigen Fossilveranstaltung eingeladen.

Hard to translate because it includes "quick" and "surprising". Its not used in German for anything other than the military meaning and might give the impression of being close to nazis.

"Überfallsartig" might be possible too, but is not suitable in every situation.

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    Vielleicht ist "kurzfristig" ein bessere Übersetzung. "Blitzartig Veranstaltung" klingt seltsam, und "schnell" und "sechswöchig" passen nur, wenn 6 Wochen vom Kontexther durchaus schnell sind, zB den Berliner Flughafen in 6 Wochen fertigstellen, aber nicht das Auto in 6 Wochen waschen.
    – Robert
    Oct 23, 2015 at 3:43
  • @Robert Reicht für eine eigene Antwort? Nov 30, 2015 at 9:23

Looking at the context I think the author uses the word blitzkrieg here to describe circumstances where the combined action of many contributors leads to a result in much less time than one would usually expect. So I disagree with answers and comments that propose translations such as überraschend, kurzfristig or überfallartig. They seem to focus on the way the event was prepared, which is IMHO not what the author is talking about.

Unfortunately, I do not know of any German word that is able to express this meaning. So I propose to translate it by paraphrasing:

Berger lud mehr als 30 junge Paläontologen zu einem Forschungsworkshop ein mit dem Ziel, in gemeinsamer, intensiver Arbeit die Analyse der Fundstücke in nur 6 Wochen fertigzustellen.

(In italic the parts that I think can express together what blitzkrieg is supposed to mean in the original.)

The second question about using Blitzkrieg in German has been answered by O. R. Mapper so thoroughly that I have nothing to add.

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    Maybe the word Kraftakt transports the desired meaning?
    – Burki
    Dec 2, 2015 at 10:50
  • @Burki I don't think so. Kraftakt lacks the time dimension, it rather expresses that we achieved more than usual by applying all available forces, but not necessarily quicker than usual.
    – Matthias
    Dec 2, 2015 at 13:19
  • It does transport the idea that the results were unusual, although, admittedly, not which part of them was. I agree that it is not a perfect match.
    – Burki
    Dec 2, 2015 at 13:23

I won’t say that Blitzkrieg is solely politically incorrect or has got a bad taste over the years. It simply is offending and using it without reflection is a quite ugly example of ignorance. Thus it should be raised to the editor of National Geographic as a not acceptable misuse of Nazi grammar. Apart from this a 6 week event of course can’t be rated with Blitz in any means.

To make this clear, the translation should translate the meaning of the sentence in a political correct wording and not just exchange the politically incorrect words. For clarifying this, the translation should be accompanied with the original sentence in parantheses e.g. as follows:

[…] Berger lud über 30 Jungwissenschaftler […] für eine 6-wöchige blitzartige Fossilienattacke (blitzkrieg fossil fest) ein.

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    Es sieht nicht so aus, als ob die Nazis den Begriff erfunden hätten, wie ihnen ja überhaupt sehr viel mehr Originalität zugeschrieben wird, als sie hatten. books.google.de/… Dec 1, 2015 at 22:26
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    @userunknown Das ist zwar prinzipiell richtig, aber deine Quelle ist kein guter Beleg dafür, da sie ja offenbar aus der Nachkriegszeit stammt.
    – Matthias
    Dec 2, 2015 at 11:38
  • @Matthias: Da steht zwar 1867, aber "Sozialistischen Einheitspartei Deutschlands" deutet dann doch auf einen Scannerfehler hin. :) Aug 3, 2016 at 17:10
  • Ich habe versucht Ersatz zu beschaffen (-1937), aber entweder die Google-NGram-Quellen sind unbrauchbar, oder offensichtliche Fehldatierungen (Weltbühne, Ulbricht). Ich stelle daher meinen Einwand in Frage. Aug 3, 2016 at 17:29

The complete text can be found here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/09/150910-human-evolution-change/

[…] Berger invited more than 30 young scientists […] for a blitzkrieg fossil fest lasting six weeks.

I would translate it this way:

Berger lud mehr als 30 junge Wissenschaftler zu einer sechswöchigen intensiven Fossilien-Session ein.

The German word »Blitz« means »flash«, »lightning« or »bolt«, which is the very loud and very short electrical discharge during a thunder storm. And the word »Krieg« just means »war«, i.e. two countries using their soldiers to fight against each other.

Blitzkrieg was invented (but not named so) 1870/71 during the french-german war as a fast and intense attack against the enemy: Use all forces that you have for one single intense hit agains you enemy to destroy him loud and quickly, like a flash smashes a tree loud and quickly.

The name »Blitzkrieg« for a intense short military attack was invented 1916 during world war 1 and is not a invention of the nazis.

But in WW2 the nazis used this strategy successful for many battles, and in those days the German term »Blitzkrieg« began to be used in other languages too, namely in Italian, French and English.

After ending of WW2 Germany distances itself from the nazis, and all nazi-terms (Umvolkung, Menschenmaterial, Endlösung, entartete Kunst, unwertes Leben, ...) became political incorrect words, and »Blitzkrieg« is one of those words.

In German language, you can use »Blitzkrieg« to describe the military strategy of the Nazis during WW2 and similar strategies only. But never ever for anything else. Never!

The word »Blitz« (flash, lightning) is free of any nazi-connotations, it just means the physical phenomenon at a thunderstorm. And also »Krieg« is not stronger connected with Nazis then the english world »war«.

There are also compound words that contain »Blitz« like »blitzartig« (verbatim: flash-like) which means »very quickly« or phrases like »wie ein geölter Blitz« (»like an oiled lightning«) which also means »very quickly«. They are all free of any Nazi-context. Just be careful with »Blitzkrieg«: It is a really bad word in German language.

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