This post is one of a series on ‘Germanisms in American English’ and should be read in conjunction with the introductory post here.
Apart from being used to describe people who are keen on sports, the above terms can be used in American English (AmE) and German as casual forms of address. The first time I heard sports fan used in this way was in the mid-1990s by an American colleague (from Buffalo, New York), who explained that in his experience it was used by an older man to a boy – perhaps like ‘lad’ or ‘my boy’ in British English. This explanation is supported by the following definition of sports fan in Urban Dictionary:
» A nickname used by working class old timers in and around the Gulf Coast United States. Typically used in greeting towards a younger person. […] Ironically it has absolutely nothing to do with sports or sportsmanship.
Hows it going ‘Sportsfan’? «
[Contributed by Jonathan L. on 30/04/2013; No.2-ranked definition as of 26/11/2016.]
The German term Sportsfreund is similar to sports fan in that it, too, is considered a male form of address. Duden online defines it as follows:
» saloppe Anrede an eine männliche Person
nicht so schüchtern, Sportsfreund! «
Casual form of address to a male person
don’t be shy, sports fan!
But this is only Duden’s second-listed definition of Sportsfreund. The primary definition refers us to the synonym Sportfreund (the same as Sportsfreund but without the linking ‘s’). Sportfreund has two meanings in Duden, the first of which is ‘Freund, Anhänger des Sports’ (fan of sports), and the second of which is ‘Sportkamerad’ (fellow sports player). It seems that Sportsfreund (with linking ‘s’) can have both of these meanings in addition to its own unique usage as a casual form of address, which has become divorced from any real sporting context.
One could speculate that this non-sporting use of Sportsfreund gave rise to the equivalent use of sports fan in AmE. Perhaps German immigrants to the US1, encountering sports fan to mean ‘someone who is keen on sports’, assumed that this term could be used just as flexibly as Sportsfreund in their native language and thus started using it as a casual form of address.
1 Most German immigrants arrived in the late 19th/early 20th century, and the word Sport first appeared in the Duden German dictionary in 1887. So it is conceivable that the term Sportsfreund (a simple combination of the word Sport with the word Freund) may already have been familiar to Germans arriving in the US during the period in question.