List of terms used for Germans
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There are many terms for the Germans. 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.
Hun (or The Hun) is a term that originally refers to the nomadic Huns of the Migration Period. Beginning in World War I it became an often used pejorative seen on war posters by western Allied powers. The wartime association of the term with Germans is believed to have been inspired by an earlier address to Imperial German troops by Kaiser Wilhelm II. What is dubbed the "Hun speech" (Hunnenrede) was delivered on 27 July 1900, when he bade farewell to the German expeditionary corps sailing from the port of Bremerhaven to take part in suppressing 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 at that time.
At the start of the First World War, and following the brutal and ruthless actions of the German Army during their invasion of Belgium, the term was revived: It 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 and other Allied propaganda during the war. The comparison was helped by the spiked Pickelhaube helmet worn by German forces until 1916, which would be reminiscent of images depicting ancient warrior helmets (not necessarily that of actual historical Huns). This usage, emphasising the idea that the Germans were barbarians, was reinforced by the propaganda utilized 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 in 1941, Winston Churchill 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."
The Americans and Canadians referred to Germans, especially German soldiers, as Heinies, from a diminutive of the common German male proper name Heinrich. For example, in the film 1941 the Slim Pickens character calls a German officer "Mr Hynee Kraut!"
Heinie is also a colloquial term for buttocks, in use since the 1920s. In German, Heini is a common 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 mostly 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 I. The term is the basis for the name of the jerrycan.
The name may simply be an alteration of the word German. Alternatively, Jerry may possibly be derived from the stahlhelm introduced in 1916, which was said by British soldiers to resemble a chamber pot or Jeroboam.
Kraut is a German word recorded in English from 1918 onwards as a derogatory term for a German, particularly a German soldier during World War I and World War II. 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.
Nazi, a shortening of Nationalsozialist (National Socialist) (attested since 1903, as a shortening of national-sozial, since in German the nati- in national is approximately pronounced Nazi. A homonymic term Nazi was in use before the rise of the NSDAP in Bavaria as a pet name for Ignaz and (by extension from that) a derogatory word for a backwards peasant, which may have influenced the use of that abbreviation by the Nazis′ opponents and its avoidance by the Nazis themselves.
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 and was (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.
"Squarehead", a generic derogatory term for people from Germany and Scandinavia; Commonly used for Germans during the First and Second World War, but found in a collection of slang from 1906 relating particularly to German military style.
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 ersatz "Marmelade". 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.
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 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). In Czech and Slovak, šváb also means 'cockroach', but the association with a word for Germans still exists.
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, see: Lapland War) 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 French 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, reflecting 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 words Sau (= 'sow') which means female pig and Preuße which means Prussian, is used in Bavaria for people who were born or live in any German area north of the Danube river, or at least north of the Bavarian border. A number of other terms exist. Similar to the Polish Szwab, the term Schwab can be pejorative and be used to express Schwabenhass. Various – more or less good-humoured – nicknames are being used between the different German states or areas, such as Gelbfüßler ("Yellowfeet") for the inhabitants of Baden.
The term sváb derives from the German word "Schwaben", describing people from Swabia (ger: Schwaben). The first German-speaking people, Saxon merchants and miners, later becoming 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 (Donauschwaben), though most of their forefathers have Bavarian or Thuringian roots. They settled mainly where the destruction was most severe, especially around Buda (now part of 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 (the white one), it might also be a reference to the Hungarian word lobonc which referred to the 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.
For the Jews who came from the German speaking world, there was a word in use for many years : "Yekke", in Yiddish and Hebrew. One of the explanations of the name in Hebrew is "Yehudi Kshe Havana" יהודי קשה הבנה "A Jew who hardly understands" for the so called "stiffness of their mentality".
The term crucco derived from the Croatian and Slovenian kruh ("bread"). Italian soldiers invented this word during World War I when they captured some hungry Austrian-Croatian and Austrian-Slovenian soldiers who asked for "kruh". Later, during World War II, it was applied to German people.
Tuder / Tudro (pejorative)
Tudro designates 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.
Netherlands and Belgium
In Dutch the most common term for the German people, after the regular/official "Duitse", 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.
In the late 16th century the area just beyond on the current northeast border between the Netherlands and Germany now known as East Frisia and Emsland, as well as the people that lived there used to be referred to as Muffe. Some time later it evolved into an informal designation, still not a pejorative, of someone from Germany in general; however the term seemed to have died out around 1900. Then it was revived to a far greater use and with negative connotations ever since Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940.
Germany was known as Mofrika, an amalgamation of mof and Afrika, during WW2.
Pruus or Pruusj, is a friendly but somewhat mocking term, used in the south eastern part of The Netherlands as part of the 'Limburg dialect'.
Poep is a term used in the northern eastern part of The Netherlands, in the province of Drenthe, referring to a German from nearby Westphalia. It is said that the etymological reference points to the German word Bube (=boy) yet this is unconfirmed.
- A blaaspoep is a German playing a brass instrument
- blaaspoepenmuziek is German brass band music
- Poepenland refers to Germany
Means novice, and comes from the German name Fritz, which is a diminutive of Friedrich. German trade and settlements acquainted Poles with this name. German coming to Poland was actually a novice hence was called Fryc.
Historically characterized only the people of Prussia, not people of other Germanic states. During Partitions of Poland under Prussian Partition gained negative connotations. Prusak also refers to German cockroach.
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. Next term is Helmut that refers to the popular German name. 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. Next pejorative and historical term is pluder came from Hose (clothing) being the part of warderobe.
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Kolbasnik, колбасник - an outdated (used mostly before 1940s) pejorative term, which verbally meant "a sausage-maker".
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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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)
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