List of terms used for Germans
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There are many alternative terms for the people of Germany. In English the demonym, or noun, is German. During the early Renaissance, "German" implied that the person spoke German as a native language. Until the German unification, people living in what is now Germany were named for the region in which they lived: examples are Bavarians and Brandenburgers.
Some terms are humorous or pejorative slang, and used mainly by people from other countries, although they can be used in a self-deprecating way by German people themselves. Other terms are serious or tongue-in-cheek attempts to coin words as alternatives to the ambiguous standard terms.
Many pejorative terms for Germans in various countries originated during the two World Wars.
The origin of the term was a reference to Attila the Hun in Wilhelm II's "Hun speech" (Hunnenrede) delivered on 27 July 1900, when he bade farewell to the German expeditionary corps sailing from Bremerhaven to defeat the Boxer Rebellion. The relevant part of the speech was:
Kommt ihr vor den Feind, so wird derselbe geschlagen! Pardon wird nicht gegeben! Gefangene werden nicht gemacht! Wer euch in die Hände fällt, sei euch verfallen! Wie vor tausend Jahren die Hunnen unter ihrem König Etzel sich einen Namen gemacht, der sie noch jetzt in Überlieferung und Märchen gewaltig erscheinen läßt, so möge der Name Deutsche in China auf 1000 Jahre durch euch in einer Weise bestätigt werden, daß es niemals wieder ein Chinese wagt, einen Deutschen scheel anzusehen!
When you meet the enemy, he will be defeated! No quarter will be given! No prisoners will be taken! Those who fall into your hands are forfeit to you! Just as a thousand years ago, the Huns under their King Etzel made a name for themselves which shows them as mighty in tradition and myth, so shall you establish the name of Germans in China for 1000 years, in such a way that a Chinese will never again dare to look askance at a German.
The theme of Hunnic savagery was then developed in a speech of August Bebel in the Reichstag in which he recounted details of the cruelty of the German expedition which were taken from soldiers' letters home, styled the Hunnenbriefe (letters from the Huns).
The Kaiser's speech was widely reported in the European press and then became the basis for the characterisation of the Germans during World War I as barbarians and savages with no respect for European civilisation and humanitarian values. The term "Hun" from this speech was later used for the Germans by British propaganda during World War I. The comparison was helped by the spiked Pickelhaube helmet worn by German forces until 1916, which would be reminiscent of images depicting ancient Hun helmets. This usage, emphasising the idea that the Germans were barbarians, was reinforced by Allied propaganda throughout the war. The French songwriter Théodore Botrel described the Kaiser as "an Attila, without remorse", launching "cannibal hordes". By coincidence, Gott mit uns ("God is with us"), a motto first used in the Kingdom of Prussia and later the German Empire, may have contributed to the popularization of 'Huns' as British Army slang for Germans by misreading 'uns' for 'Huns'.
The usage of the term "Hun" to describe Germans resurfaced during World War II, although less frequently than in the previous war. For example, Winston Churchill 1941 said in a broadcast speech: "There are less than 70,000,000 malignant Huns, some of whom are curable and others killable, most of whom are already engaged in holding down Austrians, Czechs, Poles and the many other ancient races they now bully and pillage." Later that year Churchill referred to the invasion of the Soviet Union as "the dull, drilled, docile brutish masses of the Hun soldiery, plodding on like a swarm of crawling locusts." During this time American President Franklin D. Roosevelt also referred to the German people in this way, saying that an Allied invasion into Southern France would surely "be successful and of great assistance to Eisenhower in driving the Huns from France."
British soldiers employed a variety of epithets for the Germans. "Fritz", a German pet form of Friedrich, was popular in both World War I and World War II, with "Jerry", short for "German", but also modeled on the English name, favoured in the latter.
Heini is a common German colloquial term with a slightly pejorative meaning similar to "moron" or "idiot", but it could be of different origin.
Jerry was a nickname given to Germans during the Second World War by soldiers and civilians of the Allied nations, in particular by the British. The nickname was originally created during World War One, but it did not find common use until World War Two.
The name Jerry was possibly derived from the stahlhelm introduced in 1916, which was said by British soldiers to resemble a chamber pot or Jeroboam. Alternatively, it may be a simple alteration of the word German.
Since World War II, Kraut has come to be used in the English language as a pejorative term for a German. This is probably based on sauerkraut, which is popular in various South German cuisines but not traditionally prepared in North Germany. The stereotype of the sauerkraut-eating German pre-dates this, as it appears in Jules Verne's depiction of the evil German industrialist Schultze as an avid sauerkraut eater in The Begum's Fortune. Schultze's antagonist is an Alsatian who hates sauerkraut but pretends to love it to win his enemy's confidence.
