What is the origin of the German word Arzt? This expression is used to designate a medical doctor. I have researched the equivalent in English (Doctor), in Italian (Dottore), and in Spanish - my native language (Doctor). There are many similarities between them, but not in the case of German.

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    Welcome to German.SE. Would you mind to include your found similarities that it becomes more obvious what you mean with "not in the case of German". Thanks. Feb 19, 2020 at 9:42
  • Hi Martin. Good questions in this forum display a certain amount of own research done to solve the question. There are etymological dictionaries. What do they say? Feb 19, 2020 at 15:27
  • Dutch has both "arts" and "dokter" FWIW, as do some other languages - one word that relates to "doctor" and one more localised. Feb 19, 2020 at 16:36

1 Answer 1


You are looking for the etymology of the word 'Arzt'. Once you know what you're looking for, Google is a quick helper. According to wiktionary, the word dates back to ancient Greece, but some people might argue that wiktionary itself is not a good source. However, other pages such as etymologeek agree on this:

German word Arzt comes from Ancient Greek ἰατρός, Ancient Greek ἀρχι-, and later Latin archiater (Physician, especially a chief physician of a ruler.).

DWDS has a more precise derivation

Arzt m. ‘Fachmann auf dem Gebiet der Medizin, der Kranke heilt’, ahd. arzāt (9. Jh.), mhd. arzāt, arzet, mnd. arste, mnl. arsatere (nl. arts aus hd. Arzt) sind Entlehnungen aus mlat. arciater, spätlat. archiāter, archiātrus, griech. archiātrós (ἀρχιατρός) ‘Ober-, Leibarzt’, aus griech. arch(i)- (ἀρχ(ι)-) ‘Ober-, Haupt-, Erz-’ (s. ↗Architekt) und iātrós (ἰατρός) ‘(Wund)arzt’.

So Arzt probably started from Greek archiatros (main-doctor) which was adopted by Latin (archiatrus -> arciater) which was loaned by Old High German (arzat) before it finally became Arzt. So as mentioned by guidot in the comments, the word Arzt seems to relate to the main (greek archi) responsible person for healing.

The word Doktor is also used in German. However, as the English equivalent, this generally refers to a person who has obtained a PhD degree. So doctor is rather an academic title than a job description (at least in German). However, because almost every Arzt has written a "PhD"-thesis, many people use it synonymously.

In German, if you refer to the profession, you always say "Er ist Arzt". Doktor doesn't work here. In my experience, especially when talking to children, the word Doktor is used more often, sometimes in conjunction with uncle: "Da müssen wir mal zum Onkel Doktor gehen."

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    "Er ist Doktor" works in my opinion - though it is perhaps a bit less formal, and doesn't necessarily disclose whether he's an "Arzt-Doktor" or of any other profession.
    – towe
    Feb 19, 2020 at 7:18
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    After looking at DWDS this seems somewhat imprecise, since old high German arzāt from middle latin arciater only use the prefix but ignores the ἰατρός stem. So Arzt is more related to Erz- from Erzbischof.
    – guidot
    Feb 19, 2020 at 8:32
  • Thanks, I included this. Feb 19, 2020 at 10:03
  • Hmmm. Demzufolge ist der Oberarzt der "Oberchef Doktor."
    – JRE
    Feb 19, 2020 at 12:58
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    @guidot Why are you ignoring the -at of arzat?
    – David Vogt
    Feb 20, 2020 at 8:03

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