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I've heard that many people use "Kollege" to call their friends in college/university (instead of colleagues), even when they don't have jobs. It seems to mean something like "university-mate". I was told it may be a cultural thing. Is "Kollege" actually used as "schoolmate" in university/college?

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    Could you please add where you heard that? Location may be a factor. – Stephie Jul 24 at 6:30
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    I heard it from a German teacher (not from Germany, just teaches German) who's been to Germany. – John Zhau Jul 24 at 8:50
  • @JohnZhau did this teacher use it this way or did he report that he heard others use it? – Volker Landgraf Jul 25 at 9:41
  • She heard others use it and said she found it odd. – John Zhau Jul 30 at 4:00
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The use of „Kollege“ in a non-work environment is colloquial and indeed means something like „friend“ or „someone I hang out with“. It is usually not as strong as „Freund“ but depending on the speaker it can be.

There are theories out there that say it established as a cooler way to say „Freund“...

This usage of the word seams to have been established around 2005-2007 (or even earlier as mentioned by Philipp in the comments) as you find the first questions about it in that range. It was first used by youths.

From my experience I can say that these youths from 10-12 years ago still use the word with that meaning as I have kolleagues at of that age at work who do that

To make this answer complete I‘ll add a suggestion from the comments (thank you @GittingGud): for addressing people that take the same courses at university there is another german word: Kommilitone. But usually this word is not directly assiciated with „friends“ at the universary. Although a Kommilitone might be your friend, not all of them will necessarily be.

Just to add another facet: Depending on the pronunciation "Kollege" can also be used as a warning to the guy facing you to behave better... Usually this is used by policemen or bouncers at clubs like:

He "Kollege", pass auf was Du sagst / tust

The person called "Kollege" in that case is for sure NOT your friend and instantly knows: this is getting serious... better back off...

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    I agree with you, except that we have been using kollege among friends in the nineties already (youths in Hamburg), 1995-2005. – Philipp Jul 24 at 10:06
  • Dazu kommt auch der Rapper "Kollegah", hat auch was weiter dazu beigetragen können. – Dan Jul 24 at 11:36
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    @Philipp ich würd sogar sagen, im Deutschen geht die Tendenz, Arbeitslexik in songtigen Bereichen zu benutzen, noch weiter. Man spricht öftermals vom "Schluss" als vom "Feierabend" - auch wenn die Situation eine berufliche Tätigkeit ausschliesst. – Dan Jul 24 at 11:37
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    I think if you would add that "friends in college/university" would in German translate to "Kommilitone" your answer would be complete, as the OP actually ask for the proper German word for schoolmate in university. – GittingGud Jul 24 at 13:47
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    "Kommilitone" comes from the Latin for fellow soldier, so it's interesting that the German language uses either a work metaphor or a military metaphor to refer to school friends. – Federico Poloni Jul 25 at 10:28
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In Germany, the term Kollege is used for coworkers. The term using people who study together with you at the university is Kommilitone ("the one who is fighting together with you", from latin cum "with" and militio "fighter", miles "soldier")

According to a comment from rexkogitans, in Austria, Studienkollege seems to be the standard way of referring to persons which would be called Kommilitone.

In Switzerland, Kollege is also used to denote any persons who you have contact with and who are not so close to be called friends, including your classmates in school. So in Switzerland, Kollege could also denote what in Germany would be called Kommilitone.

If you call your university friends Kollege in Germany, this would be stretching the meaning of the word a bit by using a pretty close analogy, so it would probably be well understood.

So, maybe you have heard this in more international, Swiss or Austrian contexts or you are facing a phenomenon of language at change. I don't know any data about this potential change and I also didn't recognise this use of Kollege myself. But I can easily imagine that the more formal and seldom word Kommilitone which might bear some elitist associations, could be replaced by Kollege, because this is the word more well-known from other contexts. So it would not be much of surprise if Kollege would start to replace the somewhat old-fashioned Kommilitone (which is, by the way, also hard to spell for many.)

The "original" term is still Kommilitone though.

