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In German das Meer means the sea – zee in Dutch. Die See means the lake – meer in Dutch.

We see that these words are used reciprocal to the Dutch words for sea and lake. Why is that? Meer in Dutch means more too. Does the German meer has a comparable meaning, so maybe this is the ground for the different use, because there is more (meer) water in the sea?

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    In Stack Exchange we expect people to do a little research before asking. Which dictionary did you try?
    – RedSonja
    Aug 11, 2021 at 12:36
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    did someone already mention the play-with-words: Wenn ich einen See seh', brauch' ich kein Meer mehr.
    – dlatikay
    Aug 11, 2021 at 16:27
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    In Afrikaans we also have that hominem, meer being a lake and the word for more. You could say meer water in die meer, if you really wanted to.
    – Neil Meyer
    Aug 11, 2021 at 18:21
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    @Prishon: In German "die See" does not mean lake, it means sea; just like "Meer". "Der See" means lake. See answer from Hubert Schölnast.
    – Curd
    Aug 13, 2021 at 10:13

4 Answers 4

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In German we have the homophone but differently spellt word 'mehr' in the meaning of more.

As to the difference of the Dutch and German for zee and meer vs der See and das Meer: it is true, but not so clear. There is also die See with the same meaning as das Meer (zee). This reflects also in the German names for North Sea (Nordsee) and Baltic sea (Ostsee), but also the names of many lakes in northern Germany like 'Steinhuder Meer', 'Zwischenahner Meer' etc.

Generally the meaning of the words in the northern German dialects used to be identical to the Dutch usage while in southern German dialects saw usages as in standard German nowadays.

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    Isnt the Mediterenean called Mittelmeer in whole Germany?
    – Prishon
    Aug 11, 2021 at 1:31
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    Yes, it is. Influenced surely more by the southern German speakers than the northern ones. Aug 11, 2021 at 2:42
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    @Roland Presumably South Germans had more often occasions to speak about the Mediterranean, due to their greater physical proximity. Similarly to how the Nordsee is influenced by Northern Germanic usage, despite being to the North of both. Aug 11, 2021 at 10:13
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    @Roland Nitpicking, but actually at least the merchants from Venice that did commerce in the Netherlands went all the way through Gibraltar and around Spain and France (it was still simpler than crossing the Alps with merchandise!)... Aug 11, 2021 at 15:07
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    @Roland The (High)German language split off from other Germanic languages around the 7th century, in a region mostly south of the Roman Limes, far from the sea. Though Charlemagne subjugated the Saxons (since renamed Low-Saxons) and Angles, outside of aristocracy (High)German only started encroaching on the northern Low-German about 150 years ago. Even when North-Germans speak German, they retain some influence of Low-German such as "hohe See" (high seas), "seetüchtig" (seaworthy), "seekrank" (sea sick) or "Seemann/Seefahrer/zur See fahrn" (sailor), rather than the Latin-German "Meer-"…
    – Daniel
    Aug 12, 2021 at 9:36
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The German feminine noun "die See" doesn't mean English "lake" or Dutch "meer". Here are the correct translations:

German English Dutch
das Meer the sea de zee
die See the sea de zee
der See the lake het meer
mehr more meer

Ger der See, Ger die See, Eng the sea, Dut de zee

Etymologists are sure that both German nouns "der See" and "die See", the English noun "the sea" and the Dutch noun "de zee" have the same etymological root, but it is unclear what exactly this common root is. Some say it comes from an old word for "water bucket" or "tub". Others think it might be related to a verb that means "to pour" or "to drip", and there is also another old word that sounds similar which means "water collecting in rivulets".

All in all it seams to me as if the ancestor of See/sea/zee was used for smaller amounts of water at the beginning (like ponds and lakes) and then got used more and more for bigger water bodies.


