Tote Hose in Weilburg

Wenn Teenies shoppen gehen: Flugzeuge im Warenkorb. This article caught my eye because it opens with a German slang phrase I learned just a few weeks ago: "Tote Hose" which means roughly "Absolutely nothing doing". Here's an English version of the article for those whose German isn't quite up to snuff.

A question for Germans: Since when did "shoppen" become a German word? What happened to "einkaufen"? Do people prefer the English words because they sound "cooler"?

Comments (32)
  1. Anonymous says:

    Yes, "shoppen" seems to be a german word now. Although there’s also a "Schoppen" or "Frühschoppen" (idiotic word in my oppinion, would never use it myself) which means to sit together and drink something in the morning or whatever, it’s a word used by generations much older than mine.

    Most people and of course the media just use and accept those words that were poorly introduced in our language. Onyl few people try to fight it and there’s a "Verein zur Wahrung der deutschen Sprache e.V.", most people find that stupid.

    I personally are always very irritated if I read "verboten" or "Ueber-" in english texts!

    BTW: What do Americans think if the hear the word "handy"? In Germany "Handy" is a mobile phone, but it sounds so English, that most people think it’s an English word and use it

  2. Raymond Chen says:

    Funny, I almost mentioned "Handy" in my original message.

    If you say "Handy" in the States, people will have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. We call it a "cell phone", which got its name because the network is divided into "cells".

    I believe Brits are more likely to use the term "mobile phone" or simply "mobile" (with a long i).

  3. fellow says:

    It is of course becoming more and more commonplace to use english words when there is a perfectly acceptable german word for something.

    The resulting language mix is called ‘Denglish’ in German.
    In French it’s called ‘franglais’

    The practice is commonplace in business. You could say ‘Das Meeting morgen ist gecancelled’
    Another big culprit is the advertising business, and of course the already mentionned telecommunication industry.
    The idea is to sound cool, chic, trendy and cosmopolitain.

    Ironically, in my opinion people that are more fluent in english than average tend to find it’s the exact opposite.

  4. Marc Scheuner says:

    Not just are many real English speakers amused or confused by the "wanna-be" English-ized German ad texts, recent surveys have clearly shown that the vast majority of "regular" people on the streets don’t get the slogans AT ALL. So what good is a slogan that’s "cool" and "hip", if a) your average Joe doesn’t understand it, and b) the native speakers scratch their heads trying to make sense of it……. sheesh!…..

  5. Christoph Nahr says:

    Denglisch is popular among two very different groups: on one hand the under-educated who don’t or barely speak English but think it sounds "cool" (they are the targets of those omnipresent advertising slogans); on the other hand managers, programmers, scientists etc. whose professional language is English and who consequently have lost the ability (or at any rate the interest) to express complex subjects without resorting to English terms and phrases.

    Since the first group comprises most of the consumers, and the second group comprises most of the social elite, they determine the trend of society as a whole. There’s been growing resistance, as mentioned above, but so far I don’t see this trend changing.

    I’m starting to think the best solution would be compulsory English lessons for everyone at an early age, and perhaps adopting English as a second official language… then at least those who can’t or won’t speak decent German would speak REAL English rather than this retarded mumbo-jumbo.

  6. Timwi says:

    "einkaufen" is, of course, still used, but it carries the narrower meaning of "shopping for necessity". "Shoppen" is, instead, used to mean "shopping for fun".

  7. Raymond Chen says:

    Christoph: I thought English was already compulsory in the schools. Or are you considering introducing it even earlier than it is now? I did notice in my (admittedly brief) travels through Germany that English is not widely spoken even in the big cities. (Which continued to remind me that I needed to study my German more…)

  8. (6) says:

    I speak (British) English as my primary language and have tried to learn German a number of times, mainly because I am intrigued by its sound and grammar – so perhaps I have no place commenting. However I will! :)

    For years now the English language has been manipulated and extended by foreigner’s who introduce new words into the language (mainly France, Germany and America). These become common place and ultimately are considered to be part of the language. The fact that this happens (and the language is sophisticated enough to cater for it) is a truly amazing feat and a tribute to the language. I frequently laugh at people for using Americanised words, but eventually they will become a way of life.

