I've known about Handy (= mobile phone) for quite some time; I was quite surprised when I first met it but with time I’ve simply gotten used to it.

A few days ago however I’ve met another one: Egoshooter. I could only guess what was meant with it and had to Google it to find out that this is how they call FPS games.

I’m having trouble understanding why Germans are doing this. I mean, it would be much more understandable if they just adopted actual English words that English speakers actually use – but instead, they invent “English” words of their own that are however (at least in my experience) more or less meaningless to actual English speakers (if they haven’t had any experience with Germans yet). Why do they do this? If they don’t want to adopt the actual English terms for these things then why don’t they just make up German terms for them instead of such quasi-English ones?

And are there any more “German English” words like these?

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    You are looking for de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scheinanglizismus or en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudo-anglicism
    – knut
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 21:32
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    Also the opposite did happen: The German word "Stein" does not mean beer mug. It means stone (sometimes also rock). Also strafe from which the noun strafing is derived has nothing to do with flying or airplains. It means to punish. And nobody in German will understand you if you order a glass of hock in a restaurant. Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 9:21
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    "Beamer" for "projector" is another one that bothers me more than it should.
    – Andy Ford
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 8:05

6 Answers 6


This answer is entirely conjectural and thus may easily be overruled by one that shows some actual research on the topic.

Why do they do this? If they don't want to adopt the actual English terms for these things then why don't they just make up German terms for them instead of such quasi-English ones?

For all of these questions, I suspect a combination of at least the following factors is at work:

  • English is sometimes perceived to sound "hipper"/more modern/more exotic/whatever than German, so any English-sounding term is preferred over a German-sounding one.
  • German terms, especially compound ones, tend to be on the long side. Sometimes, the English compound term is not that much shorter, so a German speaker might shorten it or replace it entirely, thus effectively forming a new English word (e.g. mobile phone is not all that much shorter than Mobiltelefon (and mobile on its own would be confusing, given that the German noun Mobil (typically appended to some other qualifying word) denotes a vehicle)).
  • When lacking a compact term, German speakers will routinely form new compounds from German words they know. If these known components happen to be anglicisms, the result sounds as if it were an English word, even though it may not be in use among English speakers, or not with the same meaning (e.g. Talkmaster, Showmaster).
  • German speakers may simply be unaware of the actual meaning of an English term, assuming it to be unused and therefore expecting anyone to logically deduce what it is supposed to mean (especially if there is a German term with the same meaning that is constructed analogously).
  • In the case of shortened English terms, the term may fill a gap for something that has no concise German term. The original meaning of the English term is already fully covered by a German word, so there is no need to "reserve" the short English word for the general meaning (e.g. Show, which refers only to stage shows (with performers, or a host, and an audience) in German, not to any kind of watchable thing (CSI: Miami would not be called Show in German). An example in the opposite direction might be the English pseudo-German words stein or blitz, actually meaning stone and flash/lightning, respectively, in German).
  • There is some desire for a shorter term, but the German shortening does not make for a good noun, while the English one seems fine (e.g. Handy might literally translate to Handlich or Geschickt, but both of these would confuse me when hearing or reading them for the first time. Maybe because their endings suggest another part of speech than a noun? In any case, I feel no such issues for words ending on a y, or on an i-sound).
  • The actual English term for a concept might be presumed too obscure or misleading for German speakers, so a "more logical" compound is formed that German speakers will be able to figure out (e g. Oldtimer instead of Vintage-something, Handy instead of cellphone).
  • The term may indeed have been used in English, but only for a limited time or in a somewhat obscure context.
  • 1
    Vielleicht spielt bei "cellphone" eine Rolle, dass der Begriff im Deutschen nach Knast klingt. :) Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 2:30
  • @userunknown: Ich habe den Aspekt in den vorletzten Punkt eingebaut. Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 17:26
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    @userunknown: eher nach Telefonzelle, and die braucht man mit einem Handy eben nicht mehr. Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 15:00

Simple answer: Because they can.

This might sound a bit blunt, but that is how a language works - Words are not invented by committees of linguists that think long and hard on how something new should be named in the tradition of the language, but rather by "normal people" that start to use a new denomination for a new thing - Sometimes it sticks with the language, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes the new words make sense in another language, sometimes they don't, sometimes they're even ridiculous. Languages rather develop based on a sort of collective intelligence rather than individual decisions that might not always come up with the wisest or most logical choice but always with something that works. Proper alignment with foreign languages is no criteria for these choices.

