Can anyone illuminate the (historical) usage and prevalence of the word TV versus Fernsehe(r/n)?-- it seems to me that I almost never heard TV until a few years ago, when it was suddenly everywhere.

Google Ngrams shows a very strong preference of TV over Fernseher, but the data seem a bit dubious because, according to that dataset, TV was always at least as common as Fernsehe(r/n), which doesn't match up with my experiences of both written and spoken Standard High German as spoken in Germany.

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    You ngram doesn't help much for a good reason, just consider for example the sentence "Ich schaue TV/Fernsehen". This is a very common way to express that you're watching TV but you don't use the form "Fernseher".
    – Em1
    Nov 28 '16 at 12:35
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    The Ngram shows no such thing, it shows a quite stable ratio of five to one since 1970.
    – Carsten S
    Nov 28 '16 at 13:51
  • @Carsten, fair enough. Nov 28 '16 at 14:02
  • The NGram for "TV" doesn't say much. Look e.g. at the search results for "TV" in books between 1950 and 1978. You see it is used as an abbreviation in different scientic contexts, in bibliographies, for "Turnverein" (sport club) and probably more.
    – Matthias
    Nov 29 '16 at 11:29
  • Nina Hagen 1978: »Ich glotz TV«: youtube.com/watch?v=JWzPcDtZZZo Nov 29 '16 at 19:27

Google ngrams reports incidences of a word in printed books, with no regards as to what each incidence actually denotes. Virtually nobody uses 'TV' for the set standing in their living room, people say 'Fernseher', 'Apparat', 'Glotze', or what have you.

However, 'TV' is widely understood to be a near-synonym for "das Fernsehen", the medium, so things like 'TV-Programm' or column titles such as 'Radio/Print/Kino/TV' are very common in printed text when space is scarce. People talk about the medium as such much less than about particular shows or about the set they own, so it's no surprise that 'TV' is largely a written item.

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    And how is "TV" pronounced? "Tevau" with a stress on the second syllabe? or maybe the first?
    – Beta
    Nov 28 '16 at 13:30
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    It's unclear :-)! Nina Hagen does indeed pronounce it as te-vau' way in her punk rock song "Ich glotz' TV". Others may use the English pronunciation, particularly in the context of other Denglish vocab, e.g. 'Consultant', 'Key Performance Indicator', usw. usf. Nov 28 '16 at 13:33
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    I've heard this umpteen times spoken, albeit I've only noticed it in the last couple of years, so I don't agree that it's primarily a written phenomenon: "unser Spot läuft gerade im TV" usw. Nov 28 '16 at 13:58
  • Let me add Verdummungsmaschine and Pantoffelkino to your list of synonyms.
    – Titus
    Nov 28 '16 at 15:38
  • I would remove Verdummungsmaschine, as the question whether or not watching TV makes you dumb is highly dependent on what and how much you watch. Also, this term is not widely used. Nov 29 '16 at 11:37

Well, if that is the case, one reason that comes to my mind is the fact that with new technology (flat screen, HD, UHD, 4K, etc.), international terms, logos and acronyms have made their way into the German language.

For years, there hadn't been much development technically (analog/digital aside). Then, flat panel TVs became affordable and along with these came the terms like "HDTV", "UHDTV", "3D TV", "4K TV" etc. These are relatively new terms for relatively new technologies that are being used in German as well.

Please note that I've heard/used them in their "Germanized" pronounciation only: "Haa - dee - Tee - Vau", "Vier Kah Tee-Vau", etc.


Fernseher is the machine that displays your tv broadcasts. Fernsehen is either the broadcast itself or the act of watching it.

TV is mostly used when distinguishing the medium from other media, like when you say "sie senden Werbung im Radio und im TV". It sounds somewhat more professional / modern, thus is more likely to be used in professional communication. It's also used sarcastically, when trying to portray tv as a low-class thing. Pronunciation is normally te-váu, but ti-vi will be understood.

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