  9. Mat Hall says:

    I’m surprised no-one has yet brought up:

    Das computermachine ist nicht fuer gefingerpoken und mittengrabben. Ist easy schnappen der springenwerk, blowenfusen und poppencorken mit spitzensparken. Ist nicht fuer gewerken bei das dumpkopfen. Das rubbernecken sichtseeren keepen das cotten-pickenen hans in das pockets muss; relaxen und watchen das blinkenlichten.

    On a serious note, the importing and cannibalizing of words from foreign languages is nothing new — the pace is probably accelerated somewhat due to easier and faster communication across the globe, and the pervasiveness of English in technology and business has no doubt tipped the balance of trade a fair amount, but it’s still old news… And besides, using foreign words and phrases lends one a sort of savoir faire, and a certain je ne sais quoi. :)

  10. mike says:

    You didn’t point sout "Teenies" — two English words in one sentence. :-)

    As Mat points out, borrowings are more the rule than the exception. It’s notable that some guardians of languages — famously, the French, but others as well, including Germans in the earlier part of the 20th C — have attempted at times to keep their languages pure, virtually always with no success whatsoever.

  11. Eric Lippert says:

    Indeed. English borrows words from other languages all the time. "Souffle" and "bungalow" don’t bother English speakers — why should "das bluejeans" or "ou est la parking?" bother German/French speakers?

  12. Andre Voget says:

    There was a telecommunication company that advertised the following slogan in German television for many, many months:

    "For a better understanding."

    Of course, a survey showed that only a minority understood the slogan at all. :-)

  13. Christoph Nahr says:

    Raymond: Some years of English lessons are indeed compulsory at higher schools but often enough, the effect is practically zero as far as reading comprehension goes, let alone spoken English.

    Every German qualified for university study is supposed to be able to read English textbooks, yet in the philosophy classes I attended the students would respond with desperate groans to the idea that they should read an English text. Computer science was better but they explicitly demanded a good knowledge of English, knowing that they couldn’t rely on the schools properly preparing their students.

    Also, as was pointed out, many Denglish words are simply not proper English, such as the inane "Handy". People wouldn’t make up this stuff if they actually knew the language.

    So yes, what I’m talking about is a much more intensive study of English to give people a better grasp of the language. In my experience extensive knowledge of foreign languages leads to a better appreciation of one’s mother tongue as well.

    Mike, Eric: The situtation in Germany is hardly comparable to that in England or America. I challenge you to walk through an English town and see literally half the advertising slogans and product descriptions (including things like packet sizes of Deutsche Post) written in the same foreign language. Then listen to a manager making a statement on TV and half of his words are once again from the same foreign language.

    Yes, foreign words are introduced in every language over time, but this normal and gradual process is not what’s been happening in Germany in the last 30 years or so. You really have to visit Germany to understand what Raymond is talking about.

    On the same grounds, I challenge the assumption that attempts to keep the rate of introduction of foreign words under control have had "no success whatsoever". Once again, this phenomenon is recent, it’s far in excess of the normal adoption rate of foreign terms, and as far as I know it’s not nearly as bad in France.

    And Eric, nobody complains about "blue jeans" ("die Blue-Jeans" is the correct gender, by the way) — not even the most rabid German language purists. No offense, but that just shows that you don’t really understand the situation.

  14. Florian W. says:

    About big german cities and not speaking english,
    in Munich and Bavaria even german is not always the best language to get understood. Some bavarians are so proud of their dialect, that they find it cool, not being understood by people from other parts of germany.

  15. It’s not only a problem in Germany, I guess it’s almost as bad in Sweden. It’s not that I’m against import of foreign words, but I think it’s bad when there are perfectly valid words in the native language, but English (because it’s mostly English nowadays) is used because it sounds "cooler" or something.
    It seems that Eric doesn’t really understand, since what would bungalow be in English? ‘Small-stilt-house-in-close-proximity-to-the-sea’?
    Or souffle? ‘Egg-whites-sugar-and-some-flavouring-baked-in-owen’?

  16. Raymond Chen says:

    I agree with Andreas: What bothers me is when when a foreign word displaces a perfectly good native word (like "shoppen" for "einkaufen" or "Meeting" for "Versammlung"). If you’re importing a word because there is no native equivalent, then that’s fine: You have to call it *something* after all.

    And verb displacement offends me more than noun displacement, for some illogical reason. At least have the courtesy of ending the verb with "-ieren"!

    I hear that in Japanese this is totally out of control. My aunt said she initially had trouble reading a menu because the beverages section was titled "Dorinku".