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    After 14 years at the university in Austria (2 studies and employment), I never heard the word Kommilitone seriously used to refer to a student. The more common term here is Studienkollege. – rexkogitans Jul 24 at 12:13
  • @rexkogitans Thanks, I added this information to my answer. – jonathan.scholbach Jul 24 at 13:14
  • @rexkogitans Exactly what I was thinking. Informally, I'd use Uni-Kollege. – sgf Jul 25 at 9:54
  • Exactly, I (German) would address people at the same University as „Kommilitone“. One of my professors began all his speeches with „Kommilitonen und Kommilitoninnen“, meaning equally his „Kollegen“ (other professors) and also the students. „Kollege“ normally only refers to people at the same hierarchy level. – Zane Jul 25 at 11:24
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    Last week in Germany I was introduced by a relative to her "Klassenkameraden": people she was at school with a long time ago. – Michael Kay Jul 25 at 17:44
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For university friends

(ehemaliger) Kommilitone translating to (former) fellow student

is mostly used. For earlier phases I see not many alternatives to

(ehemaliger) Mitschüler/Schulfreund.

Kollege is typically not used for that, but a common addressing within trade unions.

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    In my experience, "ehemalig" is not used a lot with these terms. The people that I used to study with are my Kommilitonen still now, even though we've all graduated years ago. In particular in the case of Schulfreund, "ehemalig" would even imply the friendship (rather than school) has ended. – O. R. Mapper Jul 24 at 21:52
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    Schulfreund is rather a friend (with whom you went to school). If you just went to the same school (or even class) without a real friendship forming, you would say Mitschüler or Klassen-/Schulkamerad. The latter, however, would be used only if the relationship was either neutral or somewhat friendly (but not enough to be called a friend), while the term Mitschüler could also be used if the relationship was antagonistic. – Volker Landgraf Jul 25 at 9:54
  • @VolkerLandgraf friend was in the original question. therefore I added it. – guidot Jul 25 at 11:16
  • @VolkerLandgraf: imho, „Schulfreund“ is less than „Freund“. Saying „das ist ein alter Schulfreund von mir“ means we went together to the same school, possibly were on good terms, but were not really close friends. – Zane Jul 25 at 11:27
  • @Zane IMHO it could mean anything within the range between we were on friendly terms during school, but the friendship was not that close that we did bother staying in contact after the exam and we were really good friends during school, but nowadays the contact is limited to the annual greetings for Christmas and birthdays If the friendship was still close today, you would indeed call him just Freund without the prefix Schul-. – Volker Landgraf Jul 25 at 11:45
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At least as the composite word Studienkollege, it is a very common word to refer to someone who studies/studied at the same time at the same university.

The word Kollege alone is usually used to refer to coworkers.

  • Not to be confused with Studienkolleg (without the e at the end), which is a type of school that foreign students will visit to achieve Abitur in order to get permssion to visit a Hochschule. – Marv Jul 25 at 10:17
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From my experience Kollege can also be used in an informal way much like buddy ("Kumpel" / "Kamerad"), e.g.

ich war gestern mit ein paar Kollegen im Kino

does not necessarily imply being coworkers.

As the user rexkogitans stated before, Studienkollege might be a suitable word for someone studying at the same university.

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Kollege is a common term for people you won't hang out with unless forced to do so. They are part of your work environment, nothing more.

There are however some colloquial meanings:

He, Kollege, da gehört dein Anhänger aber nicht hin!

A groundkeeper in a trailer park giving directions. He's slightly annoyed but using du, aber and Kollege keeps a middle ground between strict orders and a friendly reminder.

Kollege! ‹bear hug follows›

Using it to address friends means you are mocking them.

You may even use it for things you work with.

Dieser Kollege geht nicht ab. ‹pointing to a bolt›

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    Maybe where you are from, but "Im schweizerdeutschen und österreichischen Sprachgebrauch sowie teilweise im süddeutschen Bereich und im Ruhrgebiet wird das Wort Kollege gleichgestellt mit dem Wort Freund des Hochdeutschen verwendet". Confirmed by me for Austria & NRW ^^, ok ... maybe not a very close friend. – mtwde Jul 24 at 12:41
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    I always think of it as friendly mockery. – Janka Jul 24 at 12:48
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    can be, but from my experience it's used as a (more or less friendly) mockery when you are calling a stranger Kollege like "Hey Kollege, mach mal Platz". Of course a Kollege is potentially a (Arbeits-)kollege, but a Kollege can also be kind of a Kumpel. At least in NRW. – mtwde Jul 24 at 13:01

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