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Citing the Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (which I have not been able to access) the Online Etymology Dictionary at

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Nazi

says:

An older use of Nazi for national-sozial is attested in German from 1903, but EWdS does not think it contributed to the word as applied to Hitler and his followers. The NSDAP for a time attempted to adopt the Nazi designation as what the Germans call a "despite-word," but they gave this up, and the NSDAP is said to have generally avoided the term.

Is this true? And can anyone cite a couple of good examples from the 1920s or 30s? I am sure that once I have a few from that time I will be able to design searches to find more.

As @want says, there is some information at https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi

Für den Nationalsozialisten im gegenwärtigen Sinne wurde Nazi vermutlich erstmals belegt bei Kurt Tucholsky 1923. Ab etwa 1930 wurde der Ausdruck in Analogie zu Sozi (Sozialist oder SPD- bzw. SPÖ-Anhänger) schärfer distanzierend für die Anhänger Adolf Hitlers gebraucht.

Der Begriff wurde auch von den Nationalsozialisten als Selbstbezeichnung benutzt (und später unterbunden), so veröffentlichte Joseph Goebbels 1927 in Elberfeld eine Schrift mit dem Titel Der Nazi-Sozi. Fragen und Antworten für den Nationalsozialisten.

@want has supplied a cite for Tucholsky, 1923:

Requiem

Herr Pallenberg; Frau Massary; der gefeierte Emil Jannings, der, wie alle vernünftigen Leute, gegen Begräbnisse eine schwere Antipathie hatte, aber gefaßt war, aussah wie ein trauernder ägyptischer Koloß und dachte: »Mensch, wenn ich bloß erst wieder zu Hause wäre –!«; zwei Zeitungsherausgeber, die dem Verstorbenen für alle seine Arbeiten zusammen so viel Honorar gezahlt hatten, wie ihre Autofahrt nach dem Friedhof kostete; kleine Damen, die sich in Rheinsberg hatten verführen lassen und dem Toten dafür dankbar waren, obgleich der gar nichts davon gehabt hatte; mit einer Hand in der Hosentasche: Georg Bernhard; Claire Waldoff; Paul Graetz, der sein wirklich ernstes Gesicht aufgesetzt hatte (»Denn er war meiner!«) – und der in guter Haltung daherschritt, weil er der einzige berliner Komiker war, weit und breit; eine Abordnung von Nazis, die der Tote so geschätzt hatte. […]

Das Trauergefolge zerstreute sich. Die Nazis gingen in ihren Klub, wo sie beim Spielverbot neuen Operetten- und Filmstoff aus dem Begräbnis schöpften; Georg Bernhard organisierte in einer Ecke eine Tarifvereinigung der Totengräber; die jungen Mädchen hielten die von Mama gemopsten Spitzentaschentücher vor die Augen und fuhren dahin, sich wiederum verführen zu lassen; und Pallenberg, Massary, Jannings und Holl – nicht ungefilmt gingen sie davon.

As to Tucholsky being the first, the Wikipedia article only cites

http://www.sprachauskunft-vechta.de/woerter/nazi.htm

That page just says exactly what the quote here does--except that in place of "vermutlich" it has a question mark in parentheses (?).

The other claims are plausible. But Goebbels' booklet has "Nazi" only in the title, nowhere in the text. And in the title it serves in a compound "Nazi-Sozi" name for a debate, not as a name for the party or its members.

So far as I can tell online, Viktor Klemperer did not use the word in his diaries from the time (though his English language translator uses it freely). I read them years ago without this question on my mind.

It is possible that the word was very rarely used in Germany before 1946, and few people were even interested in noting that fact. But I suspect better information is available somewhere.

  • It is very improbable you will get a definitive answer to this - It is very likely, almost sure, that the term "Nazi" was used mainly vocally in the beginning as "Nationalsozialist" is a bit too long for the everyday discussion (Just like "Sozi", which you will rarely find in writing, but hear a lot in speech). On your last paragraph: I'm sure my Grandma used the term all the time from 1933 onwards (in private). She once told me "Nazi" was somewhat accepted, but other designations could bring you in trouble (like "Gelhemmad"-Gelbhemd) in her dialect. – tofro Dec 30 '17 at 11:30
  • Related on SkepticsSE: Is Nazi a diminutive of Ignatius? – LаngLаngС Feb 21 at 15:55
  • Just to spread the word: Pfeifers Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache is integrated into dwds.de – jonathan.scholbach Feb 21 at 21:00
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At least by 1920 "Nazi" was used to name members of the Deutsche Nationalsozialistische Arbeiterpartei in Austria (DNSAP), and that party was linked to the NSDAP in Germany from even before the NSDAP actually took that name in 1920.

The newspaper Vorarlberger Wacht (Freitag, 5. November 1920 S. 4) ran a note contrasting Nazis with Sozis and with the Grossdeutsche Volkspartei. Too long to quote in full it includes:

Weil Nazi zuviel agitierte, dennoch die Grossdeutsche Volkspartei krepierte. Schimpfen über Judenregierung, Lügen über Soziregierung ... des Nazis politischer Kunft.... (Quelle)

The newspaper Arbeiterwille had similar comments (Mi, 1. Dezember 1920, S. 1) putting "Sozi" and "Nazi" in quote marks indicating that Nazi is a new coinage. The context makes the meaning more precise but here is a key sentence:

Unter seinem regime durft weder ein ,,Sozi'', noch ein ,,Nazi'' in den städtischen Betrieben und Amtern aufgenommen werden. (Quelle)

These come from the Austrian National Library, which has been a leader in digitizing Fraktur. Their website has almost 6,000 searchable uses of "Nazi" in newspapers between 1920 and 1945. Most are leftist, but many are Nazi themselves.

For example the Austrian Nazi paper Die Kleine Volks-Zeitung used the word "Nazi" regularly. In their issue of 10. April 1938 s. 14 a supposed convert from the Communists talks about "Nazis." One example among others:

Dort habe Ich Nazi kennengelernt dass waren anständige Menschen. (Quelle)

Also, 10. April 1938 the paper urges "Nazi"s to vote.

There is far more in this archive than I have examined, or will be able to examine any time soon. Especially the extent of Nazi self-application of the name Nazi, or rejection of it, is not clear to me. It is clear that both happened at times.

I still wonder if there is not some better information already known out there about this.

  • That archive is indeed a gold mine. But by limiting the search from 1920 onwards you lend yourself to mis-interpreting the quote-marks. There are hits for 'Nazi' way before 1920 and it seems that the older meanings were merged & slowly supplanted after 1923, when both Tucholsky's definition and Hitler's personal notoriety gained public attention. My 2ct: the examples from 1920 refer more to Austrian Ignatze than PGs or sympathisers? – LаngLаngС Feb 21 at 16:23

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