"Kraut" may refer to the practice of distributing sauerkraut on German ships to prevent scurvy just as the English were referred to as limeys by Americans for their use of lime juice in navy ships.
The term 'Nazi' is used with reference to Germans working for the National Socialist German Workers' Party. This term is a pun, based off the words: "National Socialist" („Nationalsozialist“) and the pejorative shortened version of the name "Ignaz" (i.e. Ignatius), a name common among working-class Germans.
In a more poetical sense Germans can be referred to as "Teutons". The usage of the word in this term has been observed in English since 1833. The word originated via an ancient Germanic tribe, the Teutons (see also Teutonic and the Teutonic Order).
Pronounced [boʃ], boche is a derisive term used by the Allies during World War I, often collectively ("the Boche" meaning "the Germans"). It is a shortened form of the French slang portmanteau alboche, itself derived from Allemand ("German") and caboche ("head" or "cabbage"). The alternative spellings "Bosch" or "Bosche" are sometimes found. According to a 1916 article in the New York Times magazine Current History, the origin is as follows:
Boche is an abbreviation of caboche, (compare bochon, an abbreviation of cabochon). This is a recognized French word used familiarly for "head," especially a big, thick head, ("slow-pate"). It is derived from the Latin word caput and the suffix oceus. Boche seems to have been used first in the underworld of Paris about 1860, with the meaning of a disagreeable, troublesome fellow. In the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 it was not applied to the Germans, but soon afterward it was applied by the Parisian printers to their German assistants because of the reputed slowness of comprehension of these foreign printers. The epithet then used was tête de boche, which had the meaning of tête carrée d'Allemand (German blockhead or imbécile). The next step was to apply boche to Germans in general.
Boxhead is a British-English pejorative term commonly used within the British Armed Forces. Its origins are unknown.
First came to prominence in the English 1983 television show 'Auf Wiedersehen Pet'. It was a term used by the English and Irish when referring to Germans without them knowing it was them being talked about.
The Austrian ethnic slur for a German is Piefke. Like its Bavarian counterpart Saupreiß (literally: sow-Prussian), the term Piefke historically characterized only the people of Prussia, and not people of other Germanic states. There are two hypotheses on how the term developed; both of them suggest an origin in the 1860s. One theory suggests that the term came from the name of the popular Prussian composer Johann Gottfried Piefke, who composed some of the most iconic German military marches, for example Preußens Gloria and the Königgrätzer Marsch -- particularly since Piefke and his brother conducted the Prussian music corps in the parade in Austria following the Prussian victory of the Austro-Prussian War in 1866. The second theory suggests an origin in the Second Schleswig War in 1864, where Prussians and Austrians were allies. A Prussian soldier with the name Piefke and a stereotypically Prussian gruff and snappy manner made such a negative impression on his Austrian comrades that the term came to refer to all Prussians.
Since Prussia no longer exists, the term now refers to the cliché of a pompous northern Protestant German in general and a Berliner in particular. However, the citizens of the free Hanseatic cities and the former northern duchies of Oldenburg, Brunswick and Mecklenburg are also quite offended by the terms Piefke and also by Saupreiß (a slur for any German who is not native Bavarian). In 1990, Austrian playwright Felix Mitterer wrote and co-directed a TV mini-series, Die Piefke-Saga, about Germans on holiday in Tyrol. Sometimes the alteration "Piefkinese" is used. Some Austrians use the playful term "Piefkinesisch" (Pief-Chinese) to refer to German spoken in a distinctly northern German -- that is, not Austrian -- accent.
The term Marmeladinger originated in the trenches of World War I. It is derived from the German word "Marmelade", which is a fruit preserve. While Austrian infantry rations included butter and lard as spread, German troops had to make do with cheaper "Marmelade" as ersatz. They disdainfully called it Heldenbutter "hero's butter" or Hindenburgfett. This earned them ridicule from their Austrian allies who would call them Marmeladebrüder (jam brothers) or Marmeladinger (-inger being an Austrian derivational suffix describing a person through a characteristic item or action). Germans would conversely call Austrians Kamerad Schnürschuh "comrade lace-up shoe" because the Austrian infantry boots used laces while the German boots did not. This term has survived, but it is rarely used.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia
Švabo, Švaba (pejorative)
The Term Švabo (Cyrillic: Швабо) is most often used in jokes but also very popularly used by the Yugoslav Partisans during the Second World War. In the SFR Yugoslavia it was commonly used in movies depicting battles betweens the Partisans and Nazi forces. The word in its origin is not pejorative since it is used to depict a person from the German region of Swabia; however, the word probably entered the Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian languages in relation to the Danube Swabians. The variant Švaba (Шваба) is primarily used in the Serbian language. The female form is Švabica (Швабица).