  17. Anonymous says:

    > I challenge you to walk through an English town and see literally
    > half the advertising slogans and product descriptions
    > written in the same foreign language.

    Challenge accepted. Never been to Vancouver, British Columbia, have you? English and German at least share an alphabet…

  18. Raymond Chen says:

    I think Christoph was talking more about mainstream signage rather than signage targeting a specific ethnic group. Certainly in Los Angeles, as another example, you see lots of signs in Spanish. But you don’t see, say, a sign targeting English-speakers written entirely in Chinese (or using Chinese characters in key places).

    I skimmed through the pictures from my most recent trip to Germany pictures; here are some examples of English dropped into a German sign (or a sign consisting entirely of English) with the expectation that the German consumer will understand it: "Car-Sharing", "free refill", "Western-Article-Centre" (double-funny because they used the *British* spelling for an American Western-themed store), "schneller Datentransfer", "Das is smart", "Baustoffrecycling", "Munichs Biggest Party Zone", "Easy Listening", "Soul-City".

  19. Christoph Nahr says:

    Thanks, Raymond. I almost expected someone to bring up those Chinese quarters in American (or Canadian) cities… Berlin has its Turkish quarters as well, but that’s completely beside the point.

    Immigrants putting up signs in their native language is NOT what we’re talking about here. The point is that a foreign language is increasingly used for communication between speakers of the same native language, without any intention of including non-German speakers in the communication. Even better, that foreign language isn’t even the native language of any substantial number of immigrants!

    Comparisons to immigrant groups or "natural" adoption of foreign language terms are quite misleading here. A more suitable comparison might be Asian countries under British Colonial rule.

    On your examples, "schneller Datentransfer" is actually "German", that is, it’s adopted from Latin and not from English (data and transfer are originally Latin words, and the German pronunciation is Latin [i.e. the accepted school prounciation], not English).

    The rest of your examples are spot on, though. I might add that Deutsche Post’s products include "Packset", "Officepack", and "Freeway" parcel stamps while Deutsche Bahn’s "BahnShop" offers "DesignCollections" and "SpecialCollections", not to forget the "BahnCard" and "Last Minute" bookings for its "InterCity" and "InterRail" trains. The popular RTL TV station offers "News" and "Comedy", as well as "Fun-Logos" for your "Handy"!

    Oh well, I better stop now. I hope our incredulous American readers start to get the idea…

  20. tekai says:

    about "Baustoffrecycling", "Baustoff" is German, but I don’t think there is a German term for "Recycling", all the words I can think of express only part of what "Recycling" means.

  21. Leopold Faschalek says:


    recycling das Recycling
    recycling die Regenerierung
    recycling [env.] der Rückfluss
    recycling [env.] stoffliche Verwertung
    recycling die Wiederaufbereitung
    recycling die Wiedergewinnung
    recycling die Wiederverwendung
    recycling [env.] die Wiederverwertung

    there are german translations for ‘recycling’ but its also a buzz word for the whole process

  22. Firmin says:

    Years ago, I read an article in a newspaper in Northern Italy, where they also speak German. It talked about changing "Kinderluxusbonbon mit Edelholzgriff" to a simple lolly. There were some other funny expressions that needed a shorter (English) equivalent…

  23. Moi says:

    Consider the poor mugs learning German whose first language is English. Particularly in IT a lot of English words are common, but use German grammatical forms – downgeloaded (or however it is spelt), for example. Now, Windows is Windows, but a window within Windows is… what? Window, or Fenster?

    And let’s not even get started on what "body bag" means.

  24. MilesArcher says:

    I’ve spent a total of about 6 months working in Germany. The (evil) European sales manager who arranged my initial visit told me that not to worry about no speaking German because everyone speaks English. Well, not exactly true. Everyone in the office where I worked could speak some English, but few cared to. The software product that I was helping them with was completely command driven using English words. Some of them would write a cheat sheet on a piece of paper and before they typed in a command they would look up the translation.

    Anyway, I found that it was pretty easy to start picking up the gist of conversations around me especially when they sprinkled in technical terms. (They used Fenster for a window on the screen, if I remember correctly.)

    Another thing that was a bit of shock was the work environment was much more formal that I (as a Californian) are used to. It took several months before I did any socializing outside the office with anyone and before I was invited to use someones first name.

  25. Chris Yu says:

    PHS is actually personal handy-phone system so there’s still a ‘phone’ in it to make it easier to figure out.

