In Robert Heinlein's “juvenile novel” Between Planets, published in 1951, we find this:

“Touchy, aren't you? Just like all fog eaters [ . . . ]”

“Fog eater,” used to describe a man from cloud-wrapped Venus, was merely ragging, no worse than “Limey” or “Yank”—unless the tone of voice and context made it, as now, a deliberate insult.

I don't yet have a published translation of this into German and I can't guess what the translator did with the word “Limey”, but this shows you how Heinlein viewed that word.

So now we go to another of Heinlein's books, Farmer in the Sky, published in 1950. Among the thousands of steerage passengers aboard a crowded ship taking emigrants from Earth on a 60-day journey to a colony that they will join, some troops of boy scouts are being organized. The boy scouts on one deck have convened, and that deck, unlike the other two, is on Greenwich mean time.

A kid named John Edward Forbes-Smith got up. [ . . . ] “Why don't we pick names that will show that fact? [i.e. that their deck is on Greenwich time] We could call ourselves the Saint George Troop.”

Bud Kelly said it was a good idea as far as it went, but make it Saint Patrick instead of Saint George; after all, Dublin was on Greenwich time too, and Saint Patrick was a more important saint.

Forbes-Smith said, “Since when?”

Bud said, “Since always, you limey—”

The book was translated into German by Michael Kubiak. Here is that passage:

Ein Junge namens John Edward Forbes-Smith stand auf. [ . . . ] »Warum suchen wir nicht Namen, die diese Tatsache verdeutlichen? Wir könnten uns doch Sankt-Georg-Trupp nennen.«

Bud Kelly meinte, das wäre eine gute Idee, aber wir sollten lieber Sankt Patrick nehmen anstatt Sankt Georg. Schließlich gelte für Dublin ebenfalls die Greenwich-Zeit, und Sankt Patrick wäre doch ein viel wichtigerer Heiliger.

Forbes-Smith wollte das nicht gelten lassen. »Seit wann das denn?«

»Schon immer, du Engländer«, erwiderte Bud.

Is there no suitable word in German?

  • 1
    I'm not aware of a good, one-word translation, either. That said, in your first example it doesn't actually have to be translated: any mild racial slur will do. When writing for a German audience (i.e.m in German), "Piefke" and "Ösi" might work. I'm sure there are countless other options.
    – Ingmar
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 5:53
  • 1
    The real translation problem here is rather "fog eater" since it rhymes on "frog eater" (pejorativetive for frech people).
    – Beta
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 8:03
  • 1
    (Britische) Kalkleiste (limestone == Kalkstein) is pretty on the point and matches Yank, because the people from british heritage looked down on continental europeans as "coloured people". That's not a joke.
    – Janka
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 8:43
  • 1
    I'm pretty sure they don't apply derogatories to themselves. The reason we don't have a food-related name for the British is also obvious to me. Their whole food is pretty gross to continental eyes, and taste.
    – Janka
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 12:07
  • 3
    What about the term "Tommy"? Even though it was a nickname for english soldiers its quite common to call english people like that. At least from my experience.
    – mtwde
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 23:13

2 Answers 2


Short answer

There is no equivalent to limey in German. The best ways to translate it are:

  • Brite
  • Engländer

Where Brite matches better, but it depends on context.

In German Engländer (a person from England) often was used as synonym for Brite (a person from Great Britain, but also a person from the UK), mainly in the time when this book was translated. Now people more often respect the difference between Engländer and Brite (but they still don't care about the differences between Great Britain, the British Isles and UK).

Long answer

In the mid of the 19th century sailors of the British Royal Navy had to add lime juice to their daily ration of grog to prevented scurvy. So this sailors got the nickname lime-juicer which soon was shortened to limey. It was mainly British immigrants in other countries who used this term.

Some decades later, the term limey became an U.S. navy slang for British sailors and also for British warships.

Later then, during WW I, limey turned into an American English slang for all British people.

But this term was used only in the united states. And, more important: It never was used in any other languag than English. So, there is no close equivalent to limey in any other language, including German.

But during WW II there came up another similar nickname:


This usage has a longer history (back to 1815), and it is based just on the fact, that Thomas (short: Tommy) in those days was a very frequent British first name. The same logic created »Ivan« (in German: Iwan) as nickname for Russian and Soviet soldiers, and in English spoken countries »Fritz« for German soldiers.

But Tommy always only was used for soldiers. It became popular during WW II. It never was used for civilizes, and so it has not the same meaning as limey.

  • "Tommy Atkins (often just Tommy) is slang for a common soldier in the British Army. It was certainly well established during the nineteenth century, but is particularly associated with World War I." & in Germany also with WWII & war-propaganda etc. So, really only your first/short answer: No way, Jose. Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 11:37

My favourite German slang for us English is "Inselaffen". Would that fit?

  • 6
    No, not really. That term is much more derogatory than limey, more insulting than 'slang'. See the first quote from the question and he third comment.. Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 19:17
  • 2
    Doesn't really make sense for an Irishman to say, does it?
    – Lykanion
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 18:06

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