German Language Resources Online
German Etymologies: Dictionary

To find a specific word in the dictionary, use the "find" function on your browser or click on the initial letter of the desired word here:


Note: For the purposes of this simplified etymological dictionary, I have chosen to present only the basic meanings of the words most likely to be learned in the beginning German language sequence. For a more detailed account of each of these words, see a German or German-English English-German dictionary or one of the etymological resources mentioned in Lesson Six of the Tutorial.

Two symbols are used in this dictionary: The greater than sign (>) means "derived from." The asterisk (*) indicates an inferred form--a form that has been reconstructed but has not been historically substantiated.

The etymologies given here are based on Duden Etymologie: Das Herkunftswörterbuch. 2nd ed. Vol. 7. Mannheim: Bibliographisches Institut & F.A. Brockhaus AG, 1989. The English definitions are based on The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 3rd. ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.


der Apfel
English Meaning: apple
Sound Correspondences: p to pf (See Lesson 3)
Origin: Old High German apful > Germanic
The word "Apfel" orginally referred to the crabapple familiar to the Germanic people. When they were introduced to cultivated apples by the Romans, the Germans continued to use the name "Apfel," although other fruit names were taken directly from the Latin. (See die Birne, die Kirsche, die Pflaume).

die Apfelsine
English Meaning: orange (the fruit)
Sound Correspondences: p to pf (See Lesson 3)
Origin: Old Dutch appelsina and Low German Appelsina
Literally, "Apfelsine" means "apple from China." Oranges were brought from China to Europe by the Portuguese around 1500. "Sina" was an old spelling for "China." Two other words for the same fruit, "die Orange," and "die Pomeranze," both come from Italian.
Related words:

* Sinology (English)=the study of Chinese language, culture, or civilization
* Sinophobe (English)=a person who is afraid of or dislikes China and Chinese things
* Sinophile (English)=a person who likes China and Chinese things

der Arm
English Meaning: arm
Origin: Old High German arm > Proto-Indo-European *are-=to fit together
The word "Arm" originally meant, more generally, "juncture, joint, limb."
Related Words:

* arm (English)
* arthritis (English)
* harmony (Engish)
* arithmetic (English)
* army (English)
* article (English)
* artist (English)

das Auge
English Meaning: eye
Sound Correspondences: g and y (See Lesson 4)
Origin: Old High German ouga > Proto-Indo-European *oku-=to see, eye
Related Words:

* ocular (English)=having to do with the eye
* optician (English)=a person who makes and sells eyeglasses


die Banane
English Meaning: banana
Origin: Portuguese banana
The name "banana" comes from a native language of the former Portuguese Guinea in West Africa.

das Bein
English Meaning: leg
Origin: Old High German bein
The archaic meaning for "Bein," bone, is still present in words such as "Eisbein"=knuckle of pork, "Elfenbein"=ivory, and "Fischbein"=whalebone.
Related Words:

* bone (English)

das Bett
English Meaning: bed
Sound Correspondences: d to t (See Lesson 3.)
Origin: Old High German betti > Germanic *badja
The Teutons slept on stationary earthen beds padded with straw and furs. It wasn't until the Middle Ages that the moveable bed, common amongst Mediterranean peoples, became well-known to the Germans.

die Birne
English Meaning: pear
Origin: Old High German bira > Vulgar Latin pira
The original Germanic word for the pear is unknown. The "n" in "Birne" appeared in the 17th century from a crossover with the pluralform.

der Boden
English Meaning: ground, floor
Sound Correspondences: d to t (See Lesson 3).
Origin: Old High German bodam > Proto-Indo-European *bhudhm[e]n
Related words:

* bottom (English)

das Brot
English Meaning: bread
Origin: Old High German*prot > Proto-Indo-European *kers-=to be stiff and rough
Related Words:

* bread (English)
* broth (English)
* to brew (English)


der Champignon
English Meaning: mushroom
Origin: French champignon > Latin campania= flat field
"Der Champignon" became a German word in the 17th century. Another word for the same vegetable is "der Pilz." The common factor in the related words is their (original) relationship to fields.
Related words:

