Denglish – Germany’s Mix of Deutsche and English

By Francine McKenna on Email

Over the last years a strange English German hybrid has eased its way into the language of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, and it has been awarded its own name, Denglish. Deutsche + English.  From Handy, cell phone, Wellness Hotel, Spa Hotel, and Street worker, a social worker, to Evergreen, something that has been popular for a long while or a Smoking, a dinner suit, the mixture of German and English words and phrases in use often have no literal meaning in either language, and are even confusing to many Germans.

Advertising slogans such as one formerly used by a large cosmetics and perfume retailer, Come In and Find Out, puzzled many more than those who had not studied English at school. Could it perhaps mean ‘come into the store, and find your way out without necessarily buying anything en route?’ Giving in to pressure the catchphrase becamemacht das Leben schoener, ‘making life more beautiful’.

Then there was a phrase used by Berlin’s Bahnhof Zoo, a mainline railway station, to describe the wheeled coffee carts that toured the area as Coffee on Rolls.  Or the slogan used to encourage the country’s viewers to watch a major TV channel because it was Powered by Emotion. As it seemed to be almost a translation of the Nazi motto ‘Kraft durch Freude’, Strength through Joy, it upset a lot of Germans who could decipher it and in 2010 the catchphrase was changed to a promise that watching their programmes would Colour your life. An improvement? Well certainly less controversial.

With worldwide influences from popular culture, television programmes, films and music, tourism, media and the internet, barriers are breaking down. And the use of Denglish is becoming more widespread, especially within the advertising industry and businesses, and amongst the young who find Das is cool.  Taking advantage of this and aimed at a generation who chatten, surfen and use words like ‘trendy’ and ‘hip’, the Bavaria state authorities, when anxious about the levels of alcohol consumption by school pupils, thought up what turned out to be a successful slogan Be Hard, Drink Soft, to persuade them it was not necessary to drink alcohol to show strength.

English language songs are popular and are frequently huge hits that flood the airwaves, often without any real understanding of the words, which are any way not always easy to decipher even to English speakers, and this is ironic as until the late 1960’s even the Beatles had to record German versions of their hits, because the media was controlled by Allied forces and they restricted the songs that were played only to those in the German language.  However there is a plaintive song called Denglish recorded by Wise Guys, a German rap group, in which the lyrics begin mostly in German Oh Herr, bitte gib mir meine Sprach zureuck!, ‘Oh Lord, please give me my language back’, but finishes almost entirely in English Oh Lord, please gib mir meine Language back, and is a lighthearted comment on the growth of the English language in Germany.

Global food franchises offer a Denglish mixture of Double Whopper mit leckerem Bacon und Cheddar Cheese on their menu’s, although McDonalds has led the way with their slogan in German Ich liebe es, similar to ‘I’m lovin it’, instead of the ‘Every time a good time’, which was their motto for years.  Surveys found that many people simply did not understand, or misunderstood, the advertising campaigns that used English phrases.

Some years ago a Japanese car manufacturer used the slogan Drive Alive in their advertising campaign but only 18 percent of those questioned, all aged between 14 and 59, interpreted it as the advertising agency had intended, as lively driving, the rest understood it to mean Survive the drive in our car.  Not a good selling point.

To update its image, a German telephone company began to use English phrases to describe its services and this was met with widespread confusion. One of the many changed phrases that caused chaos was the one describing what is normally the first port of call for most questions, the ‘Kundendienst’, because when renamed the call centre it was meaningless to anyone who spoke no English. As were ‘City Call’, ‘Holiday plus Tarif’ and ‘German Call’.

Although not as powerful as France’s French Academy whose members meet in uniforms, embroidered with silver and gold, to defend their languages national pride from the influence of foreign, mostly English (Franglais), languages, there is an Institute for the protection of the German Language, which not only monitors and comments upon the country’s linguistic standards but also awards an annual prize for that years Sprachpanscher, language corrupter.  However to a certain extent Denglish is unstoppable. The German language will not disappear but just as in the past it was influenced by Latin and French words it, and all other languages including English, is becoming more international and gradually assimilating words and phrases that give the best means of expression.

The German business world is now full of CEO and Global Players who travel to the ‘office’ and attend ‘meetings’, internet jargon is adopted the minute it is formulated, and these days people ‘shop’ and ‘chat’.  Then of course there are some German words which are so long that by the time one has read them it is too late, such as Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung. How much easier it is now that the warning signs read Speed Limit, so there is a chance not only to read the notice but also to check one is doing the correct speed before the radar camera actually flashes.


Photo by Gmhofmann via

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Francine McKenna