    My favorite japanese katakana word is probably "cleaning." If you say it (esp with a lisp) to enough women you’ll get slapped or a treat.

    And just to say that it happens in America too aimed at the mainstream:

    yo quiero taco bell


    living la vida loca

    (although you wonder why he changed his name to the less hispanic sounding Ricky Martin from Enrique Morales)

    feliz navidad everybody

  26. Jeff Johnson says:

    I rather like German; it would be sad to see it lose its uniqueness.

    My favorite German word is sort of recursive, and reminds me a little of the acronyms favored by projects like GNU – "wortzusammensetzungen". Roughly, words made by stringing smaller words together. Of course, it’s an example of itself.

  27. Markus K says:

    "Shopping" is part of German for at least twenty years – my mum uses it. It does mean something slightly different than "einkaufen" – the latter means you go there to buy something, while the former means you go there to be at the shop – whether to look or to buy is not predetermined. Windowshopping (zusammengesetzt…) is I think "German," too. IMO, "shopping" is an addition to the language in that I (or the excellent translator at that was mentioned above) can’t think of a direct equivalent. I guess the, erm, alien addition could have been avoided if some new German word had been found, but I can’t think of a suitable one right now.

    "Meeting", on the other hand, drives me up a tree. Whatever happened to "Besprechung"? ("Versammlung" is more like "assembly" – one would hope that the purpose of a meeting is to discuss something [please hold the jokes], while the purpose of a "Versammlung" is just to get the people together on the same spot, as in "Gesellschafterversammlung" for shareholder meeting [oups, these things mutate! A "Gesellschaftermeeting" would be different from a "Gesellschafterversammlung" – the latter is an official event with invitations and an agenda that can take binding decisions, the former is just a meeting]).

    On one side it is an instant black mark in my book if someone uses "meeting" in German. On the other hand, I am working in English for near enough a decade now and damn if I’m not struggling for words talking about anything business in German now. Try translating "cash flow".

    Advertising mass market products in foreign languages is stupid – but using individual foreign words is "cool", "trendy", …

    I guess in the long term we will all speak English. How many Germans speak English today depends in no small part on what English you speak (and how fast) with whom, and on what you want to discuss. Directions are a lot less of a problem then Nietzsche (not that most would have heard of him in Germany…). Besides, more people speak English in China than in English, but nevertheless I wouldn’t recommend coming here without a good dictionary…

    Windows 95 has Fenster. Whoever finds a good German word for "downloaded" deserves a medal. I tend to use "geholt" (from "holen", to fetch) rather than any closer but more awkward translation.

    Germans tend to be more reserved than Americans are used to, but less superficial. If they really did go to first names with you it means more than that they’ll remember your face next month (and as you noticed, we tend to leave the office at the office and keep our private lives private, and separate).

  28. Moi says:

    Markus, regard download – I guess since runterholen is already taken that couldn’t really be used, huh? It actually might be accurate in a good number of downloading cases, however. Herunterholen is the closest I could come up with, but my German is not the best.

    As far as Fenster or Window is concerned, I knew that "Fenster" was used but can’t see the logic when some words are directly translated and others are just bastardised English words, which was the point I was trying to get across. If I know the English and also know what the direct translation would be, but have not heard either used in a technical setting, which do I use? Usually I just "das Dings" in such cases (also when I can’t remember the gender of whatever noun I should actually use :-)

    Oh, and have you seen the recent adverts for a certain perfume shop? Some-perfume-or-another "für men und women". Waddafu?

  29. Christoph Nahr says:

    "Herunterladen" is a perfectly fine German translation for "to download" which was in widespread use for a while. But a few years ago it was dropped in favour of the terrible "downloaden". No idea why that happened, I guess "herunterladen" just wasn’t English enough…

  30. Markus K says:

    "herunterladen" is so long and complicated… and are we really moving data from "up" to "down" (the word implies a vertical movement)?

    I think "Windows" the product name wasn’t translated but "window" the thing on the screen was.

    Since I work in China (last time I was in Germany is now almost a year ago) I tend not to see German ads. Whether that’s a good thing…

  31. Russ C. says:

    I was just reading this and thought to throw another spanner into the works regarding Handy. I don’t know if this is used anywhere else in the world, but in the UK, handy also means either

    Usefull … "Has Anyone tried C# ? It’s got some Handy features" or close … "Do you have a screwdriver handy ?"

    Confused :)

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