Asking about a great opera (Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser) and a great beer (Rothaus Brewery's Tannenzäpfle). Tannhäuser takes place, in large part, in a forest, but the name is taken from the historical figure named Tannhäuser, a German Minnesinger from the thirteenth century. Tannenzäpfle means "fir cone." Is "Tann," the common portion of the two words, a root that relates to the forest?

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    Note: Pine = Kiefer, but fir = Tanne. So a pine cone is a Kiefernzapfen but Tannenzapfen is fir cone. Pine cones are always hanging from the branch, and they fall off as a whole, but fir cones grow upwards, and they do not fall off as a whole, they only loose their flakes, so that at the end a little thin rod remains (as you can see in the picture in my answer). Oct 31, 2022 at 8:23
  • Some fun facts: In the German version of the cartoon Heidi, the theme has the lines "Dunkle Tannen/Grüne Wiesen im Sonnenschein"; the first part refers to the fir trees in the mountains. Also, in Twain's The Awful German Language he talks about the confusion caused by nouns being capitalized. He gave an example where he translated a sentence as "the infuriated tigress broke loose and utterly ate up the unfortunate fir-forest," but "the unfortunate fir-forest" was, of course, "the unfortunate Tannenwald", a person. So I learned Tanne relatively early.
    – RDBury
    Oct 31, 2022 at 21:23

2 Answers 2


Short answer:

Yes, they are related.

In detail:

There is this old and outdated German noun that nowadays is only used in poems and similar artistic text types:

  • der Tann (masc.) = the coniferous forest

In its narrow meaning it's a forest of fir trees. In a wider meaning it is a forest of any conifers. This word is closely related to this one, that still is a part of modern German:

  • die Tanne (fem.) = the fir tree

And you surely know

  • das Haus = the house

From this is derived the noun Häuser, which is not only the plural of Haus. It is also a masculine singular word that names a person who lives in a house, but in this meaning you don't find it as separate word, but only as part of a compound noun that is a persons name. So we have:

  • der Tannhäuser = the person who lives in a house in a fir forest

Then we also have this word:

  • der Zapfen (masc.) = the cone (seed head of a conifer tree)

This word has a lot of meanings, cone of a conifer tree is just one of them, and it's not the most frequent meaning. I think "peg" and "gudgeon" are more frequently used meanings of "Zapfen", but "cone of a conifer tree" is the oldest meaning. Btw.: The word "der Zapfen" is etymological related to "der Zipfel" (corner (of a pillow), end (of a sausage), point (of a jelly bag cap)) and "der Zopf" (plait, pigtail).

Inside a compound noun together with the name fo a conifer tree, "Zapfen" only can mean a cone of that tree.

fir cone

  • der Tannenzapfen = the fir cone

There are a lot of diminutive forms of Zapfen (German diminutive forms are always neuter), but with a big regional variety. Very common is "das Zäpfchen", which is also the German name for "uvula" (a structure in the mouth) but also for "suppository" (medication that is administered anally). In regions where Bavarian dialects are spoken (southeast of Germany and Austria), you can often hear "das Zapferl", which has the same meanings as "das Zäpfchen", and in regions with Allemannic dialects (southwest of Germany and Switzerland) you will hear "das Zäpfli" and "das Zäpfle".

  • das Tannenzäpfchen = the tiny fir cone
  • das Tannenzäpfle = the tiny fir cone
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    Speaking of "uvula" reminds me of other structures in the mouth like the tongue. It is also interesting that "tongue" is sometimes used for "language", so we should talk about language, which is part of the concept of "culture", which brings us to discussing philosophy in general and Hegel in specific..... Do you want to answer a question or tell everybody how knowledgeable you are?
    – bakunin
    Oct 31, 2022 at 8:58
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    @bakunin: I want to answer a question, I want to explain the context and I want to enrich it with additional interesting information. I am sorry (and I am very sad about it) that you are not interested in more knowledge. And I also have to say, that I feel a little bit angry, that you downvoted my answer for providing too much interisting facts around what has been asked. This is very sad! Oct 31, 2022 at 10:27
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    First off, the extent of me being interested "in more knowledge" is pure conjecture (and an unbased one, at that) on your part. In fact, i think that your explanation lacks focus and i tried to get this message across by starting with an equally freewheeling and unhinged stream of associations. I downvoted your answer not for "too much [sic!] interisting [sic!] facts" but because i think that focus is indeed a signifying trait of a quality answer. There is no need to be angry about it, in fact it happens to all of us that answers get downvoted. Nobody is above critizism.
    – bakunin
    Oct 31, 2022 at 10:48
  • The distinction between Fir and Pine seems more important in German than English. I think to most English speakers any tree with needles and cones (no matter what direction they point) is "a pine", or perhaps "a Christmas tree". Technically, the "pine family" contains (per Wikipedia) cedars, firs, hemlocks, larches, pines and spruces, all with difference characteristics. Of course the subject gets more complex the deeper you go into it, but for city-dwellers whose closest contact is the occasional salad with pine nuts, it seems enough to lump all this diversity under a single name.
    – RDBury
    Oct 31, 2022 at 21:52
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    @bakunin: The quality of an answer is measured by the question owners acceptance and by the up- and downvotes an answer gets. Feel free to compare your answer with mine. (btw: I see that your answer has also one downvote, but it is not from me.) Nov 1, 2022 at 13:02

Is "Tann," the common portion of the two words, a root that relates to the forest?

Yes. Actually, "Tann" (masc., no plural) is a very old (and nowadays unused) poetic word for "forest". For the etymology see the Wiktionary article.

You will find phrases like "im dunklen Tann" ("deep in the forest") in old songs, preferably from the 19th century, when it was chic to use (even back then) old-fashioned wording.

As an afterthought: "Tannenzäpfle" ([small] fir cone) is from "die Tanne", the german word for the fir tree and describes the fruit of this tree - or, rather, its diminutive in the swabian manner ("-le"). The main word would be "Tannenzapfen" (fir cone). Still, "Tanne" (the tree) and "Tann" (the forest) have a common root as i described and so "Tannenzäpfle" is also derived from "Tann", although less directly than "Tannhäuser".


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