* champignon (English)=edible mushroom
* campus (English)
* campaign (English)
* champion (English)
* der Kampf (German)=fight, battle


der Daumen
English Meaning: thumb
Origin: Middle High German dumo > Proto-Indo-European *teu-=to swell
"Der Daumen" orginally meant "the thick one" or "the strong one."
Related words:

* thumb (English)
* thick (English)
* tumor (English)
* tumult (English)=commotion, riot
* thousand (English)thigh (English)thimble (English)tomb (English)

die Decke
English Meaning: ceiling, blanket
Origin: Middle High German decke > Proto-Indo-European [s]teg=to cover, to roof
The common factor in the related words is their relationship to covering or uncovering
Related words:

* deck (English)
* detective (English)
* thatch (English)=foliage used for roofing
* toga (English)
* entdecken (German)=to discover
* das Dach (German)=roof
* der Deckel (German)=lid (of a pot)
* decken (German)=to cover
* das Deck (German)=deck (of a ship)
* der Ziegel (German)=brick, tile


der Ellbogen, Ellenbogen
English Meaning: elbow
Origin: Old High German elina > Proto-Indo-European *el-=to bend
The base word, "Elle," refers to a unit of measurement from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger or to the ulna (the bone between the elbow and the wrist, on the side opposite the thumb).
Related Words:

* elbow (English)
* ell (English)=a measurement equal to 45 inches.

die Erdbeere
English Meaning: strawberry
Origin: Old High German erdberi
"Die Erdbeere" is named for the place it grows: on the earth.


der Finger
English Meaning: finger
Origin: Old High German fingar > Germanic
Both "Finger" and "Faust"=fist belong to the same word group as "fünf"=five.

das Fleisch
English Meaning: meat
Origin: Old High German fleisc
This word originally referred to both animal and human flesh.
Related Words:

* flesh (English)

der Fuß
English Meaning: foot
Sound Correspondences: t to ss (See Lesson 3)
Origin: Old High German fuoz > Proto-Indo-European *ped-=foot
Related Words:

* foot (English)
* pedal (English)
* podiatrist (English)=foot doctor
* podium (English)


das Gemüse
English Meaning: vegetables
Origin: Middle High German gemüese
This word is a collective formation from the word "Mus."


das Haar
English Meaning: hair
Origin: Old High German har > Proto-Indo-European *kers-=to be stiff and rough
Related Words:

* hair (English)

der Hals
English Meaning: neck, throat
Origin: Old High German hals > Proto-Indo-European *kuel=to turn
"Der Hals" means, literally, "the turner."
Related Words:

* pole (English)
* cycle (English)
* colony (English)
* cultivate (English)
* wheel (English)
* collar (English)

die Hand
English Meaning: hand
Origin: Old High German hant > Germanic
"Die Hand" belongs to the same group of words as "fangen, greifen" and thus means "the grabber."
Related Words:

* hand (English)
* fangen (German)=to catch

das Handgelenk
English Meaning: wrist
Origin: Hand: see die Hand; Gelenk: Old High German[h]lanca= hip, loins, flank > Proto-Indo-European *kleng-=to bend
The word "Gelenk" originally referred to the bendable part of the body between the ribs and the pelvis. It then became used for any bendable part.
Related Words (Gelenk):

* flank (English)
* lenken (German)=turn, guide
* das Lenkrad (German)=steering wheel

die Hüfte
English Meaning: hip
Origin: Old High German huf > Proto-Indo-European *keu-=to bend, curve
Related Words:

* hip (English)
* hüpfen (German)=to hop




die Kartoffel
English Meaning: potato
Origin: Italian tartufolo > Vulgar Latin*terrae tuber =truffel (edible mushroom)
Potatoes were brought to Europe by the Spaniards in the 16th century. Many European languages took forms of the Spanish name for the potato, papa or batata/patata. Cf. English potato. Other European languages made up new words for the potato, mostly based on the appearance of the roots. The Italians apparently thought the roots of the potato looked like the fruit of the truffle, which also grew underground.