This word carries a somewhat negative meaning of a stereotypical German being proud, withdrawn, cold and serious. Today, this phrase, when pronounced as "Ga-Men", can mean "disdainful, indifferent, or uninterested in someone or something".
In Czech, a German can be called a Skopčák (skopchāk), originally meaning just someone from the highlands (of the Sudeten mountains). Due to the negative perception of the Sudeten Germans' role in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938-9, it is generally perceived negatively, relating to rough and stupid manners ascribed to Germans (skopová hlava - muttonhead).
During the Lapland War between Finland and Germany, the terms saku, sakemanni, hunni and lapinpolttaja (burner of Lapland) became widely used among the Finnish soldiers, saku and sakemanni being modified from saksalainen(German).
Boches (pejorative, historical)
Boches is an apheresis of the word alboche, which in turn is a blend of allemand (French for German) and caboche (slang for head). It was used mainly during the First and Second World Wars, and directed especially at German soldiers.
Casque à pointe (historical)
Casque à pointe is derived from the French name for the traditional Prussian military helmets worn by German soldiers from the 1840s until World War I. In modern British and American sign language, the word for Germany continues to be an index finger pointed to the top of the forehead, simulating the Pickelhaube.
The term "Ossi", derived from the German word Osten which means east, is used in Germany for people who were born in the area of the former German Democratic Republic.
The term "Wessi", derived from the German word Westen which means west, is used in Germany for people who were born or live in the old states of Germany (those that formed the Federal Republic or "West Germany" before reunification). Sometimes it is also modified to "Besserwessi", from the German word Besserwisser which means Know-it-all, which reflects the stereotype that people from the Western part of Germany are arrogant.
In 2010 there was a lawsuit in Germany because a job applicant was denied employment and her application was found to have the notation "Ossi" and a minus sign written on her application documents. A German court decided that denial of employment for such a reason would be discrimination, but not ethnic discrimination, since "East German" is not an ethnicity.
The term "Saupreiß", derived from the German word Preußen which means Prussia and from the German word Sau which means female pig, is used in Bavaria for people who were born or live in any German area north of the Danube river. A number of other terms exist. Similar to the Polish "Szwab", the term "Schwab" can be pejorative and be used to express Schwabenhass.
The term "sváb" derives from the German word "Schwaben", describing people from Swabia (ger: Schwaben). The first German-speaking people (Saxon merchants and miners, see: Carpathian Germans) first arrived to the Carpathian basin (then mostly under rule of the Kingdom of Hungary) in the 12th century, their numbers and territory of settlement were limited, mainly in towns. In the 18th century various German-speaking peasant groups settled in Hungary in large numbers to inhabit the vast territories being depopulated during the Osman rule, they are known as Danube Swabians (Donausschwaben), though most of their forefathers have Bavarian or Thuringian roots. They settled mainly where the destruction was most severe, especially around Buda (now: Budapest), Danube valley and southern part of Hungary. Although they have assimilated in large parts until the beginning of the 20th century, they maintained strong cultural identity up to date. These people, and through them German people in general are called "svábok" (plural), having a hint of pejorative nature.
The term "labanc" came into use during Rákóczi's War of Independence. It was specifically used for the soldiers fighting for the Austrian/German soldiers of the Habsburg rulers. There are multiple theories about where it came from, such as being a strange concatenation of the German term Lauf Hans! (Run Hans!) or the French term Le Blanc (white), it might also be a reference to the Hungarian word lobonc which referred to the common large, common wig, which used to be common in the Vienna court at the time. Now "Labanc" is exclusively used for Austrians, but becomes rare in usage as there are no tensions between the two countries. Still however, the expression describes mentality or behaviour that is counter to general Hungarian interest and describes persons not content with "true" Hungarian values.
This word, "crucco", derived from the Slovenian kruh ("bread"). Italian soldiers invented this word during World War I when they captured some hungry Austrian-Slovenian soldiers who asked for kruh. Later, during World War II, it was applied to German people.