Ger das Meer, Dut het meer

This word was in latin language "mare" and was a synonym for "oceanus" and both words meant the sea, the ocean. But similar words in related old languages meant "bog, marsh" or "morass" (German: Moor, Sumpf, Morast, Marschland) but also pond (Ger: Teich) or puddle (Ger: Pfütze, Pfuhl)


Ger mehr, Eng more, Dut meer

Also these words are cognates and the common ancestor meant "big", "famous", "wellknown". Another offsprings of this etymological root are German "die Mär" and "das Märchen" (Engl: story, fairy tale)


Conclusion #1

Both word groups around the words ["das Meer", "het meer"] and ["der/die See", "the sea", "de zee"] have been used in many Germanic languages to name bodies of standing water of any size (puddles, ponds, lakes, seas and oceans).

Conclusion #2

  • There is no relationship between German "das Meer" and German "mehr".
  • There also is no etymological relationship between Dutch "het meer" (the lake) and Dutch "meer" (more).
  • Also German "das Moor" (gob, marsh) is not related to English "more" although they are pronounced almost identically in Received Pronunciation.
  • (Also English "the sea" and "to see" aren't cognates)
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    "Ger mehr, Eng moor, Dut meer " - was this meant to be "more"? Aug 11, 2021 at 5:39
  • What about English word moor as in "Hound of the Baskervilles", surely that is related to German "das Moor" (gob, marsh)? Aug 11, 2021 at 12:28
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    @JosephDoggie: I also believe, that German »das Moor« and English »the moor« are etymological cognates, although they don't mean exactly the same kinds of landscape. A German Moor is always wet. Sometimes it's even so muddy, that it's impossible to stand or walk on it. In English it is bog, marsh, swamp, but of coarse also moor. English moor can be wet sometimes, but it also can be a dry habitat with low vegetation like savannas and grasslands. In German such a region where you can walk without getting wet feed isn't called Moor but Heide. Aug 11, 2021 at 15:33
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    Reading about the origin of Meer being Latin mare makes me wonder whether it is Mittelmeer simply because of the prevalence of the Latin name?
    – Jan
    Aug 11, 2021 at 16:50
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    Latin was spoken for over a thousand years and the Mediterranean had several names over that time. By the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the name Mare Mediterraneum is attested (and most if not all Romance languages use a direct derivation of that name, as does English). This literally mean “earth-middle sea” (where “earth” could mean either land or world). Mittelmeer is likely a shortened translation of that. @Jan It's more complicated than “Meer from Latin, See otherwise” though, since there's e.g. Japanisches Meer but Javasee. Aug 13, 2021 at 8:26
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Agree with previous posters, but I see the word "Meer" being used as a word play between "more" and "sea/ocean".

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1183233818481715

Also used in a series from ARD Verrückt nach Meer which means something like "crazy about / longing for the see", but has the word play that you want more. (the series is a docusoap about cruise liners and their guests)

There are several other similar word plays in German.

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    This word play is based on the fact that Meer and mehr are homophones. But being homonyms is no evidence pro or contra real etymological relationship. A word play is just a joke that doesn't really give one word the meaning of the other. Aug 11, 2021 at 15:36
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    There is also a song about Lake Constance titled Wenn ich den See seh', brauche ich kein Meer mehr.
    – Philipp
    Aug 11, 2021 at 17:46
  • There is also a word play Meer und mehr. and like many similar puns, is detrimental, since it propagates false etymology.
    – Trang Oul
    Aug 12, 2021 at 5:53
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Für einen Kommentar etwas zu lang, jedoch noch ohne Anspruch auf Vollständigkeit.:

Angenomen, in Holland herschen in Küstennähe salzhaltige Seen vor, wäre das ein entscheidender Unterschied. Wo Meerwasser ist, da ist Meer, leuchtet doch ein.

Da See wiederum von unsicherer Herkunft ist, lässt sich wenig über diesen Wandel sagen, außer dass Englisch zumindest mit der Oranje übereinstimmt, doch auch zu Deutsch heißt es noch Hochsee. Der Bodensee könnte auch als kleines Meer gelten, wenngleich die Salzhaltigkeit dabei dann keine Rolle spielen dürfte, was geradezu paradox wäre angesichts sel "Salz" als plausiblen Ansatz unter kompensatorischer Längung (als ob *Sel-Meer)

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