das Kinn
English Meaning: chin
Origin: Old High German kinni > Proto-Indo-European*genu-=chin
In older usage, the word "Kinn" referred, variously, to the chin, the lower jaw, or the cheek.
Related Words:

* chin (English)

die Kirsche
English Meaning: cherry
Origin: Old High German chirsa > Vulgar Latin *cerasia
When the Romans brought cultivated fruit to German lands, the Teutons simply used the Latin names for the fruits. See also die Birne, die Pflaume).
Related Words:

* kirsch (English)=a kind of brandy made from fermented cherry juice

der Knöchel
English Meaning: anklebone; knuckle
Origin: Late Middle German knöchel > Knochen=bone
The word "Knöchel" is a diminutive of "Knochen," so it means, literally, "little bone."
Related Words:

* knuckle (English)
* der Knochen (German)=bone

das Knie
English Meaning: knee
Origin: Old High German kneo > Proto-Indo-European *genu
Related Words:

* knee (English)
* diagonal (English)
* dictate (English)=to impose, control
* token (English)
* teach (English)
* zeigen (German)=to point, show
* das Zeichen (German)=sign, signal

der Kopf
English Meaning: head
Sound Correspondences: p to pf (See Lesson 3)
Origin: Old High German kopf > Late Latin cuppa= drinking vessel
In Old High German, the word "kopf" referred to a cup or drinking bowl. In Middle High German, "kopf" referred to the skull. In New High German, "Kopf" became the general word for "head," edging out the word "Haupt," which is now used only in elevated speech.
Related Words:

* cup (English)

der Körper
English Meaning: body
Origin: Middle High German korper > Latin corpus
The word "nasa" probably originally referred to the nostrils.
Related Words:

* corpus (English)=a body of writing on a particular topic
* Corpus Christi (English)=a city in southern Texas; literally: the body of Christ
* corpulent (English)=fat
* corps (English)=a military group with a specific function
* corporation (English)
* corset (English)=a close-fitting undergarment
* corsage (English)=a small bouquet of flowers meant to be worn
* leprechaun (English) (from Old Irish luchorpan: the le- means small and the -aun is a diminutive suffix).

der Kuchen
English Meaning: cake
Origin: Old High German kuocho > Germanic*kaka-
This word probably comes from children's babbling and orginally referred to porridge.
Related Words:

* cake (English)
* der Keks/das Keks (German)=cookie


die Lippe
English Meaning: lip
Origin: Middle German lippe > West Germanic
Through Luther's Bible translation in the 16th century, the High German word for the lip, "Lefze," was superceded by the Low German "Lippe." Today, "die Lefze" refers to the lip of an animal. Literally, "die Lippe" means "the thing that hangs down loosely."
Related Words:

* lip (English)
* labial (English)


der Mund
English Meaning: mouth
Sound Correspondences: th to d (See Lesson 3)
Disappearing n
Origin: Old High German mund > Germanic
There are two possible histories for this word. 1) The word "mund" comes from Latin mentum=chin and originally meant "chin-bone." 2) The word "mund" comes from Proto-Indo-European *menth==to chew.
Related Words:

* mouth (English)


der Nacken
English Meaning: nape (back of the neck)
Origin: Old High German[h]nach > Germanic
Related Words:

* neck (English)

die Nase
English Meaning: nose
Origin: Old High German nasa > Proto-Indo-European*nas-
The word "nasa" probably originally referred to the nostrils.
Related Words:

* nose (English)
* nostril (English)
* nasal (English)=having to do with the nose
* nasturtium (English)=a New World plant of the genus Tropaeolum with red, orange, or yellow flowers and a pungent juice.
* pince-nez (English)=eyeglasses that clip to the nose
* nuzzle (English)=to rub with the nose or snout


das Obst
English Meaning: fruit
Origin: Old High German obaz
This word originally referred to food eaten during a meal that was not bread or meat.