Tuder / Tudro (pejorative)
Tudro designs Germans as a people lacking flexibility and fantasy, but also emotional intelligence. It is more widely adopted to describe a sturdy and stupid man. Tudro is mainly used in Northern Italy. Tuder is the Lombard usage of the word.
Fricis derives from the German name Fritz.
Zili pelēkie, literally translated, means "The Blue-Grays", from the Prussian war uniforms of the pre-World War I era. The term appeared in a popular Latvian legionnaire wartime song Ik katru sestdien's vakaru ("Every saturday night") about trouncing the blue-grays after beating up reds (sarkanos) or lice-infested ones (utainos) - the Soviets.
In Dutch the most common term for the German people, after the regular/official one, is "mof". It is regarded as a pejorative term, used exclusively for Germans and reflecting Dutch resentment of the German occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War and the respective German actions. The word "Mofrika" is a portmanteau of Africa and "mof" and is used as a humorous reference to Germany.
In the late 16th century the area now known as East Frisia and Emsland and the people that lived there were referred to as Muffe. At the time the Netherlands was by far the richest country in the whole of Europe, and these people were looked down upon greatly by the Dutch. The area of Western Lower Saxony was at that time very poor and a good source for many Dutch people looking for cheap labour. The inhabitants of this region were regarded as being rather reserved and were often described as grumpy, rude and unsophisticated by the Dutch. Later the term was used to describe the whole of Germany, which, at the time, was not much better off economically than Western Lower Saxony, mainly due to the various wars waged on its territory by foreign powers. The term seemed to have died out around 1900, but returned after the German invasion of the Netherlands in 1940.
Another popular term, originally meaning a person from Swabia. It is worth noting that a colloquial verb "oszwabić" means "to rook", "to fleece".
Another pejorative term for a German (and, stereotypically, unattractive) woman is "niemra", coming from a word "Niemka" (a woman of German nationality). This term can also mean a female German language teacher or German language classes. Similarly, the term for the Germans can be "niemiaszki". It does not have to be pejorative, it may be permissive or irreverent, but it may also be used in an almost caressing way. Another pejorative term for a German is "szołdra" (plural: "szołdry"). However, it is an old Polish term, out of use nowadays. It can be found in 19th century historical novels by Henryk Sienkiewicz and Józef Ignacy Kraszewski. It comes from a term meaning pork or ham.
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In Early Modern Spanish (for example in Don Quixote), tudesco (cognate with Deutsch and the Italian tedesco) was used sometimes as a general name for Germans and sometimes restricted to Lower Saxony.
German for rubber-neck. The term has been verified to be in use since the 1970s at least. Its actual meaning is subject to debate. Theories include the stereotype of Germans talking too much or nodding their heads endlessly when listening to superiors.
The ordinary (non-pejorative) meaning is people from Swabia (roughly Baden-Württemberg) in South Germany, neighbouring Switzerland, but in Switzerland it is used for any German. A strengthening is Sauschwabe.
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- "Quand un Attila, sans remords, / Lance ses hordes cannibales, / Tout est bon qui meurtrit et mord: / Les chansons, aussi, sont des balles!", from Theodore Botrel, by Edgar Preston T.P.'s Journal of Great Deeds of the Great War, 27 February 1915
- Original wavelength
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The Latvian legionnaires did not subscribe to Nazi ideology. They fought solely for their country, Latvia. In their popular wartime song "Every saturday night" (“Ik katru sestdien's vakaru”) they promised to beat up the utainos (lice-infested Russians) and then "trounce the blue-grays" (a reference to the Germans and their uniforms).
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When we were tired and fed up with the constant drill, we sang for spite of the Fritzes and for gratification for ourselves: Mēs sitīsim tos sarkanos—arvien, arvien. Pēc tam tos zili pelēkos—arvien, arvien)
- Prisma Etymologisch woordenboek, ISBN 90-274-9199-2. "Mof heeft historisch gezien niet de huidige betekenis (die van een verwijzing naar de Duitsers en hun acties tijdens de Tweede wereldoorlog) maar ..."
- Why Germans are called "moffen" (Dutch)
- pl:Szkop at Polish Wikipedia
- Don Quixote, Second Part, chapter LIV, Miguel de Cervantes: Sancho Panza meets some pilgrims (alemán o tudesco) from Augsburg.
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- Don Quixote, Second part, chapter V: ¿Cuántos son los alemanes, tudescos, franceses, españoles, italianos y esguízaros? "How many are the Almains, Dutch, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Italians and Swiss?"
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