Was Ist in an English Name?

By Erin Milnes

May 9, 2016

*Guest post by Werner Brandl, Munich*

For an English speaker from the United States, a visit to Germany can be an exciting as well as amusing experience. Most items found in a US supermarket are branded with English words and phrases—if we disregard the Italian and French-heavy deli section. But in Germany, many English terms are now used to describe products that were labeled with German 20 years ago. If you take a look at the cereal section, for instance, you can find Golden Breakfast Choc Balls and Tip Nougat Bits.

The strategy of using a common English term for a product is a natural choice in a European market comprised of more than 25 single markets. However, not all products labeled with English are for export. Quite a few are sold in Germany exclusively, which would seem to reflect a lack of confidence in the native tongue.

PRODUCT-IMAGES-1Certain German words, like “weich” (or “soft”), are laden with too many shades of meaning, though the same might be said for the English word (smooth, tender, squishy, mellow…). Nonetheless, “soft” has overtaken the German equivalent in most product descriptions, like Storck’s “Nimm 2 Soft” sweets. But even terms that are perfectly usable in German are being replaced, as in the detergent “dalli WhiteWash.”

Some products sport a strange mixture of German and English. The various descriptive tiers that appear on the deodorant “Fa” include: “Pink Passion – Non-Stop Fresh Technologie – Blumig-frischer Duft – 48h Frische.”

This juxtaposition of languages can result in unfortunate but funny pairings. Henkel’s “Biff – Bad Total” looks like an all-around bad product (not even considering that “biff” in English is slang for making a mistake). But “bad” actually means “bath” in German. Its usage alongside the word “total,” however, makes an English speaker naturally assume that the entire phrase is in English.

Austrians aren’t immune to amusing language choices either. Austrian Airlines’ Sissi-Time ad campaign references Empress Elisabeth of Austria, but English speakers cannot help but smile at the connotations of “sissy”—a wimp or coward.

The frequent use of English by German speakers most likely reflects their comfort and facility with this second tongue. And though the usages may surprise and amuse native English speakers, these examples illustrate the tendency for language to fill cultural and linguistic gaps wherever it goes.

For an English speaker from the United States, a visit to Germany can be an exciting as well as amusing experience. Most items found in a US supermarket are branded with English words and phrases—if we disregard the Italian and French-heavy deli section. But in Germany, many English terms are now used to describe products that were labeled with German 20 years ago.

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