As a country in the middle of Europe, having more borders to other countries than any other state, regardless of whether you look at current or historical German state borders or borders of the German language area, this phenomenon of being open to absorb foreign words and sometimes even butchering them in the absorption process is also somewhat built into the tradition of the language - Some more historical examples are "Fisimatenten" or "Gugommerle" (dialect for "Gurke") - Look those up, they have interesting histories.

This phenomenon is BTW not specifically German - It happens all the time, in all languages and between all languages. (Even in Chinese - The Chinese word for Caesar (Kaisa) is apparently derived from the German word "Kaiser" - Which is definitely a different thing, English uses patelization to denominate "dominated by indians”, derived from a typical Indian surname,...)

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    Kaiser and Caesar are different, yes, but I would guess that the former is derived from the latter. Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 20:36
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    Kaiser is derived from Caesar de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaiser
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 23:37
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    "Handy" sounds like it might be English, but "Patelization" doesn't even remotely sound like it might be a foreign word (e,g Indian). That's what we are discussing here
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 10:15
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    I thought the etymology of Fisimatenten was essentially reduced to unclear with the most commonly stated tent-of-a-soldier story refuted?
    – Jan
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 10:25
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    @Jan You are right, currently Wikipedia say "nice story, but most probably from Latin or Italian" - Where it really comes from doesn't matter in the context we have here - It's very definitely not of German origin.
    – tofro
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 10:50

If a concept does not previously exist in a language but suddenly turns up — often, because a gadget has been invented but previously also when a religion was introduced etc. — a new word is required. Historically, all languages I know have used all of the following concepts:

  • copy an already existing word from another language, usually the language that brought the concept with it

    • as an extension to that, modify its pronunciation to better fit the adopting language
  • use words that previously existed and put them together in a new way; maybe even just extend the meaning of a simple word

  • invent an entirely new word for the concept which may or may not be tied to any pre-owned existing words in any other languages.

I don’t think (but have no data to prove it) that German is in any way more prone to any of these options than any other language. For example, Swedish has invented the term strips to mean French fries. It sounds equally silly to me as German Handy. And in Japan from what I infer the same food is called pote(to). A mildly connected concept in both cases (in the same way that you can’t deny it’s Handy to have a mobile phone) but otherwise just invented.

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    Exactly. On the motivation: I (being a native speaker of Greek besides German) always suffer seeing the mixed Greek–Latin terms in science. Why not just Greek or just Latin? My off the bat hypothesis: it demonstrated belonging to a certain group (medieval humanist scholar). Ego-shooter may serve the same purpose for the gamers, Handy or such for the techies. After Christmas I will try to find Greco-Egyptian mixtures in Ancient Greek.
    – Ludi
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 12:08

Most of these words are created by media and / or advertising companies. A sad but true fact is that many teenagers are more follower than leader and more prole than smart...

Btw I think that it's not only a german (pseudo)problem : Look at Japan and how they adopted so many german and english words in anime that they cannot even pronounce or understand. No offense meant, it's again the fact that these words seem to sound cooler than native tounge.

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    Of course Japanese can pronounce the English and German loanwords in their language, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to use them. They just pronounce them in a Japanese way.
    – Jan
    Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 17:39
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    Und wurde "Handy" von einer Werbefirma erfunden? Gibt es überhaupt Belege dafür, dass solche Wörter von Werbefirmen erfunden werden? Solche würden doch versuchen den Begriff für ihre Marke zu sichern, wie etwa bei Walkman, oder? Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 2:28
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    Ich weis es nicht für Handy, aber siehe "Tempo" oder "Kaba", viele Leute nutzen z.B. solche Markennamen als Synonym für das jeweilige Produkt.
    – user31220
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 2:55

I as german think journalists and marketing people make such words up because german just doesn't sound as good as english.

  • Your statement "doesn't sound as good..." clearly needs some (1)proof and (2) more details in as "to whom?"
    – tofro
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 11:19

"Handy" was actually created by Philips, the Netherlands-based electronics and household item brand. Back in around 1990, they introduced two mobile phone systems called the Porty and the Handy, and Handy became synonymous for any mobile phone in German.

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    As it is true that Philips created the "Porty" in the late 80ies there is no such brand name for "Handy". See e.g. this article for some more background.
    – Takkat
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 7:22
  • @Takkat you're probably right. I'll leave my incorrect answer if you don't mind.
    – imhotap
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 10:18

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