das Ohr
English Meaning: ear
Origin: Old High German ora > Proto-Indo-European *ous-=ear
Related Words:

* auricle (English)=the projecting, outer part of the ear

die Orange
English Meaning: orange (the fruit)
Origin: French orange > French pomme d'orange > Persian narang=bitter orange
Related Words:

* orange (English)
* naranja (Spanish)=orange


die Pflaume
English Meaning: plum
Sound Correspondences: pf to p (See Lesson 3)
Origin: Old High German pfruma > Latin prunum
When the Romans brought cultivated fruit to German lands, the Teutons simply used the Latin names for the fruits. See also die Birne, die Kirsche).
Related Words:

* prune (English)=the partially dried fruit of the plum

der Popo
English Meaning: rear end, butt
Origin: Latin podex=bottom, behind > Latin pedere =to fart
Literally, "podex" means "the farter."



der Reis
English Meaning: rice
Origin: Middle High German ris > Middle Latin risus > Greek óryza
The word "rice" probably comes originally from a south Asian language.
Related Words:

* rice (English)


der Schenkel
English Meaning: thigh
Origin: Middle High German schenkel > Germanic
"Schenkel" comes from the lower German schenke: "leg." Related Words:

* shank (English)=the part of the leg between the knee and the ankle
* der Schinken (German)=ham

die Schokolade
English Meaning: chocolate
Sound Correspondences: t to d (See Lesson 3)
Origin: Mexican chocolatl
The word "chocolatl" came from Nahuatl, a middle American Indian language used by the Aztecs in Mexico. It probably came into German through Dutch.
Related Words:

* chocolate (English)

die Schulter
English Meaning: shoulder
Sound Correspondences: d to t (See Lesson 3).
Origin: Old High German scult[er]ra > West Germanic
There are two possible histories for this word: 1) This word comes from Greek skélos=thigh 2) This word comes from Greek skállein=to dig.
Related Words:

* shoulder (English)

der Stuhl
English Meaning: chair
Origin: Old High German stuol > Germanic
The Germanic word for "Stuhl" originally referred to the prince's throne. It was later used more generally for "a place to sit."
Related Words:

* stool (English)
* sitzen (German)


der Tisch
English Meaning: table
Sound Correspondences: d to t (See Lesson 3).
Origin: Old High German tisc > West Germanic > Latindiscus > Greek diskos
The Greek "diskos" referred to the discus used in athletic competition, anything disk-shaped, or a flat bowl for eating. The German use of the word to signify the table came from the fact that, in ancient times, each dinner guest had his or her own table, in the shape of a bowl.
Related Words:

* dish (English)
* discus (English)/Diskus (German)
* disco (English)/die Diskothek (German) (the place where they play records shaped like disks)







der Zahn
English Meaning: tooth
Origin: Old High Germanzand > Proto-Indo-European *[e]dont-=tooth
The Proto-Indo-European *[e]dont- is a participial construction to *ed-=to chew, eat. Related Words:

* tooth (English)
* dental (English)
* tusk (English)
* dandelion (English)

die Zehe/der Zeh
English Meaning: toe
Sound Correspondences: t > ts (See Lesson 3).
Ignore the h
Origin: Old High German zehe > Proto-Indo-European *deik-=to point
The word "zehe" originally meant, then, "the pointer," and probably referred first to the finger, then to the "finger of the foot."
Related Words:

* toe (English)
* digit (English)
* dictate (English)=to impose, control
* token (English)
* teach (English)
* zeigen (German)=to point, show
* das Zeichen (German)=sign, signal

die Zunge
English Meaning: tongue
Sound Correspondences: t > ts (See Lesson 3).
Origin: Old High German zunga
Related Words:

* tongue (English)
* language (English)
* linguistics (English)=the study of human speech
* linguine or linguini (English)=a kind of pasta in long thick strands
* lingua (Latin)=tongue